San Cristobal de Las Casas & Border Crossing to Guatemala /// Vanlife

After a brief respite in fresh mountain air, it was time to discover another of Mexico’s colonial cities. The drive from Pueblos Mancomunados to San Cristobal de Las Casas took one and a half days of driving up and down very windy mountain roads. We did our best to accommodate our sensitive radiator… the windows were up and then down… the heat and a/c were alternately on and then off (depending on whether we were going up and down). Eventually, the heat and twisty roads were a little too much for Walter and he barfed all over Sally’s blue carpet. Needless to say we were more than ready to stay put for a few days upon our arrival in San Cristobal.

San Cristobal sits in a small valley surrounded by hills in the central highlands of Mexico. Like so many of Mexico’s colonial cities, the streets are narrow and bumpy (but those cobblestones are beautiful!), the buildings are colourful, churches and public squares are around every corner and the spring-like climate makes for comfortable days of sight-seeing. But despite it’s charms, I have to admit the city didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Perhaps we’ve seen one too many colonial cities and the novelty is wearing off. Maybe our expectations were too high after hearing overlanders sing its’ praises over the years. Or possibly it’s because it was that bit more ‘touristy’ than some of the other colonial cities we’ve visited.

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Now don’t get me wrong. The city IS beautiful. We treated ourselves to daily lattes at our new favourite café – Café Carajillo – where we also bought a pound of delicious fresh roasted coffee. Excellent restaurants lined the streets, as did little panaderias where stopped everyday to stuff our faces with Mexican pastries. We also really enjoyed the Rancho San Nicolas campground, located within the city limits, just a 15-min walk from the historic centre. It was a great place to hang out, meet other overlanders and get caught up on some email and blogging.

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Feeling rejuvenated after a few nights in San Cristobal, we were ready to take Sally to Guatemala – her southern-most destination (for this trip, anyway). We’re always a bit anxious on border crossing days and this one was no different. We left Rancho San Nicolas early in the morning and hit the La Mesilla border crossing shortly after noon. As pictured below, all Guatemalan border crossings are fairly chaotic, essentially a few government shacks located within a huge market with vendors, shoppers, kids and border agents intermingled in a non-sensical flurry of activity. That being said, compared with our previous border crossing into Guatemala at Tapachula, this one was a breeze. The process was easy to understand, the border agents spoke a little bit of English and made all document photocopies for you.

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The only hitch was Walter. We had read that like in Mexico, Guatemalan border agents don’t ask for or care about the paperwork for your pets. We were relieved because it was impossible for us to meet Guatemala’s ridiculous bureaucratic requirements. Apparently though, we were misinformed – they DO care. I’ll write a future post about crossing borders with pets and include all of the nitty-gritty details. For now, it suffices to say that we made it through but Walter is in Guatemala as an illegal alien.

We spent our first night in Guatemala camping in the parking lot of a fancy hotel, deciding to start fresh the next day for the short but slightly treacherous drive to Pasaj-Cap on Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. Famous for it’s Mayan villages, deep blue lake, volcano views and perfect climate, Guatemalan and international tourists flock here every year. We find the many of the villages a bit touristy but they’re still very real and teeming with activity, especially as you climb a few blocks up from the lake. There’s so much to share about this amazing place and as we’ll be staying here fore awhile, I’ll save it for the next few posts!

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Lessons Learned: 

  • At the Guatemalan border, they do check for your pet’s documentation. This was confirmed by chatting with a couple of other overlanders travelling with dogs.
  • Like Sally, Walter has his limits. He loves the van and he’s an amazing little road tripper but add too much heat and winding roads, he will toss his cookies! We’ve now permanently removed the carpet that runs through the kitchen and bathroom area (carpet on the floor of a campervan was a pretty bad idea in the first place)!

Pro-Camper Tips:

  • Rancho San Nicolas is a great campground/home base if you are exploring San Cristobal de Las Casas. At 300 pesos/night (+20p for the dog) it is expensive for a Mexican campground but it is central, has full services (including warm showers) and good WiFi.
  • On Lake Atitlan, Pasaj-Cap is THE place to camp. Getting here isn’t easy but it’s gorgeous and worth every speed bump, pothole and crammed village street– as you will see throughout the posts to come.

4 thoughts on “San Cristobal de Las Casas & Border Crossing to Guatemala /// Vanlife

  1. Ah, my heart goes out to Walter. Those windy roads on a hot day… No thank you! But glad to hear you’re in Guatemala and enjoying following along with your adventure. Write lots, maybe some day we’ll get down there…

    Liked by 1 person

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