San Juan Chamula
San Juan Chamula is a short bus ride away from San Cristóbal, and taking a visit here reminded us a little of being back in the Andes – as it’s an indigenous community high up in the mountains.
Chamula is 2200m above sea level and its population is almost 100% Mayan – the main language spoken here is Tzotzil. The reason for our visit was to see the famous church of San Juan – which is renowned for its mix of Catholic and Mayan tradition. The church floor is covered in pine needles and there is burning incense everywhere. Locals come to pay their respects to various saints and make offerings to shamans.
Over the recent years it has become a bit of a fixture on the tourist circuit, and it is now visited by many tour groups. The locals seem to have just incorporated this seamlessly into their church fundraising efforts – with an official entrance fee charged for tourists, and as long as you don’t take any photos inside the church they basically ignore you and go about their business inside.
This leads to a bit of a surreal experience where you are wandering around a church full of smoky incense, with no pews and a pine-needle covered floor – surrounded by a mix of indigenous Mayans offering gifts, chanting, and praying, along with groups of foreign tourists walking around trying not to get in the way or step on any locals…
Yes, kind of strange…
Photos are prohibited inside the church – apparently you will be ‘escorted’ out of town if you even try. So here is a selection of photos of the outside of the church.. 🙂