Daytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This January 2010 issue focuses on nearby San Cristóbal Totonicapán, home to the second-oldest church in Central America.
By William Son Mejía
There’s a San Cristóbal in Mexico that’s well known among the traveler set. Yet there’s another small, charming highland city named after a certain boat driver that is much closer. San Cristóbal, in the nearby department of Totonicapán, is only a half hour away (it’s where Cuatro Caminos junction is), and the place for you to experience one of the “7 Wonders of Guatemala”, its ancient church and convent.
This complex was the 2nd built in Central America (originally in the 1520s and rebuilt later) after the one in nearby Salcajá. These majestic monuments safeguard a rich history from the colonial period with their unique, richly ornamented designs that include altars from the 17th and 18th Centuries.
San Cristóbal has ancient origins and thrived for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquest. The town’s original name was Pahula, meaning “waterfall”, which pays homage to the three waterfalls here. You can visit one of them on foot – just walk 25 minutes along the lovely river Samalá. On the same path you can visit the hot springs known as Baños Chiquitos.
Another hot spring is Agua Tibia, located 1 km out of town just off the highway that leaves Cuatro Caminos for the city of Totonicapán. There you can observe the traditions, including communal clothes washing, which haven’t changed with the passage of time.
Another 2km along the same road are Los Baños Fray Bernardino, where you can bathe in a crystal-clear pool for Q5.
You can visit these attractions throughout the year. Meanwhile, there are special times to visit “San Cris”. July 25th and 26th are the feasts of James the Apostle and St. Christopher the Martyr, when you can see the reenactment of the conquest using ancestral dance.
Another important day is Holy Thursday, when actors present the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and processions make their way through the streets traversing elaborate, colorful carpets made of sawdust.
December 7th, 11th and 12th are when you can see one of San Cris’s most unique tradition, la Quema del Diablo (the burning of the devil). It’s when hundreds of men dressed up as devils who parade and make mischief on the streets of town and burn the devil in effigy in order to provide for a peaceful Christmas and New Year.
Getting to San Cris is a snap. At La Rotonda in Zone 2, simply hop on any bus bound for “Toto”la. For the church/convent, waterfall and Baños Chiquitos, get off at the “Entrada a San Cristóbal” near the Esso Station before Cuatro Caminos and walk towards town. For the other hot springs, stay on board until after crossing Cuatro Caminos and let the ayudante know where you want to get off. See you there!