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San Juan Chamula in Chiapas Mexico San Juan Chamula in Chiapas Mexico

Located 6.2 miles from San Cristóbal. Chamula is located in the Chiapas highlands, at an altitude of 7,200 feet, inhabited by the indigenous Tzotzil Maya people, whose Tzotzil language is one of the Mayan languages. Women often make traditional clothing, blankets, and souvenirs that include Zapatista-related items, such as pens with a clay figure on top in the figure of Subcomandante Marcos or Comandante Tacho.

Life in San Juan Chamula

The town enjoys unique autonomous status within Mexico. No outside police or military are allowed in the village. Chamulas have their own police force. Life in San Juan Chamula revolves around Inglesia de San Juan Batista (The church of San Juan). The church is filled with colorful candles, and smoke from burning copal resin incense, commonly used throughout southern Mexico. Along the walls of the church, as in many Catholic churches, are dressed-up wooden statues of saints in large wooden cases, many wearing mirrors to deflect evil. The local form of Catholicism is a blend of pre-conquest Maya customs, Spanish Catholic traditions, and subsequent innovations.


There are no pews in the church, and the floor area was completely covered in green pine boughs, and soda bottles, mostly Coca-cola, on the pine needle carpet. Curanderos (medicine men) diagnose the medical, psychological or ‘evil-eye’ afflictions and prescribe remedies such as candles of specific colors and sizes, specific flower petals or feathers, or in a dire situation a live chicken, to be brought to a healing ceremony. Chamula families kneel on the floor of the church with sacrificial items, stick candles to the floor with melted wax, drink ceremonial from cups, and chant prayers in an archaic dialect of Tzotzil.

Visiting San Juan Chamula

If you are planning on visiting San Juan Chamula you must register at the tourist office and pay a small fee to visit the church. It is recommended to visit the town on Sundays if possible, when the church square is filled with vendors. Another good time to visit is during the holiday festivals especially during the El Dia de los Muertos.


Note: Photographs and videos inside the most churches are absolutely prohibited. Most indigenous people in Chiapas resent having their picture taken. Tourist that have ignored this warning have had their cameras confiscated and even destroyed. If you really want a picture make sure you ask and maybe even offer a small donation.


Chamula Graveyard Chamula Woman - photo by Peggy Daly
Chamula Graveyard
Chamula Woman - photo by Peggy Daly



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