The Mayan village of San Juan Chamula

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We stepped out of the drizzle and into a church.

There were no pews and the floor was covered in pine needles and tea lights. The walls were lined with life-size statues of saints in glass cases. Men in cowboy hats and black feather coats knelt in front of them, lighting candles. And towards the back were chickens in hessian sacks, waiting to be sacrificed.

It was like no church I'd ever seen. No place I'd ever seen.

The church was built as an attempt to convert San Juan Chamula, a Mayan village 10 km from San Cristobal, to Catholicism. But aside from the building itself, there are very few signs of Christianity here.

The villagers have had to fight to preserve their culture, our guide explained. And because they've had to fight, they're very protective of it.

The village is an autonomous state and the Mexican laws don't apply. The villagers speak Tzotzil, not Spanish. There are no police. If someone commits a crime, they spend one day in a jail cell with a big open window in the market, visible to the whole village.

I've always been interested in indigenous cultures and this was the best tour we've been on. The Tzotzil way of life is so fascinating, and I loved learning about all the symbolism in their religion.

No photos are allowed inside the church, so here are some of the market outside.

The Sunday market at Chamula

Street food snacks at the market

Another market shot!

How to get there: It's best to visit the area with a guide to get a better understanding of the culture and symbolism in the village. If you can, try to visit on a Sunday, when the weekly market is on. Daily tours from San Cristobal leave outside the cathedral at 9:30am. Cost: M$200. More info here.

Where to stay: Hostal Los Camellos in San Cristobal is very central, with cosy rooms and a friendly atmosphere.

Where to eat: Wakamole Mexican Street Food for the best ceviche we've had in Mexico; Te Quiero Verde for a wide variety of vegetarian dishes; Comida Thai for a great Thai lunch (we've missed you, noodles!); and Madama Do Re for homemade pasta made by an Italian chef.

If you're headed to Mexico, check out my posts on Mexico City, Oaxaca and Guanajuato.