Tag Archives: San Cristobal de las Casas

Adventure Travel Photography with Luxe Lodging in Chiapas, Mexico

For the complete program description CLICK HERE.  November 9-17, 2013.  Remarkable archeological sites, living Maya villages, ancient customs and rituals, international cuisine, luxury accommodations at La Joya Hotel in San Cristóbal de Las Casas.  Questions?  Contact Norma Hawthorne.SDLC Flyer_3

Luxury Travel Photography Workshop: Chiapas and the Maya World

8 nights, 9 days.  Arrive November 9 and leave November 17, 2013, starting from $2,545 per person.  See with inspired clarity!

Chiapas and the Maya World photography workshop will tantalize your senses as you travel to one of the most magical places on earth – San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico – a cultural crossroads of international sophistication in the Maya highlands, replete with ancient rituals, mysterious ruins, glorious textiles, superb cuisine, and old world charm.

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We welcome all levels of photographers, from beginners with little or no experience to advanced amateurs.  Professionals who want to work with documentary photographer Frank Hunter are welcome, too.

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San Cristobal is one of Mexico’s Pueblos Magicos due to its unique natural beauty, cultural riches and history.  It lies in a valley at 7,200 feet above sea level surrounded by pine-clad hills where communities of original indigenous Maya carry on many of their ancestors’ traditions.

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This is personalized cultural travel at its best!  Our workshop is limited to 10 photography participants to give you the highest level of attention and service.  You are invited to bring your partner or spouse if you wish.  If s/he is not interested in photography – no worries.  We can help customize a daily program based on his/her interests while the rest of us are out on shoots.

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Your Luxury Travel Photography Workshop Includes

  • Daily photography instruction and coaching with one of the world’s foremost documentary photographers, Frank Hunter
  • Luxury boutique hotel accommodations including daily breakfast
  • Private guided visit to Tonina archeological site, an astounding off-the-beaten-path wonder that rivals Palenque, including a tailgate gourmet picnic
  • Private guided visit to indigenous Maya villages that includes lunch and a pre-arranged photo shoot
  • Discussions with local experts that can include textile collectors, archeologists and anthropologists
  • Welcome lunch
  • Grand Finale Dinner and Best of Week Group Photography Presentation

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Frank Hunter leads this workshop.  Frank is a world-class documentary photographer whose work is in museum collections throughout the world.  He is on the faculty of the Duke University Center for Documentary Studies in Durham, North Carolina and represented by Thomas Deans Fine Arts gallery in Atlanta, Georgia.

Frank grew up in the American southwest and spent his early years photographing people and landscapes of Mexico.  He has taught at the university level for more than 20 years.  Frank is a virtuoso photographer, as adept at digital photography as he is with creating 19th century style platinum/palladium prints.  Don’t be intimated!  Frank also teaches fundamentals of photography at Duke University.

You can read more about him here:

And, if you want more, just Google Frank Hunter.  You will get pages of citations!

Notes from the art gallery representing Frank Hunter:  In a career spanning more than three decades, Frank Hunter has published nearly 400 images, of which we show only a small selection here. All reflect Hunter’s unique combination of technical virtuosity and aesthetic profundity.

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You will learn to take your photography to the next level and see with inspired clarity.

During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critique.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.   We offer structured group discussion and opportunities for optional private coaching sessions with Frank.

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Technical topics covered include using natural light, aperture and shutter speed, using a tripod, focusing on details, photographing people and taking the time to set up your shot.   Frank says he uses just enough technique to express a visual idea.  He comes from the point-of-view of using your creativity and intuition combined with technical know-how to make better photographs.

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Preliminary Itinerary

Day One:  Arrive and check in to our boutique La Joya Hotel in San Cristobal de Las Casas.  The fireplace will be lit and a bowl of soup with a glass of wine will be waiting for you.  (D)

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Day Two, Three, Four:  Meet with Frank after breakfast to learn, develop and hone your photography skills and aesthetics.  On Day Two we will gather for a welcome lunch.  In the afternoon, go out on the streets of San Cristobal de Las Casas to independently explore and capture the richness of people and place with your camera.  Come back in early evening for a Best of Day Photo Session to review and critique your shots. (B)

Day Five:  After breakfast, travel by private van to Tonina archeological site with a stop on our return in Oxchuc for textile exploration.  Spouses/partners are invited on the expedition and this is included in the program fees.   (B, L)

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Day Six:  After breakfast, meet for Best of Day Five photo review and learning session with the rest of the day on your own for a field assignment. (B)

Day Seven:  Travel by private van to an indigenous village (either San Juan Chamula and/or Zinacantan or Tenejapa and/or Cancuc.  Partners/spouses are invited and this day is included in the program fee.  (B, L)

Day Eight:  After breakfast, prepare and edit your final selections for a Best of Week Grand Finale Group Photography Presentation and Dinner.  Partners/spouses are invited to participate in the dinner and photography presentation and this is part of the program fee. (B, D)

Day Nine:  Depart after breakfast or make arrangements directly with La Joya Hotel to extend your stay. (B)

Each day is designed to give you personal learning time with Frank, plus plenty of time on your own to explore and discover the rich variety of art, architecture and indigenous Maya culture of San Cristobal de Las Casas and environs.  We are flexible and like to improvise (based on group preferences), so the preliminary itinerary is an outline that can vary depending upon other spontaneous opportunities that may present themselves.  Some options could include the Maya Medicine Museum, a healing ceremony with a local shaman, an impromptu invitation to a private home.

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Workshop Cost Includes Luxury Accommodations with an Option to Bring Your Partner/Spouse

4 luxury rooms with King bed, fireplace and private bath

  • Option 1–$3,685 for single person occupying one King room (includes photography workshop and lodging as specified in the itinerary.
  • Option 2–$5,585 for two people occupying one King room when both  participate fully in the workshop (includes workshop and lodging as specified in the itinerary).
  • Option 3–$4,850 for two people occupying one King room when one is a workshop participant, and the other is a non-photographer who is not participating in the workshop. 

Non-workshop partners/spouses join us for breakfast, a welcome lunch, scheduled field trips on Days Five and Seven, discussions with noted experts, and the final group photography presentation and gala dinner.  These activities are included in the cost of Option 3. 

  • 1 luxury twin room with two beds and private bath.  Option 4–$2,545 per person for shared accommodation with both people participating in the workshop.

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We are providing this extraordinary photography expedition in collaboration with San Cristobal’s newest gem, La Joya Hotel, offering the elegance of a boutique hotel and the hospitality of a bed and breakfast.  Our hosts are world travelers and art collectors Ann Conway and John Do who are happy to arrange customized daily excursions for partners/spouses at an added cost.  This might include guided travel for bird watching, hiking, visiting a coffee or cacao plantation, orchid greenhouse, handcrafted sterling silver and amber jewelry boutiques, museums, and indigenous regional markets for textile or pottery shopping.

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Partners/spouses can also enjoy a relaxing spa day, take a cooking class or Spanish lessons, adventure out on their own or relax and read in the secluded rooftop patios or graciously appointed private living room.  The choices are myriad.

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To add-on nights in San Cristobal de Las Casas either before or after the workshop or extend your travel to such destinations as the famed Maya archeological sites of Palenque, Bonampak and Yaxchilan, please contact Ann Conway at La Joya Hotel directly.  www.lajoyahotelsancristobal.com

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Booking Your Travel and Getting to San Cristobal de Las Casas

You can fly round-trip directly to Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) from Houston, TX, on United Airlines.  From Tuxtla we can arrange for airport taxi pick-up to bring you to San Cristobal de Las Casas if you wish.  Cost of transportation is about $60 USD.  Once you register and send us your flight information, please let us know if you would like this added service.

Your other options are to fly to Tuxtla directly from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet.  ADO Platino offers luxury overnight bus service from Oaxaca and other cities in Mexico directly to San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Please Note:  Workshop fees include entries into museums, and archeological sites that are part of the itinerary.  We also make gifts on your behalf to local families who welcome us into their homes, cooperatives and studios.  The workshop does not include tips/gratuities for service, alcoholic beverages,  travel insurance, air flights, transfers from Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal de Las Casas, and meals that are not part of the specified itinerary.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your workshop reservation.  The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be paid two months before the program start date.  Payment is requested by PayPal.  We will send you an invoice when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.  We have this service available and are happy to provide you with a cost.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact normahawthorne@mac.com  Since we are in Oaxaca, Mexico, most of the year, we are happy to arrange a Skype conversation with you if you wish.

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

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Curandero Sergio Castro Preserves Chiapas Textile Traditions

Behind a tall wooden gate about six blocks from the Zocalo at #38 Guadalupe Victoria is the Museo de Trajes Regionales.  The private collection of traditional indigenous dress is an inspiration of Sergio Castro Martinez, a former Chiapas state senator (2000-2003), engineer and lay healer.  Señor Castro gives personal guided visits in French, English, Spanish and Italian.  At the same time, he also ministers to those in need of health care at no cost.

Sergio Castro Martinez, hero of Chiapas

As textile aficionados, we asked our B&B host Bela if she would contact Sr. Castro and make an appointment for us to visit the museum on the first day of our arrival in San Cristobal de las Casas.  Visitors are asked to arrive at 6:00 p.m.  As we approached, a woman exited the house with her head covered and accompanied by family members.  Sr. Castro provides free care to people who have burn injuries and also for those with diabetes.


Several times during our guided visit, he excused himself to help a toddler  brought in by his young mother, and then to care for an older man, and then to take urgent phone calls.  He has been honored on multiple occasions by international and local civic and governmental groups for his humanitarian works.

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The museum is a must-see for anyone interested in indigenous history, culture, and regional weaving/textile traditions.  Sr. Castro explains in depth the differences between the tribal groups of the region, their languages, marriage and family customs, political and social systems, and the evolution and change in the costume design and materials used.  He also, through his museum collection, shows the various special traje (dress) for the leaders of each village, as well as for weddings and other ceremonies.  All the traditional dress in this region is created on fabric woven on back -trap looms.

This is an important orientation for anyone who wants to go out to explore the more accessible villages.

For example:

1.  In the pueblo of San Juan Chamula, the traditional cape and skirt is made from black sheep wool that is woven on a back-strap loom.  The long fibers are not cut but pulled out so that the garment has a wooly look to it, resembling the coat of the sheep itself.  Sheep are family pets, used for their wool and are never eaten.

Sunday Market at San Juan Chamula

2.  In the pueblo of Zinacantan the traditional color of the women’s chal (shawl) and agua (skirt), and the men’s poncho used to be pink or rose colored until about four years ago when there was a decided shift to the color blue, says Sr. Castro.  The community grows flowers (there are greenhouses covering the mountain valley landscape) and this is reflected in the intricately embroidered (mostly by machine, some still by hand) floral and bird patterns on the cloth.


3.  In Amantenango del Valle, the women create clay figures, mostly jaguars, chickens and roosters, but also ollas (jars), bowls, and other functional pieces.  The women’s huipile is evolving.  Traditional women wear a very geometric blouse with predominantly gold and red coloration.  The newer design coming into vogue is a frilly collar that trims an embroidered bodice, all synthetic, shiny material.  The ultimate adornment is a fancy pleated mandil or apron that goes over the top.



We also see traje from Aguatenango, Oxchul, Ocosingo, the intricate yellow, red and blue brocade diamonds from Las Margaritas, Pantelho, the red and black brocade weavings from San Andres Larrainzar.  From Mayas Lacandones who live along the Usumacinta River that borders Guatemala, we learn the dress is bark that has been beaten and softened with a stick, then adorned with painted red colors representing the sun, moon and stars.

Visitors are asked to give a free-will offering (suggested minimum is 100 pesos per person)) for the explanation/tour that helps support Castro’s work.  There is a small room that includes photographs of the severity of burns caused by carelessness, fireworks, and handheld firecrackers associated with ceremonies and rituals.

Rapid societal changes are having an impact on the weaving and its quality. There is widespread use of synthetic materials and alteration of styles and designs to suit the tourist market. Handwork is done on store-bought commercial fabric (synthetic polyester or cotton blend). It is no longer  easy to find punto de cruz (needlepoint work) or hand embroidery using naturally dyed fibers.

This is the poorest state in Mexico.  Many migrate in search of jobs.  Younger people are shedding traditional dress as they desire to assimilate.  Others move from villages to larger cities in search of employment.


Sergio Castro Martinez, #38 Guadalupe Victoria, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.  Phone: 967-678-4289.  sergiocastrosc@gmail.com


San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: First Impressions


San Cristobal de las Casas is a compact, walkable mountain town filled with energy, cafes that seat 10 or 15 people at most, coffee and wine bars, and villagers from indigenous pueblos selling crafts in markets, street corners and along the foot-traffic-only promenades that criss-cross the center.  Textile cooperatives abound and the city attracts an international artist-counterculture community of creatives.


The textiles here are extraordinary and I have spent the first two days exploring, looking, discerning the different quality in handcrafts and weaving.  In the days to come, I’ll write about our visit to Na Bolom and highlight the visit we had with Sergio Castro in his private textile museum near the zocalo.  Nearby organic coffee farms, locally owned and operated, offer a rich, tasty brew.


First impressions can always be a little dangerous because I have a tendency to jump to conclusions, especially after a long overnight bus ride with very little sleep.  This town is growing on me.  It is very different from Oaxaca which is an elegant, colonial city with wide thoroughfares and distinguished cuisine.  San Cristobal seems like an outpost in comparison.  It reminds me of Beijing hutongs — narrow winding streets, clay tiled roofs covering steep pitched roofs, weathered wood and adobe structures, ancient wood doors and windows kept shut with hand-forged metal.  But, it is full of hidden treasures.


There is character here.  And, it is an international crossroads between Guatemala and Mexico.  San Cristobal attracts backpackers, artists, spiritual seekers and textile mavens.  We have also come across university professors from the U.S. who research the indigenous languages, culture, social and political systems.  It is rich, especially because of centuries-old resistance to oppressive government.  Take your choice:  Aztecs, Spaniards, and more contemporary varieties.  Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatistas are revered here and have a presence in the city with an indigenous handcraft gallery.  Every textile shop and street vendor sells a version of a Zapatista cloth doll with black hat and face mask.


The climate now is very chilly nights and mild, partly cloudy days that make it easy to sit at a sidewalk cafe during the day and snuggle up next to a fire next to the restaurant table at night.

It’s 8:45 a.m. and time for breakfast, so I will write more, catch as catch can.


The Improvised Life

This morning I landed in San Cristobal de las Casas via overnight bus, aided by doses of ginger drops as an antedote to the winding mountain road for much of the trip.  We showed up at Posada Ganesh which was not accurately described in Lonely Planet and decided not to stay.

A friend turned me on to this blog The Improvised Life.  It’s a daily missive about  ways to create, explore, think outside the box, to push beyond one’s comfort zone.  After college I went right to work, raised a family, started then closed a business, and launched a many-year career working in universities. I never back-packed in Europe or India like my friends did after college.  I did what my parents expected of me: go to work, be responsible, live sensibly.

Today, I am sitting in a very clean, friendly, warmback-packers hostel in San Cristobal de las Casas — Casa del Abuelito — surrounded by 20-30-40 something’s who are exploring Mexico and Central America, traveling by bus, off to places north and south, originating from Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Argentina. I regard them with admiration and respect.

This is a mirocosm.  We live in a smaller world, and I now get to try out what it feels like to find a place to sleep without a reservation, stay a little longer if I want to, and not have a plan.   Today I will wander and see what else I will discover.