BootsnAll Travel Network

Chichicastenango – Guatemala’s Largest Market


Chichicastenango (Chi Chi) is a small Mayan town in the western highlands of Guatemala which is famous for its traditional market. Market days are Thursday and Sunday and, each week, the colorful scene attracts both locals and international tourists. One of the most striking sights in Chichicastenango is the myriad of colors present in the multiple styles of traditional native dress of the local woman from all over Guatemala. Those knowledgeable about the textiles can tell where the wearers are from as many of the costumes are village or group specific.

Vendors begin setting up their booths in the main plaza and adjacent streets the night before and continue in the early daylight hours. Firecrackers start going off early in the morning and continue sporadically throughout the day adding to the scent of the incense which is burned in abundance on the steps of the church of Santo Tomás next to the market. The 400 year old church of Santo Tomás has 18 stairs that lead up to the church’s main entrance. Each step represents one month of the Mayan calendar year. It is very important to be respectful of the local people and their customs. Tourists visiting the church should enter through the side doors rather than the front entrance.

The market is highly organized with vendors of specific goods occupying traditional sites in the market area. Among the items sold are textiles, particularly women’s blouses, hand carved masks, handicrafts, food, flowers, medicinal plants, pigs and chickens, machetes, and much more. There are plenty of buses and shuttles from Guatemala City, Antigua and Panajachel that travel to Chichicastenango, particularly on market days when there is a steady flow of direct buses.

Boy, the above was pretty good writing, succinct, to the point, in an easy to read format. I copied it off a site when I did a search for the name of the place because all I could remember was Chi Chi. The authors name is Chris but the articles don´t provide a last name so that is as much as I can give.

For my part, it took three chicken buses (although you rarely ever see chickens or other animals anymore as the villagers who are bringing the above chickens and animals to market often utilize the open bed pickup trucks as transport as they tend to reach the more outlying areas where a lot of the marketers come from) to get to Chi Chi with only a slight overshoot of the town as I was on a non-direct bus and the town center is fairly small and there is no formal bus station. A local tout picked me up and took me to a sprawling hotel which had over a hundred colorful but worn out rooms.

I had come to Chi Chi on saturday morning even though the market was on Sunday as the guidebook suggested getting there early as rooms tended to fill up in the small town. I think that the info is dated as there were a plethora of places to stay and not really many tourists staying the night. Most tourists came in package deals and stayed in either the one moderately fancy hotel or just did a day package to the market from other tourist towns or the capital. For me, since I have a low drive for seeing markets had to come the day before because I probably wouldn´t have gone had I had to wake up early as well as the issue with having to take six chicken buses in a day or an overpriced tourist van that would leave at some ungodly hour to get there first thing in the morning.

By the look of the town on saturday, it seems the market is fairly busy all week with the two major market days on Sunday and thursday. Scouting around I found a standard tortilla making with attached cookery right in the center of the market with the usual gaggle of young girls running the place. As usual in two days, lunch and dinner, I sampled a different plate each time, all good and hearty. After a walk through pretty much all the streets, I spent the rest of my day hanging out at the hotel which had a bunch of rooftop kick back areas looking over different parts of the town. I got lucky and the Saturday procession ran right along the hotel and I got some great vertical photos.

Sunday morning the market kicks off at around 4-5am as the people start to set up their individual stands. By 6-7am things are hot and heavy as all the villagers in the surrounding mountains come to buy, sell, trade, or just make a day out of it. By 9-10a the tourist buses start showing up with the camera toting zombies scooting through the market in their little packs. At 11am I roll out of bed after watching Miami Ink and Extreme Makeover.

Unlike the prior market in Solola which was much more of a locals affair, this one would probably rate at 50-50 tourist vs. locals. Lots of color, lots of people, lots of commotion. It was nice that my hotel was just at the edge of the market so I could dip into some peace and quiet for a while before heading back into the crowds.

Being market 1514 for me, it wasn´t of any great importance, but sitting on the stairs to one of the churches overlooking the market, I did have a change of perception. Usually I am a tourist avoider but seeing how much of the market had been converted to tourist related goods and the peoples lives depending on it, I kind of wished that a lot more people could or would visit the market. It was also nice seeing people buying the tourist crap, again not my thing, but I am very happy for the locals who are probably feeling like they are making a golden deal whenever they sell anything to a tourist. The markup is massive. I do understand that having more tourists would also proportionally effect the change to more tourist related crap as the family selling beans probably would switch over to candy clothes once they saw how much money their neighbor made just by selling one shirt. This is also one of those things that I wish people would do rather than to give money to NGO´s. Don´t worry about volunteering and donating to companies, just come and spend money with the locals. Come yourself, buy shit and both sides leave happy.

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