Visiting the Chichicastenango Sunday Market
Chichicastenango, colloquially known as Chichi, is one of the main tourist draws of Guatemala. A bustling trading center for centuries, Chichi is nowadays home to a sprawling and richly colored market, held every Thursday and Sunday.
The goods on sale are varied and for the most part exquisitely handmade. From beautifully patterned huipils (women’s blouses) to intricate blankets and mysterious-looking wooden masks, the gifted work of artisans’ hands are on full display through seemingly endless corridors and narrow alleyways.
We arrived at the Chichicastenango Sunday market in the early morning. Since the stalls are prepared the previous evening, business was already booming by the time we took our first steps into the harlequin maze.
I’ll admit we were temporarily taken aback by the swarm of fellow tourists soon strolling through every street. We have been out of the hectic path for a while now, our life in Panajachel having turned into a whispered affair, and were therefore unaccustomed to seeing local vendors giving the usual sales pitch in French, English and even Italian.
Nonetheless, we would never refer to it as a tourist trap. There are too many splendidly carved wooden ceremonial masks and delicately embroidered fabrics on display for it to be considered anything less than a vast and chaotic treasure trove.
Following the initial shock, we roamed entranced for hours, helping friends haggle the price of a blanket, chatting with white-dusted men selling cal (lime stones used for preparing tortillas), feeling the soft touch of several table clothes and even picking up a few guavas to complement our fruit bowl at home.
One of the benefits of visiting the market on a Sunday is the possibility to witness shamans and locals burning copal (traditional incense) by the entrance of the Santo Tomás church. The church’s steps were full of old K’iche’ Maya ladies selling flowers, their sweet scent mingling with the earthy smoke descending from above.
The 400-year-old Catholic church is built atop a Pre-Columbian structure, most likely a Mayan temple. Although not as mystically captivating as the church of San Juan Chamula we had visited in Mexico, its interior was still a fascinating sight to behold. Outside, the 18 stairs where locals and tourists alike rested their tired feet or kept watch of the doings below stand for each month of the Mayan calendar year.
Across the central plaza, facing the church of Santo Tomás, lies the smaller El Calvario, quiet and unadorned. Crossing the distance between them is almost a feat of endurance, the continuous flow of people and multicolored textiles making the churches seem much farther apart than they really are.
In the end, the greatest compliment we can give the Chichicastenango Sunday market is that it made us wish we had a house of our own, to decorate with all the gorgeous merchandise we saw.
We’ll conclude with a few more sights of our multicolored day in Chichi:
Getting from Panajachel to Chichicastenango
Since we were having a day out in the company of friends, we opted for a shuttle bus. Our tickets were bought at Tierra Maya, whose booth is located in Calle Santander. Since we had already used them for our border crossing between Mexico and Guatemala, we enjoyed a small discount. The price for a return trip is 95 GTQ/9 EUR per person, but with our discount we ended up paying 80 GTQ/7.6 EUR each. Accounting for traffic and road conditions, expect to arrive in Chichi around one hour and 30 minutes after leaving Panajachel.
Although a shuttle bus is the easiest way to tackle the winding roads between Panajachel and Chichi, there are plenty of chicken buses making the same route. However, there is no direct service, so travelers departing from Calle Principal must change buses at Los Encuentros. The whole trip will cost under 20 GTQ/2 EUR per person one way, and will take longer than by shuttle bus.