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.

Masks and Santo Tomás church Chichicastenango Sunday Market

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.

Chichicastenango Sunday Market

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.

Santo Tomás Church Chichicastenango Sunday Market

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.

Santo Tomás Church Chichicastenango Sunday Market

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.

El Calvario viewed from Santo Tomás

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:

Chichicastenango Sunday Market

Chichicastenango Sunday Market

Santo Tomás church

Chichicastenango Sunday Market

Santo Tomás church

Chichicastenango Sunday Market

Selling cal at Chichicastenango Sunday Market

El Calvario

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.

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13 Responses

  1. Samantha says:

    Wow looks busy! Love markets like this, one of the best ways to experience the real life of the locals there. How colorful!

    • FW North says:

      Hola Samantha! Yep, it was really busy – we are not used to the crowds anymore, either made of tourists or locals. But it was a great morning out, and the colors were stunning. Thank you for stopping by and good luck!

  2. Ohhh man, those colours are so vibrant. can you send me a little something?

  3. Incredible photos! Loving the candid pics of the people especially.

    Having just left Guatemala for Nicaragua, I feel a little sad I missed this market. Looks like a wonderful experience 🙂

    • FW North says:

      Thanks a lot, Marek! Now you’ll have an excuse to return to Guatemala! Good luck in Nicaragua! We’re looking forward to visiting as well.

  4. One of my favorite things about visiting new places is spending some time at the local markets. It’s incredible some of the things you find. Amazing pictures capturing all the locals.

    • FW North says:

      We love visiting markets – they’ve become highlights of our trips. Thank you for visiting and safe travels!

  5. I’m heading to Guatemala next month. I love markets and this looks right up my street. I hope to see it for Day of the Dead.

  1. August 7, 2018

    […] Copal burned outside St. Tomas Church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala (credit) […]

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