Guatemala’s Biggest, Most Colorful Market: Chichicastenango
In a mountainous region of Guatemala, with foggy mornings that create a mystic atmosphere and cool yet sunny days, there is one of the most colorful and magical towns in the region: Chichicastenango, or—as the locals call it—Chichi.
Chichicastenango’s claim to fame is its market, which is one of the largest and most colorful in all Latin America, and the main theme of this blog post! Let me convince you of why you must visit Chichi and witness the beauty and magic of this place. ¡Vamos!
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A Brief History of Chichicastenango
Santo Tomás Chichicastenango is located in Quiché, one of the 22 departments (the Guatemalan equivalent of a state) that form the Republic of Guatemala. It’s 90 miles northwest of Guatemala City.
The original name of this city was Chaviar, but the Spaniards changed it after the conquest. The name Santo Tomás (Saint Thomas) is in honor of one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ, Chichicastenango comes from Náhuatl and means muralla de ortigas (nettle wall).
Chichi has a predominantly indigenous population, with more than the 98% being K’iche Maya, contrary to many other towns and cities in Guatemala where the majority of the population is mixed or ladino.
Chichicastenango is considered to be one of the most important municipalities of Quiché because of its cultural, historic, and touristic relevance. Chichicastenango is where the Popol Vuh was discovered. It’s one of the most important Mayan religious texts.
El Mercado de Chichicastenango
El mercado de Chichicastenango (the Chichi market) is the largest in Guatemala and one of the biggest in Latin America.
Every Thursday and Sunday, hundreds of vendors put up their stalls in the central park of Chichi. Nested between two churches—Santo Tomás and El Calvario (the Calvary)—this place is the perfect example of sincretismo religioso (religious syncretism).
You’ll see Christian imagery everywhere, hear the sound of several prayers in Spanish and in Mayan language, and smell the rich aroma of incense for Mayan ceremonies. Locals and tourists alike say that el mercado de Chichicastenango has an amazing energy that contributes to its mystical and friendly ambience.
La Venta de Flores: Where the colors begin!
In front of the Santo Tomás church, the stairs overflow with flower vendors during los días de mercado (market days). The fragrance of the flowers and incense drifts down the block. The colorful flowers offer a sneak peek of the vibrant colors at the market.
There are many different kinds of flowers that are sold in the stairs of the Santo Tomás church (as a fun fact, the stairs are made up of 18 steps as a reference to the Mayan calendar), and all those flowers are used for different purposes! Some are used for weddings, as gifts, as decoration for the hotels and restaurants around the town and some are even used for Mayan ceremonies or to decorate the colorful graveyard that is not too far away from the market.
Fruits and Vegetables in Chichicastenango
From the stairs where the flowers are, you’ll see the line of market stalls. Although there’s not an official map to travel through the market, it’s easily navigated because it’s divided into sections.
For example, the area where the fruits, vegetables and rest of the food is sold is in a large covered area that resembles a gymnasium and is a permanent part of the market. These products are sold all week long, but business is better on market days.
This section of the market offers any fruit, vegetable, legume, grain or root native to the region, and some imports. The area, which is normally packed with people, is clean and hygienic.
The rest of the market is put up on market day and taken down at the end of the day. Even the temporary stands with textiles or handicrafts come back to the same area every week.
Traditional Textiles and Handicrafts: The Color Inside the Market
The colorful Guatemalan textiles are the unique heart of the Chichi market.
Los huipiles are intricately embroidered blouses native to Guatemala and worn by Mayan women throughout the country. They’re available at the Chichicastenango market, along with fajas (belts), cortes (skirts), and men’s shirts and pants.
El traje de Chichicastenango, or the typical garments of Chichicastenango, are handmade by Mayan women of the region in a process that lasts several months. These unique garments cost up to Q2,000 (US$260). While you can find cheaper products, they’re not as durable as the real deal! Many other products feature tela típica (traditional Mayan cloth), such as purses, wallets, and backpacks.
Another important product sold in Chichi’s market is handcrafted pottery made with barro (clay). You’ll see figurines and small souvenirs in the shape of camionetas (chicken buses). Handmade clay pots for cooking are also available for purchase.
Besides pottery, there are a lot of other typical products you can buy in the market as souvenirs or gifts, such as jewelry, religious imagery, wooden carved masks, and other curious things like las muñecas quitapenas—little dolls that people say you can tell your problems to, and they will take them away. Los trastecitos are small dishes made of clay or wood, and the toy trucks made with wood and bottle caps are my personal favorite.
Interesting Things You Can Find at the Chichi Market
At the Chichicastenango market, the sale of live animals is legal. A section of the market sells chickens, hens, turkeys, and other animals.
Different elements and offerings for Mayan rituals are also on offer in Chichi. Some stands offer handmade amulets to cure certain ailments.
Now you’re prepared to visit and enjoy the Chichicastenango market! Just in case you need to remember some of the words and products of things you can find here, here is a brief list to help you refresh your memory.
|Las imágenes religiosas||Religious imagery|
|Los juguetes típicos||Typical toys|
|Los trajes típicos||Typical clothes|
|¿Cuanto cuesta?||How much is it?|
|¿Cuanto lo menos?||The least?|
|¡Me lo llevo!||I will buy it!|
How to Get to the Chichicastenango Market
First and foremost, fly to Guatemala City’s international airport! Once you’ve arrived, there are multiple ways to get to Chichi.
Chicken buses only cost a few dollars, but they’re not for the faint of heart. Private shuttle rates range from $11 to $30. You can hire this service from your hotel. You can also rent a car, but the fees are higher.
Find lodging in a hotel or hostel in Chichicastenango to experience the market in the morning before it gets too crowded.
Another option is to make Chichicastenango part of a tour that includes Antigua Guatemala and Panajachel at Lake Atitlan. I recommend allotting at least 3 hours to visit the Chichi market and the surrounding areas.
Lastly, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this gem of a song by Guatemalan composer Paco Perez. The song Chichicastenango reflects perfectly the essence and energy you can find in Chichicastenango market.
Learn Spanish Before Your Next Trip!
When traveling to Chichicastenango—or anywhere—communication is key. Sometimes, communication between tourists and locals is a challenge. You might need a translator or a guide, which greatly restricts your experience. For that reason, speaking Spanish is a huge help!
There’s a special satisfaction in being able to communicate with the natives of a place you are visiting in their own language. That way there are no barriers, and you are treated with certain respect for being able to communicate effectively and for being interested in their language.
Sign up for a free class with a native Spanish-speaking teacher and learn how to sound like a native speaker in Spanish before you go on your trip! Here at Homeschool Spanish Academy, we have more than 10 years of experience preparing people so they can communicate effectively in Spanish in any circumstance. Take advantage of our tailored Spanish packages and flexible schedules to help you prepare for your next adventure in Latin America!
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