One of my must visits on our trip to Guatemala last year was the famous Chichicastenango Market, held every Thursday and Sunday in the mountain top town of Chichicastenango (known as Chi Chi for short). We drove our rental car from where we were staying on Lake Atitlan, which took about an hour. Beautiful forests, road side stands and small villages dot the drive along the windy mountain road as you make your way to Chi Chi.
As you head into town, you can feel the energy in the air change. The verdant trees and calm breezes morph into the sounds of church bells ringing, chickens cooing, pigs snorting, footsteps pounding, buyers haggling, shopkeeper’s hawking and cameras clicking. All the while the fragrance of fresh blooms, hot tortillas and fried chicken float in the incense heavy air. When you get there, you know you have arrived some place magical.
We parked our car on the street and found a local guide to show us around. Our first stop was the 400 year old Church of Santo Tomas which is the centerpiece to the market. This Catholic church was built on top of the platform of an ancient Maya temple. Today, you will find vendors selling their flower bundles atop the steps leading into the church.
It was so interesting to visit the church and learn that both Catholic services and Maya priests perform rituals in the same sacred space. Down the entire center of the building are Maya alters that lay parallel to paintings of Catholic saints along the walls.
After visiting the church we made our way into the maze of the market. Chi Chi is bursting with color and pattern. It is not just a feast for the eyes, it is a veritable buffet for the senses. Shopkeepers are trying to grab your attention while your eyes are scanning the stalls trying to make sense of it all.
You can turn left or right, go up and down and the stalls are endless, brimming with handmade textiles, jewelry, traditional Huipil blouses, bags, musical instruments, kitchen items and the list goes on. Chi Chi is a market where indigenous groups from various towns come to market to sell their wares which results in a stunning array of items to choose from.
This was our first shopping experience while in Guatemala so I didn’t have a gauge on average prices for things which helps me when bargaining. I had no idea if the prices I was being quoted were reasonable or totally inflated so I was apprehensive to pull the trigger on much. I ended up only purchasing two necklaces and spent the rest of the time taking it all in. In retrospect, after visiting other cities and shopping spots, the prices quoted at Chi Chi were reasonable though there is always room for some bargaining.
After walking through the “tourist” section of the market we visited the part of the market where the locals purchase food items and supplies for their weaving.
On our way out of the market we passed more stalls worthy of making a rainbow jealous!
Overall we spent a couple hours exploring the church and the market which felt like enough. For our first visit, it was a lot to take in. I am sure with subsequent visits, I would linger longer.
At the very end of our visit, headed back to the car, my husband popped into a shop to buy a calling card and this sweet man caught my eye from across the market.
I crossed the road to get closer and felt myself compelled to introduce myself. He didn’t speak English and I spoke broken Spanish but our smiles shared feelings that needed no words. His smile radiated with warmth and his eyes were filled with such a deep tenderness. Just being in his presence set my heart aglow. Joy danced across my face from the fleeting moment of our connection, a moment of being completely present in connecting with another soul. We may never see one another again but I will never forget him for he left such a tender imprint on my heart.
This is Pedro and his smile was the perfect ending to our visit of Chichicastenango Market.
Sheena’s Side Notes:
~ Definitely bargain when you are buying but know that some vendors aren’t willing to negotiate. I think with all the visitors to Chi Chi, if you aren’t willing to pay the price they ask there is another buyer right behind you that is, so they’ll wait for them.
~ If you get lost in the maze, always ask where the Church of Santo Tomas is and you can find your way out as it borders the edge of the market.
~ Grab some amazing, freshly made tortillas, being cooked throughout the market!
~ Stop at a fruit stand on your drive home and pick up some snacks. We did and the fruit was delicious!
~ If you’re driving, go slow, the road from Sololá to Chi Chi is dotted with massive speed bumps and tight winding roads. Going slower will allow you to take in all the amazing scenery along the way too!
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