What I Bought in Panajachel

Panajachel is a small town, nestled on the banks of Lake Atitlan, just a few miles down a winding road from Sololá.  We stayed five nights at Hotel Atitlan which is a two minute tuk tuk ride from the heart of Panajachel.  Santander is the main street in Panajachel where you’ll find most of the shops and restaurants. Cars are not allowed (though bikes and tuk tuks are) which allows you to stroll the street freely.

The cobblestone street is brimming with shops of all kinds, selling clothing, paintings, shoes, jewelry and so much more. It’s a few blocks long and can be visited in a shorter amount of time, though we spent hours there over a couple days really enjoying the atmosphere and all the things to see.

You can take a break from your browsing and have a latte or a scoop of delicious coffee ice cream at one of the cafes or a full meal at the many restaurants that line the street. We spent our time not just buying but connecting with the artists and vendors, learning about the handmade items, about their families and Guatemala itself.   You can create the opportunity for learning and connection at any time, in any place if you allow yourself to be open to it. People want to share their stories. You just have to show you care enough to want to know them.


I have been collecting masks from my travels over the last 15 years and I have come across these carved, bright colored animal masks a few times in different countries. Of course I was told they were made locally and I bought a few on my last trip to Isla Roatan.  Come to find out they are handmade in Guatemala!! I already had a small collection going so I added to it with the masks I purchased below.  They also had mini masks which I am going to use as ornaments on my travel themed Christmas tree.

I really love the bold colors and varied prints and patterns.  Each one is unique and a beautiful collection of them now hangs in my living room.





Off of the main Santander street you will find all these little walkways, leading to more shops and courtyards with treasures to discover. Definitely take a look down these little off shoots as these vendors may be more willing to bargain as they aren’t on the main drag.  At the end of one of these little walkways is where I met Majuana and her sweet children.

We spent quite a bit of time with them, her eldest daughter translating for us, while she shared her shop’s blouses and belts with us. She taught me how Guatemalan women traditionally wrap their heads in the most beautiful way. We got so much joy out of connecting with them that we went back and visited them a few days later.


These are a few of the stunning belts that I purchased from Majuana, that can also be used as head wraps.


Along Santander you’ll also find many stands and booths selling traditionally beaded jewelry, from earrings to cuff bracelets to bold collar necklaces, the choices are endless.  Guatemalans truly have mastered the art of intricate design, bold colors and patterns and that beauty is reflected in all the items they create. My turquoise and copper necklace and earrings below are still one of my favorite purchases I made.



Down another one of those side walkways was an open courtyard lined with shops on each side. This is where I found the most amazing Huipil (traditional woven Guatemalan blouses) shop brimming with every color and design you could imagine. Just when I thought I found the perfect one, I found another and another that took my breath away. Each region has a specific design and weaving technique that lets you know where it is from.

I spent a lot of time among all this beauty, not really wanting to decide on just one blouse.  Again, we had fun bargaining with the shop owner and came to a deal for the four blouses you see below. One recommendation I can give is to try them on for size. Many of them had small neck holes and my head didn’t fit through them.  A couple tops I bought were too small in the neck but I just let out the seam a bit and can now wear them.



I also picked up a few woven leather belts and a super cool fanny pack (wait, do cool and fanny pack even go in the same sentence?) that I thought would be useful for future travels.

We visited Santander a few times in the five days we stayed on Lake Atitlan. Each time I discovered something new and it really is a pleasant stroll through the center of town.



Sheena’s Side Notes:

~ Definitely pick up some roasted nuts from the gentleman selling them out of a wheel barrel. They were the best peanuts I’ve had and we snacked on them our entire trip. A decent sized bag was about $3.

~ Eat the freshly roasted corn from the grandma selling it on the sidewalk. I know, I was apprehensive to eat street food but covered in lime and salt it was so delicious and for less than $1 you can’t go wrong!! I’ve tried replicating it at home and it is not the same.

~ There are a lot of shops selling similar items, so bargain.  If you can’t make a deal, you’ll probably be able to down the street with someone else.

~ Beware of machine made embroidery. It is usually found on cheaper items, like bags.  The more you look around you’ll be able to spot it pretty easily. It does not have the fine workmanship of the handmade embroidery and the price tag will usually reflect that.

~ When you are buying, be aware that most items in Guatemala are made by hand, taking hours or months to create. This art is how people feed their families and make an honest living. Be fair in the price you negotiate so that everyone walks away winning.

~ If you follow Santander to end you will end up at a platform overlooking Lake Atitlan. It offers a stunning view of the vista and is a great spot to take photos. Below is one we took while there.




ChiChicastenango Market

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.

Chi Chi Church

Stepping out of the church, the stairs are sprinkled with offerings.


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.


I loved all this colored yarn which is used in the traditional 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!