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To The Market We Go: Chichicastenango, Guatemala


by Becka Dehoyos



Welcome to Chichicastenango, a vibrant and culturally rich destination nestled in the highlands of Guatemala. This small town, often referred to as Chichi, is famous for its bustling market, where locals and visitors alike can immerse themselves in a captivating blend of sights, sounds, and aromas. With its charming colonial streets and colorful indigenous culture, Chichicastenango offers a truly unique and unforgettable experience.


Stepping into Chichicastenango is like stepping back in time. This town has a rich history that traces back to the pre-Columbian period, when it was a major trading hub for the Mayan civilization. Today, it is known as one of the largest and most lively markets in Central America, attracting tourists from all over the world.


One of the highlights of visiting Chichicastenango is the market days, which take place on Thursdays and Sundays. On these days, the town comes alive with vibrant colors and bustling activity as locals set up their stalls to sell a wide variety of goods. From intricately woven textiles and handicrafts to fresh produce and spices, the market offers a treasure trove of unique and authentic items.


Exploring the market is like embarking on a sensory adventure. The air is filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and mouth-watering street food, while the vibrant colors of the textiles and crafts catch your eye at every turn. The market is a feast for all the senses, and wandering through the narrow alleys and crowded stalls is a delight for both shoppers and cultural enthusiasts.


Chichicastenango is not only famous for its market but also its rich artistic heritage. The town is home to skilled artisans who continue to practice traditional crafts, such as weaving and woodcarving, passed down through generations. As you browse through the stalls, you’ll find beautifully crafted textiles, ceramics, pottery, and intricate masks that reflect the rich cultural traditions of the local Mayan communities.


After a day of shopping and exploring, be sure to indulge in the local cuisine. Chichicastenango offers a variety of delicious dishes that showcase the flavors of Guatemala. From hearty soups and stews to savory tamales and mouth-watering tortillas, there is something to satisfy every palate. Don’t forget to try the local specialty, pepián, a rich and flavorful meat stew.


Religion also plays a significant role in the daily life of the locals in Chichicastenango. The town is home to the iconic Santo Tomás church, where indigenous Mayan rituals blend with Catholic traditions. Witnessing a religious ceremony here is a truly unique and awe-inspiring experience, as the church is filled with colorful flowers, incense, and the sounds of ancient chants.


While Chichicastenango is primarily known for its market, there are also other attractions and activities to enjoy in the surrounding area. Take a hike to the nearby Iximché archaeological site, explore the stunning Lake Atitlán, or visit the charming town of Sololá. The natural beauty and cultural significance of Chichicastenango and its surrounding area make it a must-visit destination in Guatemala.


If you’re planning a visit to Chichicastenango, it’s essential to know some practical information to make the most of your trip. From transportation options to accommodation and safety tips, we’ll provide you with all the details you need to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.


Get ready to immerse yourself in the vibrant colors, rich history, and unique cultural traditions of Chichicastenango. Whether you’re a passionate shopper, a history buff, or simply looking to experience the authentic charm of Guatemala, this historical market town has something to offer everyone. So, grab your backpack and join us on a journey to the enchanting world of Chichicastenango.


History of Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango has a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years. The town was originally established as a trading center by the Mayan civilization, making it an important hub for commerce and cultural exchange.


The name “Chichicastenango” has its roots in the ancient Mayan language. It is believed to be a combination of three words: “Chi,” meaning “tree,” “chi,” meaning “burial place,” and “caste,” meaning “ten.” This conveys the significance of the town as a sacred burial ground surrounded by lush trees.


Chichicastenango was an important center of the Quiché Maya civilization, one of the major indigenous groups in Guatemala. The town served as a gathering place for the Mayan tribes to trade goods, exchange knowledge, and participate in religious rituals.


During the Spanish colonial period, Chichicastenango continued to play a prominent role in the region’s history. Spanish conquerors established a Catholic church in the town, which became an important symbol of their dominance and influence. The Santo Tomás church, built in the 16th century, stands as a testament to this colonial legacy. Today, it is one of the most iconic landmarks in Chichicastenango and a significant religious site.


Despite the arrival of the Spanish, the indigenous traditions of the Mayan people persisted in Chichicastenango. The blending of Mayan rituals and Catholicism can be witnessed in the religious ceremonies performed at the Santo Tomás church. This unique fusion of cultural practices is a testament to the resilience and preservation of indigenous traditions.


In recent years, Chichicastenango has gained popularity among international tourists, drawing visitors from all over the world to experience its vibrant market and rich cultural heritage. The town’s unique blend of Mayan traditions, Spanish colonial influence, and modern-day tourism has created a truly captivating atmosphere.


Today, Chichicastenango stands as a living testament to Guatemala’s rich history and indigenous cultures. The town’s ancient ruins, traditional crafts, and religious ceremonies offer a glimpse into the vibrant tapestry of Mayan heritage that continues to thrive in the present day. It is a place where history comes alive, and visitors can immerse themselves in a world of fascinating stories and ancient traditions.


Market days in Chichicastenango

One of the highlights of visiting Chichicastenango is experiencing the bustling market days that take place on Thursdays and Sundays. These market days attract visitors from near and far, offering a unique opportunity to witness the vibrant energy and rich cultural traditions of the town.


On market days, the town comes alive with a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and aromas. The central plaza and surrounding streets are transformed into a lively marketplace where locals and vendors from nearby communities gather to sell their goods.


Arriving at the market early in the morning is a must to fully immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere. As the sun rises, rows of stalls are set up, filled with a diverse array of products. Textiles, handicrafts, clothing, pottery, fresh produce, spices, and traditional Mayan remedies are just a few of the many items you’ll find.


The market offers a treasure trove of unique and authentic products that showcase the craftsmanship and cultural heritage of the indigenous communities. Intricately woven textiles, such as huipiles (traditional blouses) and colorful handwoven blankets, are particularly popular among visitors. These items are often made by skilled artisans using traditional techniques passed down through generations.


In addition to textiles, you’ll find an abundance of handcrafted goods, including wooden masks, clay pottery, and intricately carved sculptures. These items reflect the rich artistic traditions of the Mayan people and make for wonderful mementos of your visit to Chichicastenango.


The market days in Chichicastenango are not just about shopping; they are also a social and cultural gathering for the local community. It is an opportunity for people from different villages to come together, exchange news, and reconnect with friends and family.


While exploring the market, be prepared to haggle and negotiate. Bargaining is a common practice, and vendors expect customers to engage in friendly negotiation to reach a fair price. This adds a fun and interactive element to the shopping experience, allowing you to test your negotiation skills and potentially score some great deals.


As you navigate the crowded streets, take the time to soak in the sights and sounds. The market is a sea of vibrant colors, with textiles hanging from stalls and traditional garments worn by the locals. The air is filled with the aroma of freshly cooked street food, enticing you to sample the local cuisine.


Market days in Chichicastenango are not just about shopping and browsing; they are an immersive cultural experience. Witnessing the lively interactions, vibrant displays, and bustling activity is a true feast for the senses and offers a unique opportunity to connect with the local community.


Whether you’re an avid shopper, a cultural enthusiast, or simply looking to experience the authentic charm of Guatemala, the market days in Chichicastenango are an absolute must-see. So prepare your senses for an unforgettable adventure and get ready to dive into the vibrant colors and cultural richness of Chichicastenango’s market days.


Exploring the market

Exploring the market in Chichicastenango is like embarking on a sensory adventure. The bustling stalls, vibrant colors, and lively atmosphere create an experience unlike any other. As you navigate through the narrow alleyways and crowded streets, a world of unique and authentic products awaits.


Start your exploration in the central plaza, where you’ll find a myriad of stalls selling traditional textiles, clothing, and handicrafts. The stalls are filled with colorful huipiles, intricately woven blankets, and beautifully embroidered fabrics. Each piece tells a story of Mayan craftsmanship and cultural heritage.


Take the time to admire the intricate patterns and vibrant colors, knowing that every thread was woven by skilled artisans using traditional techniques passed down through generations. Whether you’re looking for a unique table runner, a stylish bag, or a cozy scarf, you’re sure to find something that catches your eye.


As you venture deeper into the market, you’ll come across stalls brimming with handcrafted goods. Wooden masks, clay pottery, and carved sculptures showcase the rich artistic traditions of the local Mayan communities. These unique creations make for wonderful souvenirs and gifts that encapsulate the cultural richness of Chichicastenango.


While textiles and crafts dominate the market, there is much more to discover. Explore the stalls offering fresh produce, spices, and local delicacies. Colorful fruits, vegetables, and herbs are displayed in an array of baskets and crates. The aroma of roasted coffee, spices, and traditional street food fills the air, enticing you to savor the flavors of Guatemala.


Engage with the vendors, who are friendly and proud to share their products and stories. Feel free to ask questions about the items, their origins, and the techniques used in their creation. The vendors often have fascinating tales to tell and can offer insights into the cultural significance of the products.


As you wander through the market, be sure to keep an eye out for traditional Mayan remedies and herbal medicines. Local healers and vendors offer a wide range of natural products that are believed to have healing properties. From herbal teas and oils to spiritual talismans, these remedies are deeply rooted in Mayan traditions and provide an intriguing glimpse into holistic healing practices.


Take your time to explore every nook and cranny of the market, allowing yourself to get lost in the vibrant atmosphere and immerse yourself in the cultural tapestry of Chichicastenango. Don’t be afraid to venture off the main streets and into the smaller alleys, where you might stumble upon hidden gem stalls offering unique finds.


Remember to bring cash, as many stalls in the market do not accept credit cards. It’s also a good idea to bring a reusable bag to carry your purchases and reduce waste. And most importantly, approach your exploration with a spirit of curiosity and adventure, ready to soak in the vibrant ambiance and discover the hidden treasures of Chichicastenango’s market.


Traditional crafts and products

Chichicastenango is a haven for traditional crafts and products that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the Mayan people. Exploring the market, you’ll come across a wide array of beautifully handcrafted items, each intricately designed and imbued with the stories and traditions of the local artisans.


Textiles hold a special place in the heart of Chichicastenango’s craft scene. Skilled weavers create stunning pieces using traditional techniques passed down through generations. The market is filled with vibrant huipiles (traditional blouses), intricately woven blankets, and colorful textiles adorned with intricate patterns and symbolism. These intricate fabrics are a testament to the expertise and artistic flair of the local Mayan communities.


In addition to textiles, Chichicastenango is known for its exceptional pottery. From clay pots and bowls to decorative figures and sculptures, the market is a treasure trove of beautifully handcrafted ceramics. Many of these pieces feature intricate hand-painted designs, depicting scenes from Mayan mythology or incorporating traditional symbols and motifs.


Woodcarving is another traditional craft that thrives in Chichicastenango. Local artisans create stunning masks, figurines, and sculptures, using techniques passed down through generations. These exquisite wooden creations are often decorated with vibrant colors and intricate details, showcasing the craftsmanship and creativity of the artisans.


As you explore the market, you’ll also come across a variety of traditional clothing and accessories. The locals take great pride in their attire, which includes colorful embroidered blouses, handwoven belts, and intricately beaded accessories. These traditional garments reflect the cultural identity and heritage of the Mayan people, making them sought-after souvenirs for visitors.


If you’re a fan of jewelry, the market offers a wonderful selection of handcrafted pieces. Gleaming silver, vibrant beaded necklaces, and intricately crafted earrings can be found in the stalls. These jewelry pieces often incorporate traditional symbols and designs, making them unique and meaningful tokens of your visit to Chichicastenango.


Traditional Mayan remedies and herbal medicines are also a significant part of the market’s offerings. Local healers and vendors offer a range of natural products, including herbal teas, oils, and spiritual talismans. These remedies, deeply rooted in Mayan traditions, are believed to have healing properties and are sought after by those seeking holistic well-being.


When purchasing traditional crafts and products in Chichicastenango, it’s important to support the local artisans and purchase from reputable sources. Many vendors directly represent the skilled craftsmen and craftswomen, ensuring fair prices and sustainable business practices.


Bringing home a piece of Chichicastenango’s traditional crafts not only allows you to own a beautiful and unique souvenir but also provides a tangible connection to the rich cultural heritage of the Mayan people. Each item tells a story, representing the skill, creativity, and cultural significance of the artisans who have dedicated their lives to preserving these ancient techniques and traditions.


Food and local cuisine

When exploring Chichicastenango, be sure to indulge in the vibrant and flavorful local cuisine that reflects the diverse culinary traditions of Guatemala. From hearty stews and flavorful spices to fresh produce and traditional Mayan dishes, the food in Chichicastenango will satisfy any culinary enthusiast.


One must-try dish is pepián, a rich and flavorful meat stew that has become a local specialty. Made with a blend of roasted spices, tomatoes, vegetables, and chicken or beef, pepián is a comforting and satisfying dish that will warm you from the inside out. The stew is traditionally served with rice and tortillas to soak up the delicious flavors.


Tamales are another staple of Guatemalan cuisine that you’ll find in abundance in Chichicastenango. These delicious cornmeal dumplings are filled with various ingredients such as chicken, pork, or vegetables, and then wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Tamales are often served for breakfast or special occasions and are a delightful taste of the local flavors.


As you wander through the market, follow your nose to the mouth-watering aromas of street food stalls. Antojitos, or snacks, are a popular choice among locals and visitors alike. You can enjoy treats such as empanadas (fried dough filled with cheese or meat), chuchitos (similar to tamales but smaller), or tostadas (crispy corn tortillas piled high with toppings like beans, avocado, and meats).


Don’t miss the opportunity to sample the local fruits and vegetables available in Chichicastenango. The market is a treasure trove of fresh and seasonal produce, including tropical fruits like mangoes, papayas, and pineapples. You can also find an array of colorful vegetables such as tomatoes, avocados, and peppers. Try a refreshing fruit salad or savor the flavors of a freshly squeezed juice.


No meal is complete without a cup of Guatemalan coffee. Known for its rich flavor and smoothness, Guatemala is famous for producing some of the best coffee in the world. Treat yourself to a freshly brewed cup from one of the local cafes or enjoy it alongside a traditional Guatemalan sweet bread, such as pan dulce, for a delightful breakfast or afternoon treat.


For those looking to explore the local gastronomy in more depth, cooking classes and food tours are available in Chichicastenango. These experiences provide an opportunity to learn about the ingredients and techniques unique to the region, giving you insight into the flavors and cultural significance of Guatemalan cuisine.


As you indulge in the local food, keep in mind the rich culinary heritage and the importance of supporting the local economy. Many restaurants and eateries in Chichicastenango source their ingredients locally, ensuring that you get an authentic and sustainable dining experience.


For food lovers and adventurous eaters alike, Chichicastenango offers a delectable journey through the flavors and traditions of Guatemala. From comforting stews and flavorful spices to tantalizing street food and fresh produce, the local cuisine will leave you with a lasting impression of the culinary delights of Chichicastenango.


Religious ceremonies at the Santo Tomás church

The Santo Tomás church in Chichicastenango is not only a stunning architectural landmark but also a significant religious site that plays a central role in the spiritual and cultural life of the town. The church is a living representation of the fusion between Catholicism and indigenous Mayan beliefs, making it a truly unique and captivating place to visit.


Throughout the year, the Santo Tomás church hosts a variety of religious ceremonies and celebrations that offer a glimpse into the deep-rooted traditions of the Mayan people. These ceremonies combine Catholic rituals with indigenous practices, creating a beautiful blend of cultures and beliefs.


One of the most prominent and colorful religious events held at the church is the celebration of the town’s patron saint, Santo Tomás. This festival takes place in December and spans several days, with processions, music, dance, and traditional Mayan rituals. Locals and visitors gather at the church to honor the patron saint, offering prayers, flowers, and candles as symbols of devotion.


Another important event is the Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday. The church becomes the focal point for solemn processions and religious ceremonies, as the community commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Elaborately adorned floats, known as anda, are carried through the streets, depicting scenes from the Passion of the Christ.


Visiting the Santo Tomás church on Sundays offers the chance to witness traditional Mayan ceremonies that take place alongside Catholic Mass. The local Mayan community gathers in the church’s inner courtyard, known as the Pascual Abaj, to perform ancient rituals involving incense, prayers, and offerings. These ceremonies blend elements of indigenous spirituality with Catholicism, showcasing the syncretism that has developed over centuries.


As you enter the church, you’ll be struck by its imposing facade, adorned with intricate carvings and brightly painted statues. Inside, the atmosphere is infused with the scent of incense and the flickering glow of candles. The walls are adorned with colorful murals depicting biblical scenes and Mayan symbols, further exemplifying the intertwining of cultures.


Witnessing a religious ceremony at the Santo Tomás church is a deeply immersive experience. The sound of ancient chants, the swirl of vibrant traditional clothing, and the presence of spiritual devotion create an atmosphere that is both serene and awe-inspiring. It is a chance to glimpse into the spiritual beliefs and cultural practices that have shaped the identity of Chichicastenango.


Remember to be respectful during your visit to the church and the ceremonies. Dress modestly and avoid disruptive behavior or photography during religious rituals. With reverence and an open heart, you can fully appreciate the spiritual significance and cultural richness that unfolds within the walls of the Santo Tomás church.


Whether you consider yourself religious or not, the religious ceremonies at the Santo Tomás church offer a unique opportunity to witness the fusion of Catholicism and indigenous Mayan beliefs, providing a profound and enlightening experience that will stay with you long after you leave Chichicastenango.


Nearby attractions and activities

While Chichicastenango itself offers a wealth of cultural and historical attractions, there are also several nearby destinations that are worth exploring during your visit. From archaeological sites to natural wonders, these attractions provide a diverse range of experiences for travelers.


One highlight is the nearby archaeological site of Iximché, the ancient capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom. This fascinating site offers a glimpse into the ancient Mayan civilization, with its impressive pyramids, stone structures, and ceremonial plazas. Explore the ruins and imagine the vibrant life of the Mayan people who once inhabited the area.


For nature lovers, a visit to Lake Atitlán is a must. Surrounded by majestic volcanoes and charming lakeside villages, Lake Atitlán is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Take a boat ride to explore the villages, hike through the lush nature trails, or simply relax and soak in the breathtaking views of the lake.


The nearby town of Sololá also offers a unique cultural experience. Known for its colorful market, held on Tuesdays and Fridays, Sololá showcases the traditional clothing and crafts of the indigenous communities in the region. Explore the stalls filled with textiles, pottery, and handmade souvenirs, and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of this bustling market town.


For outdoor enthusiasts, the surrounding highland landscape provides opportunities for hiking and exploring. Take a scenic trek through the hills and valleys, encounter local fauna and flora, and enjoy panoramic views of the stunning countryside. The fresh mountain air and pristine natural beauty make for a rejuvenating experience.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Mayan culture, consider visiting the town of San Juan La Laguna. This tranquil village is known for its traditional textile production and natural dyeing techniques. Take a tour to learn about the intricate processes involved in creating these beautiful textiles and have the chance to meet local weavers and artisans.


For those seeking a deeper connection with the spiritual aspects of Guatemala, a visit to the village of San Andrés Xecul is highly recommended. This charming town is renowned for its brightly colored church, adorned with intricate Mayan designs and symbols. The church is a testament to the blending of Catholicism and indigenous beliefs, and exploring the town provides a unique glimpse into the spiritual perspectives of the local community.


As you venture beyond Chichicastenango, each nearby attraction offers its own charm and character. Whether you’re interested in history, nature, culture, or spirituality, these destinations provide a well-rounded and enriching experience that complements your visit to Chichicastenango.


It’s important to plan your visits to these nearby attractions in advance, taking into account transportation and time constraints. Whether you choose to explore ancient ruins, immerse yourself in natural beauty, or dive deeper into the cultural heritage, these nearby attractions will enhance your overall experience in the enchanting region of Chichicastenango.


Practical information for visitors

When planning a visit to Chichicastenango, it’s important to have some practical information to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some key details to keep in mind:


1. Market Days: The market in Chichicastenango takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. These are the best days to experience the vibrant atmosphere and explore the multitude of stalls offering a variety of products. Arriving early is recommended to fully immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle.


2. Getting There: Chichicastenango is located approximately 90 kilometers northwest of Guatemala City. The most common way to reach the town is by bus or private transportation. Buses run regularly from Guatemala City and other major towns, making it accessible for travelers.


3. Accommodation: Chichicastenango offers a range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and preferences. From cozy guesthouses to boutique hotels, you can find a place to stay within walking distance of the market and other attractions. It’s advisable to book your accommodation in advance, especially during high season.


4. Dress Code: Chichicastenango is a conservative town, and it’s respectful to dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites and attending ceremonies. It’s recommended to cover your shoulders and knees, and avoid wearing revealing clothing.


5. Currency and ATMs: The local currency is the Guatemalan Quetzal (GTQ). It’s a good idea to have cash on hand, as many stalls in the market may not accept credit cards. There are ATMs available in Chichicastenango where you can withdraw local currency.


6. Bargaining: Bargaining is a common practice in the market. Feel free to negotiate prices, but do so with respect and in a friendly manner. Remember that the goal is to find a mutually fair price for both the vendor and yourself.


7. Safety: Chichicastenango is generally a safe destination for visitors, but like any place, it’s important to take precautions. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas, and be aware of your surroundings. It’s advisable to use reliable transportation and take necessary safety measures.


8. Photography: While photography is generally allowed in the market, it’s important to be mindful and ask for permission before taking pictures of people, especially during religious ceremonies. Some vendors may request a small fee for taking photographs of their products.


9. Language: The official language of Guatemala is Spanish. While many locals in Chichicastenango may not speak fluent English, they are generally welcoming and will appreciate any effort to communicate in basic Spanish phrases or with the help of a translator app.


10. Respect for Local Customs: Chichicastenango is a town that deeply respects its indigenous traditions and customs. As a visitor, it’s important to be respectful of these cultural practices. Seek permission before entering someone’s property, ask before taking photographs, and avoid disrupting religious ceremonies.


By keeping these practical tips in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to make the most of your visit to Chichicastenango. Embrace the cultural richness, immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of the market, and enjoy the unique experiences this charming town has to offer.



Chichicastenango is a destination that captivates the imagination with its vibrant market, rich cultural traditions, and captivating history. Exploring the bustling alleys and stalls of the market days, discovering the intricate craftsmanship of traditional textiles and handicrafts, and witnessing the unique blend of Catholic and Mayan rituals at the Santo Tomás church provide an immersive and unforgettable experience.


Beyond the market, Chichicastenango offers a wealth of nearby attractions and activities to satisfy every interest. From the ancient ruins of Iximché to the breathtaking beauty of Lake Atitlán, there is a diverse range of experiences available for nature lovers, culture enthusiasts, and history buffs alike.


Practical information like market days, transportation options, accommodation, dress code, and local customs ensure a seamless and respectful exploration of the town. It’s important to approach Chichicastenango with an open mind, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to embrace the rich cultural heritage that permeates every corner of this enchanting destination.


Whether you’re savoring the flavors of traditional cuisine, witnessing the blending of Catholic and Mayan beliefs during religious ceremonies, or simply taking in the colorful sights and sounds of the market, Chichicastenango offers a truly unique and immersive experience that will leave a lasting impression.


So, pack your bags, come prepared to haggle for the perfect textile or carved mask, and immerse yourself in the vibrant colors, rich history, and unique culture of Chichicastenango. As you journey through this charming town, you’ll be enchanted by the warmth of the locals, the cultural richness of the market, and the profound sense of spirituality that infuses every corner. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, Chichicastenango promises an adventure like no other.