The Chichicastenango Market
The Chichicastenango market is one the largest and most well known markets in Guatemala. The town is nestled in the Mayan highlands in the department (or state) of Quiché. It is usually on every traveler’s list of places to visit when in Guatemala. Shuttles and guides provide weekly visits to the Mayan community to see the market. On market days (Thursday and Sunday) vendors line the main square to sell their goods.
Guatemala is the former seat of power for the Mayan people. The country is home to 21 different indigenous Mayan groups. The majority of these groups are represented in Chichi on the market days. The traditional clothing of the Maya is distinct and intricately hand-woven and dyed. Each town has a specific color and clothing design to represent their specific ethnic group.
The seemingly chaotic market is organized by product. You find the produce in one area and textiles in the other. Spend hours exploring the winding paths, smelling the street food and seeings the colorful products. Most tours provide an entire day at the Chichicastenango market, or at least an afternoon.
Late Sunday night, the market burned to the ground. The damages total to Q6.5 million, approximately $900,000. In addition to the material damages, the damages to the community and people have yet to be seen. The Chichicastenango market provides an income for thousands of people. In a country already personified by its poverty, this loss could provide a harsh economic loss. Around half of the Guatemala population live in poverty. This number is even more pronounced in the rural and Maya populations. I hope that the communities and people band together to rebound from this loss quickly.
Where Else to Find Markets
However, it will take some time for the market to recover to its normal grandeur. As an alternative, Antigua and Panajachel contain markets that provide a wide variety of goods. To experience the Mayan culture and products close hand, I recommended Lake Atitlan. Each town has a distinct atmosphere and provides a different aspect of the cultural experience. San Juan La Laguna at Lake Atitlan still preserves a strong Mayan presence, with a limited tourist influence, similar to the ambiance of the Chichicastenango market.
San Juan La Laguna is 95% Tz’utujil Maya and is known for its textiles. Be prepared for a hill once you arrive at the dock. Or, you can take a tuktuk (three wheeled motorcycle taxi) up to the top. But, the walk isn’t too bad and you get to enjoy looking at all the hand crafted goods lining the streets. In addition for being know for it’s textiles, San Juan also offers a holistic, herbal healing culture.
Once in the heart of the town, wander the streets and explore the nooks and crannies. Enter one of the many shops to learn about the process of making the textiles. Local gardens are also open to visitors to learn about the herbs the Mayans have used for healing.
The Chichicastenango market will always be a top location to visit when in Guatemala. However, while the town is recuperating from the losses caused by the fire, there are several other alternatives that provide a similar experience in purchasing Mayan goods and experiencing a glimpse of the culture.