Chichicastenango: Maya Market
Chichicastenango, commonly just referred to as “Chichi”, is a small, stucco white city situated in the crests of mountaintops about 2-3 hours northwest of Guatemala City. The town is part of the Maya region, and serves as one of the largest local trade centers in the area. Chichicastenango is home to possibly the most colorful native market in all of North and Central America – perhaps even in all of the Americas.
Culture and Craft
While you’re visiting Chichicastenango, you’ll be greeted by a thriving commercial hub, featuring all sorts of native treasures from across the regions and across many languages too. Many Quiche Maya gather in the town, and you’ll also find a diversity of the Mam, Ixil and Kaqchikel. Their skills and craftsmanship combine to offer you an enormous selection of amazing handicrafts like:
- Regional textiles and fabrics
- Unique women’s blouses (one of the cities signature crafts)
- Vibrantly painted wooden masks (for native dancers and ceremonies)
- Various other woodcarvings (walking sticks, sculpture, etc.)
- Handmade booms
- Pottery, and
To truly experience the wonder of the market experience, you’ll want to visit Chichicastenango on one of the two different market days, which fall on Thursdays and Sundays and last from dawn until dusk.
A Marriage of Beliefs
After the local market, the second biggest highlight in Chichi is Santo Tomas, a 400 year old church located just next door. This beautiful church stands in magnificent mystery and awe, and is a perfect marriage between the Catholic faith and the local native religious traditions. Today, shamans still perform rituals on the church’s grounds, often involving incense, candles, and sometimes even sacrificial chickens to both honor and supplicate the gods. Its very architecture is a tribute to their ancient Mayan influence, for the church has a series of eighteen stairs, one for each month of the Mayan Calendar. This calendar’s year was made of 18 months, with 20 days in each month.
Feasts, Fiestas and Festivals
The folks in Chichicastenango know how to celebrate, and by the time you leave, you’ll have done your fair share of it. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and the excitement is infectious. You’ll be walking along the market, chatting with vendors and haggling over prices when suddenly a huge fireworks display will burst into the sky, sending shocks of energetic sound echoing through the streets. And every time you turn around, there’ll be a new feast, fiesta or festivals to commemorate. One of the more famous Chichicastenango feasts is the December 8th Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This lively event comes complete with processions, fireworks, traditional dances and marimba music – you don’t want to miss it!
If you’d like to get away from all of the loud, flashy excitement of the market atmosphere, a great way to calm down comes via the local history. Chichicastenango is home to several museums, artifacts, ancient cemeteries and even and ancient stone idol still held sacred to this very day. Visiting these historical hot spots is a fantastic way to learn more about the rich and volatile local past.
The one common theme that echoes in almost everything you do in Chichicastenango is this rich, spiritual heritage that has survived through many centuries and conversions. It’s in the work, in the play and in the wonderful wanderings you can make across the city. The spirituality weaves itself into all it touches – maybe even you!