Chichicastenango is more than a tourist market despite the hordes of sightseers that visit every Sunday and Thursday. The local Maya are also very spiritual. Find out how they balance the two.
Things to Do in Chichicastenango
The biggest attraction in Chichicastenango are their market days, but that doesn’t mean they are the only thing to see. Another key component to Chichicastenango is their combination of Christianity and traditional Maya beliefs. You can observe these at Pascual Abaj, Iglesia de Santo Tomas, and El Calvario.
Other points of interest include Museo Arqueological Regional, the murals along the perimeter of the Main Plaza, mask workshops, and the cemetery.
Sunday and Thursday Markets
By far, Chichicastenango is best known for their twice weekly markets on Sunday and Thursday. Out of all the markets we have attended, Chichicastenango is geared toward tourists the most. Legions of shuttle vans arrive from Panajachel, Antigua, and Guatemala City on these two days, and depart a few hours later. Plan on arriving the day before to get a better feel of Chichicastenango, and visit the less touristy attractions.
The heart of the market is located in and around the Main Plaza. The twice weekly ordeal has become such a huge event that the entire plaza has been permanently covered with food and produce vendors inside. This makes for a less than appealing town center, but helps reduce the setup and tear-down time.
Expect to find all the regional handicrafts from Guatemala located in one place as locals from surrounding villages come to sell their products. These include numerous woven clothes, trinkets, wool rugs, hammocks, masks, and other items.
The market begins to cater to locals the further from the center you get. Expect to find second-hand clothes, fruits, vegetables, livestock, and poultry up for sale.
One of the more interesting aspects to the market is watching the transition from non-market to market day. Vendors arrive the day before in preparation, and can be seen sleeping along the arcades. Before sunrise, they are already constructing their booths and hanging their clothes up.
Iglesia de Santo Tomas
There is a lot going on at the primary church of Chichicastenango, Iglesia de Santo Tomas. Lining the steps are a mix of tourists, vendors selling flowers used for offerings, and Maya faithful. These include those burning copal incense in an elevated pit, a man swinging balsam incense censers, and a woman praying on pine needles in the shape of a cross.
The interior was relatively empty when we visited, but candles were lit down the aisle and at the altar. Apparently, these are meant to remember the dead who were buried underneath the church.
El Calvario is the smaller of the two churches overlooking the Main Plaza, but still serves the same function. Men can be seen outside burning copal incense, swinging balsam incense censers, and families inside light candles and say incantations.
Pascual Abaj is located down 9a Calle, with a few mask workshops along the way. Follow the road until you see a sign for Pascual Abaj on the left. You can choose to pass through either the first or second property on the right. Continue on the switchback path until you reach the top of the hill.
Pascual Abaj translates as Sacrifice Stone, and is a shrine to a Maya earth-god. The focal point is the shrine to Huyup Tak’ah surrounded by stone crosses in a circle. The flattened hilltop also has a dozen-odd sacrifice altars under a pavilion and in the open. If you are lucky, you will see religious Maya offering a chicken. More common gifts are flowers, alcohol, and incense.
Museo Arqueological Regional (Q5)
The Museo Arqueological Regional is a small museum showcasing clay and stone tools, weapons, and accessories. You can also see the entire collection by looking through the windows.
Surrounding the Main Plaza is the Town Hall, and Museo Arqueological Regional. Both have murals on their exterior walls. The more significant mural is at the Town Hall, which tells the story of the civil war with Mayan symbology.
There is a mask workshop at the base of Pascual Abaj, but also several more on the way there. You have a better chance of these being open. The variety is impressive, and is one of the better items for sale in Chichicastenango.
From Pascual Abaj or Posada el Telfono, you can see just how colorful the cemetery is. It may look best from afar, but it is still worth a peek as you explore Chichicastenango on foot. The three distinct grave styles are mausoleums, stacked graves, and concrete caskets.
Where to Stay in Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango conveniently has two budget hotels next door to each other on 8a Calle. Compare both Hotel Mashito (Q80) and Posada el Telefono (Q70) before deciding. We chose Posada el Telefono since we liked the upstairs courtyard, and we were able to pay Q60 as a two night discount.
What to Eat and Drink in Chichicastenango
Like most Guatemalan towns you can find tacos (3 for Q10) and fried chicken with fries (Q10) in Chichicastenango. Better value are the set meals in the covered Central Market. Expect to get a plate consisting of meat with sauce, rice, salad, tortillas, and a drink for Q15.
A new dish we discovered in Chichicastenango on market day was atol de elote (Q4), which can be described as corn soup. You add salt, lime, chili, and crackers (Q0.50) for flavoring. It is bland at first, but you can adjust the flavor to your liking.
The best place to drink is Cantina Aqui Me Quedo, where they have bulk deals. Come with a group just in case the locals are drunk and annoying.
How to Get To and From Chichicastenango
We took a ‘chicken’ bus from Quetzaltenango (Xela) from Terminal Minerva (Q20), and got dropped off in Chichicastenango since there is no official station.
Departing Chichicastenango is a bit more challenging for this same reason. You can try to catch a bus passing through, but the market makes it difficult to know the new route. Consider taking a shuttle to Los Encuentros (Q6) instead, and transferring to a ‘chicken’ bus there. You can head to Panajachel, Guatemala City, Antigua, Quetzaltenango (Xela), or KM 148 (Q5 but charged Q10) for San Pedro La Laguna (Q10 extra).
***The Final Word – Despite Chichicastenango being a very touristy market, there are a few attractions worth exploring the day before when it is quiet.***
Do you prefer touristy markets where you can buy souvenirs, or more authentic ones to experience the culture?
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Visited in August 2106