San Francisco El Alto Animal Market with Sheena

Visiting San Francisco El Alto Animal Market

In Guatemala, North America by Erik @ DIY Travel HQ3 Comments

San Francisco El Alto animal market is the most authentic market in Guatemala – find out why it’s definitely worth a Friday day trip from Quetzaltenango! 

Find more inspiration in one of the Guatemala guide books below! 

If you only have time for one market in Guatemala, make it San Francisco El Alto.

Chichicastenango may be the biggest in Central America but they cater almost exclusively to tourists.

The real Guatemala Highlands can only be discovered Friday mornings as the animal market gets underway in San Francisco El Alto.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market
Welcome to the market. We have fun and games!

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market

If you are in Quetzaltenango on a Friday, get up early and make your way to San Francisco El Alto. If you’re anything like us, you won’t regret going.

In fact, we were so amazed by both the quantity and variety of animals available for purchase at the animal market we made two laps to make sure we saw everything.

So let’s take a look at what animals you’ll find…

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market and Sheena
Top Tip: Don’t wear flip-flops to an animal market.

1. Livestock

The perimeter wall was lined with tied-up cows waiting for inspection.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Cows Ready for Inspection
This might be the only organized section of the animal market.

I don’t think the leashes were required though.

Most buyers had a difficult time trying to get their new four-legged friends to leave the ‘party’.

San Francisco El Alto Market Pushing Stubborn Cow
“No. You get the rear this time!”

Something tells me this Guatemalan lady has no issues getting her cows to do what she wants.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Cow Saleswoman
You can tell a lot about a person by their facial expression

The entire place was like a farm. A moo moo here. An oink oink there.

These little piggies that went to the market didn’t need to be anchored to the ground. They managed to immobilize themselves just fine on their own.

A simple rope collar can quickly turn into a spider web when each piglet tries to move independently.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Pigs All Tied Up
These piglets managed to tie themselves up.

This large pig, on the other hand, needs a handful of nooses.

Thankfully, bad-ass grandma is in control. She might just bring him to the market to eat scraps. He literally could eat you out of house and home.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Giant Pig with Cool Lady
With her around, we know everything is under control.

The most skittish of the animals were the sheep.

You need to keep a tight leash on them, or else they will run away, or the rams may try to mate.

We’re surprised they didn’t shave the sheep for the wool before attempting to sell them.

Maybe their strategy is to make the scrawny sheep appear bigger.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Sheep
If you don’t keep your sheep on a tight leash you might find yourself with a few more in several months. Go rams!

One new creature we came across was the four-horned goat.

Who knew they existed?

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Four Horned Goat
This goat is stylin’ with their slicked back horns.

2. Fowl

There is a whole section of fowl at the San Francisco El Alto animal market.

They included chickens, turkeys, pigeons, pheasants, and other local birds of all sizes.

The smallest were chicks that were housed in a yellow plastic container by the hundreds.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Chicks
At least we know no one is eating these chicks for awhile.

The largest birds were turkeys.

Their legs were tied together to prevent wandering off, and were surprisingly calm sitting in a basket all day.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Turkeys
“Relax! I told you we weren’t going anywhere today.”

3. Pets

Most striking were newborn kittens that were tied to a peg, and sitting on top of each other to keep warm.

We haven’t seen many families with cats in Guatemala, so hopefully these were able to find a good home.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Kittens
Awww. Look how cute these kitties are.

Hidden among the leaves and garbage were two cuddling puppies.

We almost stepped on them as they blended in so well.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market Dogs
We wish it was easier to travel with pets.

What Else is There at the Market?

The weekly Friday San Francisco El Alto animal market isn’t just about animals. Vendors sell normal items as well.

You can find vegetables, second-hand clothes from America, kitchenware, fabric, hats, toys, shoes, and many other items as well.

San Francisco El Alto Vegetable Market
There’s more to San Francisco El Alto than just the animal market.

With so many vendors, San Francisco El Alto swells on Fridays. The typically deserted main plaza gets overtaken by tents that hide stalls and goods.

If you are feeling claustrophobic, then climb up the gazebo in the center for a bird’s eye view and some fresh air.

San Francisco El Alto Market Tent City and Church
On Friday, San Francisco El Alto becomes known as Tent City.

The church overlooking the plaza is simple, but well decorated. The focal point is the altar where numerous faithful can be seen praying.

We saw a few men, but at this time the church was mostly filled with women.

San Francisco El Alto Church Praying
The women in San Francisco El Alto must pray enough for the whole family.

Getting into the market is never hard. It is getting out that is the challenge. The streets are packed with vendors that line both sides and the middle making movement difficult.

Trying to remember which section you covered is also a problem as all the tarp-covered streets look alike. Good luck finding your way, and enjoy!

San Francisco El Alto Market Entrance
Enter if you dare!

Food at San Francisco El Alto

Unfortunately, most of the Guatemalan street food can be found around the San Francisco El Alto animal market.

For us, this was not the most appetizing environment so we decided to forego a hearty breakfast.

Hygiene is another top concern when you put food mere steps away from a field of various animals.

Is it Safe to Visit?

As with any congested place, keep an eye on your belongings. It is very easy for a pickpocket to take something without you even knowing.

We recommend wearing a money belt with RFID blocking and traveling with an anti-theft daypack which you should wear on the front.

It’s also essential to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

San Francisco El Alto Safety
Remember to always keep an eye on your valuables.

How to Get to San Francisco El Alto Animal Market

Getting to San Francisco El Alto is easy from Quetzaltenango.

Simply grab a ‘chicken’ bus – Q7 / $0.90, 1 hour – that departs from the Rotunda on the east side of Quetzaltenango (Xela).

Just for Fun… 10 Excessive Products at San Francisco El Alto Market

People always say the USA is excessive – we say that Guatemala is the land of excess! Just look at how much you can find at the San Francisco El Alto market! 

10. Vegetables are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Vegetables
Let’s start with an easy one. Of course there are lots of vegetables at a market.

9. Avocados are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Avocado Heaven
Uh oh. I just let the hipsters know where they can find more avocados.

8. Kernels of corn are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Child Playing in Corn Kernel Pile
I bet he is planning on turning all those kernels into a ball pit of popcorn he can eat.

7. Dish sets are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Dishware
Don’t ask me where I got all my dishes!

6. Fabric is excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Fabric
That is a lot of fabric. Maybe I will wrap my gift of fabric with more fabric.

5. Hats are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Hats
Hats off to you for making it this far. Four to go.

4. Second-hand clothes are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Clothing Frenzy
This is where all your old donated clothes go. Seriously.

3. Shoes are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Shoes
You didn’t think we could let you go without matching shoes, did you?

2. Random toy parts are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Lost Toy Pieces
Remember all those missing pieces from childhood toys? Well, they are here too.

1. Eggs are excessive.

San Francisco El Alto Market Eggs
This is definitely EGGcessive!
Visiting the San Francisco El Alto animal market is one of the most unique things to do in Guatemala. Check out our post for some crazy photos & find out everything you need to know to plan your trip #sanfranciscoelalto #guatemala #xela

*** The Final Word – San Francisco El Alto is the best market to visit in Guatemala ***

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link and purchase something that we’ve recommended, at no extra cost to you.

Visited in August 2016

Updated in February 2020

Comments

  1. Your pose says: “We now bring you our foreign place-you never-heard-of correspondent Sheena”

  2. Everything looks very congested and the clothes are just thrown in piles. It must take the people the entire day to shop.

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