Central America, Guatemala

Disappointed in Chichicastenango

August 24, 2011

Like most travellers (and most girls) I like a good market.

So I had high hopes for the twice-weekly market held in the Guatemalan highland town of Chichicastenango.

About two hours from Lake Atitlan on a pretty miserable road, 40Q return shuttles run on Thursdays and Sundays from the centre of San Pedro right to the centre of Chichi. You can also take shuttles from Antigua and Xela.

Each Thursday and Sunday, mostly Mayan vendors from around Guatemala set up in the streets and alleyways around Chichi’s main square and the church of Santo Tomas selling textiles, handicrafts, wood carvings, jewellery and pottery.

I’d heard it was colourful, crowded and crazy, that you could barely take two steps without being accosted by peddlers eager to show you their wares. I’d read of people needing to purchase huge bags to take their goodies back home in. I’d read of pickpockets and bag slashers.

So what did I find there?

Well, it was colourful.

But it certainly wasn’t crazy, or crowded. I didn’t have my pockets picked or my bag slashed.

In fact, the sellers and locals seemed pretty bored by it all. 

I took a few photographs, wandered past the same stalls several times and dragged out lunch. And it still wasn’t time to go back to San Pedro. 

In the end, I went home empty handed and disappointed. 

Maybe it’s busier on Sundays. Maybe it’s the off season. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the hyperbolic markets of India and the atmospheric souqs of the Middle East.

But honestly? I don’t get the attraction. 

Have you been to the market at Chichicastenango? What did you think?

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  • Reply Imperator August 25, 2011 at 4:56 am

    I’ve been there… I found it pretty lively and colourful… I spoke a bit of Spanish so this helped a lot. Bought some staff and negotiating was Ok – sure, not using the same sophisticated technics from East Asia, India or Middle East 🙂 However, the most interesting moment was when I entered the church which dominates the market. It was a memorable experience – some mayans where praying to Saint Mary but in such a way that I was transported in time in the pre-Conquistadores time… It looked like I was witnessing a pagan ceremonial….

  • Reply Claire August 25, 2011 at 5:06 am

    After hearing that it was a little overrated, we never made it there. So I don’t have an informed opinion on it! But we certainly did not lack for shopping opportunities though-I came home with more stuff than when I arrived.

  • Reply Elise September 5, 2011 at 2:41 am

    We had heard the same thing about the markets too and didn’t end up going there. Plus, we figured we had seen so many Artesian style markets anyway. Same trinkets, same scarves etc etc.

    • Reply MeganRTW September 5, 2011 at 4:05 am

      Exactly, Elise! It was just the same stuff you can find in Antigua, Pana or San Pedro. And I have no room for any of it in my pack (though I have bought an unusual amount of tourist tat here in Peru…)

  • Reply GRRRL TRAVELER September 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Aww.. this is a bit disappointing to know. Chichicastenango would’ve been good– it’s one of the places I’d planned to visit if I made it out to Guatemala. I guess the story is kinda in SEA– a night market is a night market is a night market and once you’ve been to one, the rest follow the same gist.

    Did you feel like it was getting too touristy with all the souvenirs and trinkets or was it at least still authentic? Also, are you finding Guatemala safe as a female soloist?

    • Reply MeganRTW September 12, 2011 at 6:22 am

      It was very touristy, Christine – the market largely sold only touristy stuff. There was a more traditional section with local goods but it wasn’t very large.

      I found Guatemala fairly safe, although nowhere near as safe as Asia (sometimes, places just felt dodgy, and I never felt that in Asia). I knew of a few muggings that happened to girls I was studying with who walked alone at night in Antigua and Xela, something I would never do myself. I’ve heard that Antigua has become even more dangerous since I left, sadly.

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