Chichicastenango is a beautiful authentic Mayan town in Guatemala. Tucked away in the mountain village is their famous outdoor market, which is one of the world’s largest markets for handcrafted goods. You can find everything from hammocks, traditional clothing, accessories, fresh produce, livestock, to many other beautifully detailed handmade goods. Several of the vendors come from villages far away and walk hours to sell their goods. Shopping at the Mercado de Chichicastenango is a truly authentic experience and a trip you should plan to make.
Depending on what city you may be traveling from in Guatemala, there are usually several half day and full day trip or tour options. During my recent group trip to Guatemala, we stayed in Santa Cruz del Quiche, which is the closest major city to Chichi. We traveled about 45 minutes to get to the market. If you are traveling to Lake Atitlan, you can take the local chicken bus to the market. Plan your visit wisely as the market is only open on Thursdays and Sundays. The hours listed online are 6am-6pm, but most of the vendors will not finish setting up their shops before 9am. The layout is generally textiles near the entrance, fresh produce and livestock in the middle, hot food towards the back, and ending with fresh flowers on the church steps.
You will need Guatemalan currency, Quetzals, as the vendors will not accept anything else. There are two banks and an ATM near the main entrance of the market if you are looking to use your debit card. Kurrency is a great app to download because you can use it to determine if you're getting a "fair price" by looking at the amount in your traditional currency. The shop owners are kind and understand if you do not speak Spanish. They will enter the amount into their calculator in Quetzals and show it to you. You can take that amount, enter it into Kurrency, and see how much it would cost in your home currency. The vendors are known for increasing the prices by 30-50% for tourists, so be ready to haggle. Negotiating the price is completely normal and expected at Chichicastenango. If you do not feel comfortable negotiating, start slowly walking away from the vendor’s stall - you’ll be amazed at how quickly the price will drop. Something you may experience that's different from other local markets is that you will likely have children follow you throughout the market trying to sell items to you. They can be extremely persistent, and you may feel pressured. You do not have to purchase from them, just kindly tell them no and keep walking. Some may even follow you around the entire day, so just try to enjoy the shopping experience without getting overwhelmed by the sales pressure.
I found that the following phrases helped my shopping experience at the market. If you are comfortable with speaking a little Spanish and using the correct pronunciations, you might want to download Google Translator. The app gives you the option to download a language offline, so you can use it anywhere in the world.
The 400-year old Iglesia de Santo Tomás is a beautiful church that overlooks the entire Chichicastenango Market. It is a Roman Catholic church with a large Mayan influence. There are 18 stairs that lead to the entrance of the church. Each step represents a month in the Mayan calendar. When we arrived, the steps were covered with vendors selling flowers and incense for church offering. It was truly stunning and one of the most amazing views of the entire trip. If you look past the church, you can see an authentic Mayan burial ground. It is part of their customs to bury their loved ones above ground in colorful crypts.
Perhaps you are interested in staying overnight or maybe you just need a place to regroup after a long day. For either reason, Hotel Santo Tomas is the place to go. Just steps away from the market entrance, this hotel offers breakfast, lunch, and overnight stays. Hotel Santo Tomas is home to a beautiful courtyard with exotic birds and parrots. They also have bathrooms for a small fee.
If you're looking for a place to stay outside of Chichicastenango, there are plenty of hotels in Santa De La Cruz, and many of them look like destinations out of a story book. We hope you enjoy your visit to Chichicastenango! Most importantly, pack light! You’ll want lots of extra space to bring home beautiful Guatemalan goods for your entire family.
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