Incense filled the air as I walked along the cobblestone streets towards the main plaza in the early hours of the morning. The cool breeze enhanced my excitement because I was about to witness the splendor of the largest market in Central America!
The energy was palpable as vendors finished organizing handmade crafts and textiles in makeshift stalls. Brilliant colors, captivating designs, and trinkets surrounded me on all sides.
"Hola amiga, que busca (Hello friend, what are you looking for)?" and similar exaltations were consistently directed at me as a I navigated between booths lining narrow pathways. Overwhelmed with options and stimuli, I began to feel anxious. What did I get myself into?!
I took in a deep calming breath as Brad held my hand. A bit of culture shock was hitting my psyche. Our past experiences with Mexican markets were no match for the Guatemalan city of Chichicastenango.
Eventually a rhythm set in to boost my confidence. We were on the lookout for one-of-a-kind souvenirs in a place most travelers overlook. I just had to keep my eyes on the prize!
There are various parts of the market, including a basketball court filled with vegetables and fruits. I couldn't help but smile as I inhaled the freshness. The view from the second floor balcony provided the perfect opportunity for candid shots.
As I finished my apple, we made our way back outside and caught a glimpse of a man carrying chickens in a basket. Now that's not something you see every day!
Hopefully they were on their way to a farm instead of ending up like the fried chicken I had for lunch at Comedor Faby. Awkward timing!
The passageways covered with traditional garments known as huipils, worn by indigenous women and girls, were my absolute favorite part of the market. Unique designs are hand embroidered with vibrant hues of thread and fabric. Chichicastenango has a reputation for some of the best patterns in the country.
I was absolutely thrilled to find a purple huipil with colorful flowers and a peacock. Prices reflect the amount of work it takes to create one of these stunning works of art. After a bit of bargaining, I paid 250 GTQ ($32 USD) for mine.
Wide ornate belts and black skirts are equally show-stopping. Animals, parrots, and flowers are popular motifs. Items with gold and silver threads add a bit of sparkle.
The market is an important event for locals to do their food shopping. Dried shrimp, spicy chilies, and fresh tortillas filled the air with strong aromas. Don't be afraid to sample an exotic fruit or juice drink. Chances are it will be delicious!
As we made our way along the outskirts of the market, we discovered stalls with everyday items including kitchen utensils, toys, and clothing. I even noticed bootlegged DVDs for sale. What an interesting way to improve your Spanish skills!
One of the most fascinating aspects of the market is the church of Capilla del Calvario. Shamans swing thuribles (metal vessels with chains) with burning incense outside the wooden doors. Worshippers gather alongside to pray before makeshift candlelit altars. The ritualistic harmony between Catholicism and Maya tradition is transparent.
Chichicastenango also has a variety of hand-carved pinewood ceremonial masks; an important feature of Guatemalan folklore. Intricately painted creatures, such as the jaguar, reflect a deep connection to the natural spirits.
Tablecloths, wool blankets, and symbolic fabrics showcase local craftsmanship. Jewelry, glazed pottery, magnets, hats, purses, scarves, and keychains are popular items. We bought three textiles with different designs, textures, and colors.
With our souvenirs in tow we decided to head back to our hotel for an afternoon nap. Before returning to the market, we walked over to the cemetery on the hillside. The mausoleums and graves are painted with pastel hues. Seeing Chichicastenango from this perspective provided insight into local funerary practices.
As dusk approached, street food carts prepared for the dinner rush. Brad and I sampled a papusa (thick corn flour flatbread) stuffed with refried beans and cheese topped with curtido (spicy fermented cabbage slaw) and tomato salsa. Afterwards, we each devoured an al pastor (spit-grilled pork) quesadilla with fresh salsas. YUM!
Our long day of bargaining and exploring at the market was a whirlwind experience. The kaleidoscope of colors made my head spin in the best way possible once I conquered my uneasiness.
Join the thousands of others who venture into Chichicastenango every Thursday and Sunday for a market maze of treasures. Day trips are available from Antigua, Guatemala City, and Lake Atitlán. We went twice since we liked it so much!
Check out TransPaiz for affordable transportation. Brad and I used the company several times to transit between multiple destinations in Guatemala. Schedule your ride via WhatsApp +502 5346 6543.