Central America’s Biggest Market
The big native market in the town of Chichicastenango (short: Chichi) in Guatemala, is one of the most important trade markets in the whole of Central America, showing off the many unique characters of the different communities, which all express themselves through the different patterns, styles and colours of their clothing. This is where different ethnic groups such as the K’iche’ Maya, the Mam, or Kaqchikel get together, setting up booth in and around the main plaza selling handmade goods such as traje – the gorgeous traditional native costumes – hand-decorated blankets, pillow cases or bags, but also flowers, fruit and vegetables, candles, jewellery, spices, machetes, pottery, medicinal herbs and lots of other things. In short, the Chichi market is a celebration for your senses.
Although sometimes not immediately recognizable, the market is well organized, following a particular system in which fruit and vegetable sellers have their own part of the market, while those who sell meat, tools or fabric have another. This makes it easy for shoppers to focus on what they needs, rather than having to wander throughout the whole of the market.
The market itself is situated in the highlands of Guatemala, surrounded by little valleys and can be best reached via busses from Panajachel, Antigua and Guatemala City . It opens twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, after sunrise and ends in the early evening of the same day. Thousand of tourists pilger to Chichi in order to experience most colorful of markets in Central America. Sellers normally arrive the night before market day to prepare their stands ready for the wee hours of the morning. Most of them will spend the night sleeping in the arcades of the big plaza (the central point of the market) around the church Santo Tomás.
Some useful things that you should know when visiting the market
Bargaining – we all love to bargain and get the product for the cheapest possible price – but sometimes it’s better to spend a Euro more, supporting the community. What is not a lot to you, can mean an extra meal to some of the sellers. As I have been volunteering for a clothing company (check out my post on Volunteering in Guatemala) I know that people are mostly investing the money they earn in food and the eduction for their children.
Kids – there are lots of them going arround begging. To ensure a smile here and there, don’t give them money, but maybe a banana or a piece of candy, the type of stuff any child loves.
Photos – It can be tempting to take photos of the indigenous people with their gorgeous costumes and their beautiful children. However, you’re best advised to either ask permission or take them from a far distance as many natives believe that been photographed is an act of hell. It is not recommended to pay anyone for having their photo taken.
Stealing – Beware of pickpockets. Markets are a fantastic place for stealing your valuables. Make sure you have a tight grip of your bag at all times. Also, stay away from cotton tote bags, as these have been known to be easily cut a hole into from behind…
To get a better idea of the Chichicastenango market, check out some more of my photos below.