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Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala: Complete Guide

If you are looking for a unique and authentic experience of the indigenous Mayan culture, you should not miss the Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala. This is the largest and most colorful market in the country and Central America, where you can find a variety of handicrafts, textiles, pottery, flowers, and much more.

Not only that, in Chi Chi, as the locals call it, you can also see the fascinating blend of Catholic and Mayan beliefs, and ceremonies in and around the market.

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the market and the town.

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view of the Santo Tomas Church from Chichicastenango market in guatemala
The Chichicastenango Market is a must-see attraction for anyone who wants to experience the rich and diverse Maya culture of Guatemala

What is Chichicastenango Market?

Chichicastenango Market is a weekly market that takes place every Thursday and Sunday in Chichicastenango, also known as Chichi, in the El Quiche department of Guatemala.

It is one of the oldest and most important markets in the Maya, dating back to pre-Columbian times. It attracts thousands of vendors and buyers from different regions and ethnic groups, making it a vibrant and diverse place to explore.

How It Became a Popular Touristic Destination

It all started in the 1930s when a traveler discovered this tiny town in the Guatemalan highlands. He loved it so much that he decided to open a small inn and started taking travelers to it from Guatemala City and Antigua.

The market grew and is now one of the biggest markets in Central America, bringing even more tourists; the place is now pretty popular among locals and international travelers.

The history and significance of Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango is a town of about 50,000 inhabitants, mostly belonging to the K’iche’ Maya group. The name Chichicastenango means “place of the nettles” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs who conquered the area in the 15th century.

The town is also famous for being where the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, was discovered and translated by a Spanish priest in the 18th century.

Chi Chi is still a stronghold of the Maya culture and identity and preserves many traditions, customs, and languages.

Cultural and religious aspects of the market

One of the market’s most interesting and unique features is the presence of the Maya religion and spirituality. The market is a place for commerce, worship, and ceremony.

You can see many examples of the syncretism between the Catholic and Maya faiths, such as the Santo Tomas Church, built on top of a Maya temple in the 16th century.

The church is decorated with Catholic icons, statues, and Maya symbols and offerings. Outside the church, you can see Maya priests, called ajq’ijab, performing rituals and prayers with fire.

They also use a sacred calendar called the Cholq’ij, to determine the auspicious days and energies for different activities and events.

Another place to witness the Maya religion is the Pascual Abaj, a stone altar on a hill near the market.

Chichicastenango Market Days: Thursdays & Sundays

Chichicastenango Market is held every Thursday and Sunday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. However, the best time to visit is between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, when the market is at its peak and most lively.

Thursday and Sunday are also when the Catholic masses are held in the Santo Tomas Church. The market opens at 8:00 am, but some vendors arrive earlier to set up their stalls and products.

The market closes at 5:00 pm, but some vendors start packing up earlier, especially if the bad weather or sales are low.

How to get there

The easiest way to get to Chichicastenango is by car, accessible by road from various destinations like Guatemala City and Antigua.

It can be easily added to your bucket list as a day trip, and you can choose from different transportation options depending on your budget, time, and preference:

  • Bus: The cheapest and most common option is to take a public bus, called a chicken bus, which is a colorful and crowded old American school bus and takes about 3 to 4 hours from Guatemala City and 2 to 3 hours from Antigua.

  • Shuttle: Another option is to take a shuttle, which is a small and comfortable van that can accommodate several passengers. The ride usually takes 2 to 3 hours from Guatemala City and 1 to 2 hours from Antigua.

  • Tour: A third option is to take a tour, which is a convenient and hassle-free way to visit the market. It also has several amenities, like transportation, a guide, any fees needed, and sometimes lunch. Another pro of the tour is that its schedule is usually fixed, and you need to book your spot beforehand from a travel agency or a hotel.
a street in chichicastenango market
The market is a paradise for shoppers who love handicrafts and souvenirs, but it can also be challenging for those unfamiliar with these kinds of markets.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit the Chichicastenango Market is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. The weather is sunnier and more pleasant, and the market is more colorful and festive.

You can also enjoy some of the special events and celebrations that take place in Chichicastenango, such as the Feast of Santo Tomas, which is held from December 13 to 21. If you visit Chichi these days, you will see traditional dances and the fascinating Palo volador ritual (men spin from ropes attached to a 20-meter pole).

Music, religious processions, and dances are common to find on the streets during these days and it is all in honor of Santo Tomás el Apóstol.

Easter Week is another good time to visit, celebrated with processions, carpets, and ceremonies.

However, you should also be aware that these are the busiest and most crowded times to visit the market, and the prices may be higher.

If you visit the market during the rainy season, which runs from May to October, you may find fewer vendors and products and less activity and atmosphere.

Products and services offered at the market

textiles Chichicastenango Market
The Chichi Market is where you can find a wide range of products and services, making a simple walk worth it and entertaining.

The Chichicastenango Market covers a large area of the town, spreading over several streets and plazas. The main plaza, Plaza Central, is where you can find the most variety of products.

You can find various items in the market, from food and vegetables to textiles, flowers, and pottery. The vendors make some products, while others are brought from other parts of Guatemala or neighboring countries.

I highly recommend you get something to remember your visit. Some of the most popular and recommended things to buy are textiles, get huipiles (blouses), cortes (skirts), fajas (belts), or mantas (shawls), which are Mayan special and are made with intricate patterns and vibrant colors.

Here’s a small list of stuff you will find in the market:

  • Clothing
  • Blankets
  • Bags
  • Hats
  • Belts
  • Shawls
  • Woodcarvings
  • Masks
  • Dolls
  • Jewelry
  • Candles
  • Scarves
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Flowers.
  • Incense
  • Spices
  • Herbs

The market is also where you can find various services, like haircuts, massages, shoe repairs, fortune telling, and other services that will surprise you.

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Visiting Chichicastenango Market: Tips and Tricks

  • Have a budget and a list of what you want to buy before you go to the market. This will help you avoid impulse buying and overspending.

  • Compare prices and quality among different vendors and stalls. You can find the same or similar products at different prices and quality levels, so shop around and look for the best deals.

  • Bargain politely and respectfully. The vendors expect you to bargain, but they also appreciate a friendly and respectful attitude. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t agree on a price, but don’t be too aggressive or rude, either.

  • Pay in cash and small bills. The vendors prefer cash over credit cards, and they may not have change for large bills. It is also easier to bargain with cash than with cards. Bring enough quetzals (the local currency) with you, and exchange your money at a bank or an ATM before you go to the market.

  • Be careful with your belongings and valuables. The market can be crowded and chaotic, and pickpockets and scammers may be around. Keep your money, passport, phone, and other valuables safe and secure, like a money belt or a zippered pocket.

Things to do and see in Chichicastenango besides the market

The market is amazing but not the only attraction in Chichicastenango. There are many other things to do and see in and around the town.

Visit the Santo Tomas Church

santo tomas church chichicastenango
The Santo Tomas Church has a lot of influence in the town and Market. It was built on top of a Mayan temple and serves Catholics and mayans as a religious place.

One of the most iconic and exciting places to visit in Chichicastenango is the Church of Santo Tomás, located in the central plaza, next to the market. The church was built in 1544 by the Spanish conquistadors, on top of a pre-Columbian temple, and it is one of the oldest and most influential churches in Guatemala.

The church symbolizes the syncretism between the Catholic and the Maya religions, as you will see both elements coexisting and interacting.

It has 18 steps leading to the entrance, representing the 18 months of the Maya calendar. On each step, you will see people burning incense, candles, and flowers, and offering prayers to the saints and the ancestors.

The church of Santo Tomas is open to the public, but you should always be respectful and discreet when you enter.

Keep in mind:

  • You should also dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees.
  • You should also avoid interrupting or disturbing the people praying or participating in the rituals.
  • The best time to visit the church is in the morning when the market is just starting, and you can witness the most activity and energy, but throughout the day is okay too.
  • You can also visit the church on special occasions, such as Christmas, Easter, or the feast day of Santo Tomás on December 21, and see the celebrations and processions.

Learn about the Popol Vuh

Another reason to visit Chichicastenango is to learn about the Popol Vuh, the Maya people’s sacred book known as the Libro del Consejo (Council Book).

It is a collection of myths, legends, and histories that tell the story of the world’s creation, the origin of humanity, the adventures of the hero twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, and the rise and fall of the Maya kingdoms.

The Popol Vuh is considered one of the most important and influential works of literature in the Americas, and it is a source of inspiration and pride for the Maya people and their descendants. It was initially written in the K’iche’ language.

The original manuscript of the Popol Vuh is kept in the Newberry Library in Chicago, USA, and it is not accessible to the public.

However, you can learn more about it around the town and at the museum Chichicastenango Regional Museum (another place to see a replica of the manuscript is at the Museo del Popol Vuh, located in Guatemala City)

You can also buy a copy of the Popol Vuh in Spanish or English around the town.

Chichicastenango Regional Museum

To appreciate the Popol Vuh and the Maya worldview and cosmology, visit the Chichicastenango Regional Museum next to the church. The museum showcases the history and culture of Chichicastenango and the surrounding region, from pre-Columbian times to the present day.

You can see exhibits and collections of textiles, clothing, musical instruments, weapons, tools, and religious objects.

Also an excellent place to learn more about the Maya calendar, the Maya astronomy, and the Maya mathematics.

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm, and the entrance fee is five quetzals (about 0.7 USD) per person.

The Chichicastenango Market is a great place to interact with the friendly and hospitable locals and learn more about their history and traditions.

Enjoy the Nature around Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango is a town and a municipality that covers a large area of the highlands, where you can find many other villages and attractions worth visiting.

You can explore Chichicastenango’s nature and culture by hiking or biking. There are several trails and routes that you can follow, depending on your level of difficulty and preference.

Make sure to check out the villages around the town and other places, like Pascual Abaj, or the Laguna de Lemoa, as well as the Mirador de Chichicastenango, which is a viewpoint that offers panoramic views.

Check out the culture and festivities

The town loves to celebrate and have fun, and you can join the festivities and events throughout the year, characterized by being lively, colorful and vibrant.

Some of the most important and famous festivals and events are:

  • The Fiesta de Santo Tomás: This is the biggest and most famous festival in Chichicastenango, which takes place from December 13 to 21 to honor the patron saint of the town, Santo Tomás. During this festival, you can see parades, dances like The Palo Volador and the Baile de la Conquista, music, fireworks, and other activities that showcase Chichicastenango’s culture and history.

  • The Fiesta de la Virgen del Rosario: This is another important festival in Chichicastenango, which takes place from October 1 to 7, to honor the Virgin of the Rosary, the patroness of Guatemala. These days, you can see similar activities as in the Fiesta de Santo Tomás, from parades and dances to music and fireworks. You can also see the Baile de los Moros y Cristianos, and other traditional performances.

  • The Day of the Dead: This particular day in Chichicastenango takes place on November 1 to remember and honor the ancestors and loved ones who have passed away. On this day, you can visit the cemetery, decorated with flowers, candles, and incense and see the people praying and offering food and drinks to the spirits. You’ll see various brotherhoods parading on the streets while carrying religious icons, and others wear elaborate masks and costumes while dancing.
flowers and mayans in Chichicastenango Market
The Mayan culture has a strong presence in Chichicastenango, and during market days, you will see many people practicing rituals and praying on the stairs of the Santo Tomas Church.

Pascual Abaj

One of the most exciting places in Chichicastenango is Pascual Abaj, located on a small hill. This is a sacred ceremonial site for the Maya people, where you can see a large stone carved with the face of the earth’s deity, surrounded by altars and offerings.

You can also see the rituals and ceremonies that occur here. Shamans perform these ceremonies involving incense, liquor, chanting, candles, flowers, and sometimes chickens.

Where to Stay?

If you travel to Guatemala, you probably will be staying in Guatemala City or Antigua, and traveling to Chichicastenango to visit the market. But since there are many things to do here, I highly recommend staying at least two days.

Chichicastenango has many hotels and posadas for you to choose from.

hotel maya inn chichicastenango

Mayan Inn

More than a hotel, this is a museum too. Everything you find there is original from the glorious Mayan days. The staff is super friendly, too. The rooms and bathrooms are big and clean; the restaurant serves delicious fresh food. A must-try if you go to chichi with kids, there’s free Wi-Fi, too! One of this historic hotel’s most vital points is that the Market is only 50m away!

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FAQs

How safe is Chichicastenango Market?

Chichicastenango Market is generally safe, but you should still have caution and common sense. You should be careful with your belongings and valuables and avoid eating raw or uncooked food.

It would help if you also respected the locals, their culture, and religion and asked for permission before taking photos or videos of the people or the ceremonies.

How long should I spend at Chichicastenango Market?

The length of your visit depends on your interests and preferences, but we recommend spending at least half a day at the market. That’s why it’s a popular day trip from Antigua.

This will give you enough time to explore the different sections and products of the market and see some cultural and religious aspects.

You can also spend a whole day or more at the market to see more of the town and the surrounding areas.

What should I wear and bring to Chichicastenango Market?

You should wear comfortable and casual clothes and shoes. The weather can vary from hot and sunny to mid-cold and rainy, depending on the season and the time of the day.

You should also bring a jacket and an umbrella, as well as a hat and sunscreen.

tortillas chichicastenango market
You can find many food stalls and vendors in the market offering Guatemalan drinks and dishes; make sure to check out the country’s staple food, tortillas.

What are some of the souvenirs that I can buy at Chichicastenango Market?

You can find a variety of souvenirs and handicrafts at the market, from textiles and clothing to bags and hats, as well as belts, scarves, and shawls. All are made with colorful and intricate patterns and designs.

Also, there’s a wide variety of pottery, woodcarvings, masks, dolls, and jewelry. Some of the most popular and unique souvenirs are the huipiles (traditional blouses) and the worry dolls (tiny dolls that are said to take away your worries).

What are some of the foods that I can try at Chichicastenango Market?

You can try some of the typical dishes and snacks of Guatemalan street food at the market, like elotes (corn), tamales (corn dough filled with meat, cheese, or beans and wrapped in banana leaves), and atol (a hot drink made from corn, rice, or oatmeal).

You can also try snacks like chuchitos (mini tamales), and rellenitos (fried plantain stuffed with beans and sugar).

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Facts About Chichicastenango Guatemala for Travelers

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Last Updated on November 28, 2023

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