One of the largest and most well-known markets in all Central America can be found in the small indigenous Mayan town of Chichicastenango, located in the western highlands of Guatemala. A market that is hundreds of years old with amazing handicrafts, filled with thousands of local Mayan people purchasing and selling goods of all types. The Chichicastenango market is a must do Guatemala travel bucket list item. If you are going to soak up the most incredible open aired market in Central America read on to find out everything you need to know about visiting Chichicastenango.
The town’s main attraction is its massive market! The Chichicastenango market is held every Thursday and Sunday and turns this town into the world’s largest handicrafts market, filled with thousands of local Mayan people purchasing and selling goods of all types. Think about handicrafts, paintings, pottery, colorful textiles, intricately carved masks, flowers, animals, fresh produce, traditional clothing and more at this bustling and vibrant local market. Its primary purpose is to service the locals who travel from everywhere to buy and sell products, but nowadays parts of the markets are also targeted to tourists. As you can imagine, the Chichicastenango Market is the best place to purchase all of Guatemala’s best artisanal items. But even more than that, it’s an immersive cultural experience where you can interact with the local people.
I recommend you visiting Chichicastenango on a Thursday. The Sundays might be busier, considering that locals are also off and perhaps visiting the market. When visiting, go in the early morning to beat the crowds.
Is the Chichicastenango market worth visiting?
Since Chichicastenango is usually a day trip destination, you may be wondering if it’s worth a visit. Well, after going to the market and experiencing it myself, my answer is an absolute yes. It is a nice day trip where you can immerse yourself fully in the Mayan culture. If you are going purely for the shopping, there are better places to shop. You can get the same things in markets all over Guatemala for cheaper and with less chaos. I only bought one dog collar at Chichicastenango. I bought all my other souvenirs in Panajachel or at smaller villages directly from the local inhabitants. Also, be aware that the market can be extremely busy and overall all products are overpriced. Still, I enjoyed my visit to Chichicastenango.
How to get to Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango is a town in the Guatemalan highlands, 140 km or 87 miles northwest of Guatemala City. From Panajachel, it is around 38 km and will take around 1.5 hours to reach Chichi. You can either book a shuttle, take a chickenbus or a taxi.
- By shuttle to Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango is easily accessible via shared shuttles from most of the popular tourist destinations in Guatemala, like Antigua, various towns around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala City, Quetzaltenango (Xela) and others. Most travel agencies offer a day trip to Chichicastenango on market days where you will arrive sometime in the morning and have some hours to explore the market and town before leaving Chichicastenango at around 2 pm. I purchased a round-trip ticket for Q75 on a shared shuttle van leaving from Panajachel. We left around 08.00 am and arrived in Chichicastenango around 09.30am. Around 14.00 we gathered again and drove back to Panajachel, so we could spend around 4.5 hours in Chichicastenango, which was fine. You can also choose to arrive in the town the day before the market days to experience the setting-up of the entire market and stay overnight, leaving on the market day.
- By chicken bus to Chichicastenango
If your Spanish is fluent and you like a little adventure, you might want to take a local chicken bus to Chichicastenango. You may be hot, uncomfortable, and much less safe than with any of the other transportation options, but it will be a cultural experience you will never forget! A ride in the chicken bus will costs you less than Q75.
- By private car to Chichicastenango
If you don’t want to go by shuttle or chicken bus and rather prefer a private ride, then you can also decide to take a private car to Chichicastenango. This will probably cost around $70 USD.If you want to arrange a private car, you can do this either at your hotel reception or through any travel agency.
Explore the market of Chichicastenango
I stepped out of the van and began walking down a random street in search of the market. You will find it quickly since most shuttles just park in a garage behind the market. In the morning, the market is still a bit quiet, but around 10-11am, it starts bustling and people will be everywhere, mostly locals dressed in their traditional outfits.
The market was huge and it will take some time to explore everything. While wandering the aisles/streets in the market, I got regularly lost and explored the same places multiple times. It was overwhelming. There is so much to see! There were lots of smells, sounds, sights, people, and incredible colors and crafts. All my senses were absorbing everything at once and it was amazing.
There were so many stalls where locals were selling beautiful handicrafts, paintings, pottery, colorful textiles, intricately carved masks, jewelry, scarfs, blankets, flowers, animals, fresh produce, and traditional clothing, and so much more. Remember that you need to bargain for all the products. I found a lot of the vendors selling similar items, so if one of them isn’t giving you the price you would like, I recommend finding the same item at a different vendor and trying your luck there. As a general bargaining rule, whatever they ask half it and then take it from there. You can do whatever feels comfortable for you.
I spent hours walking along the narrow and crowded aisles through this massive market countless times and just soaking up the atmosphere and culture. I really enjoyed it! There is also a huge indoor fruits and vegetable stands. Even though there were a good number of tourists at the Chichicastenango market, there were still more locals and the market felt authentic.
How long do you need to spend in Chichicastenango?
I spent about 4 hours in Chichicastenango and this was enough for me. I had plenty of time to explore the market, bargain a little, buy some products, visit the church of Santo Tomas, and had lunch.
Church of Santo Tomas
At the town’s main plaza and in the center of the market, you can find the Church of Santo Tomas, a beautiful Roman Catholic church. The steps of the church were filled with locals selling mainly flowers and candles. You can also find flowers and candles left as offerings before the locals entered inside the church. At the top of the steps, smoke filled the air as the locals were burning incense. I sat down on the steps and observed the surrounding for some minutes. It was fascinating to witness these traditional rituals being practiced at the church.
Safety at the Chichicastenango market.
I visited Chichicastenango and didn’t experience any negative things. It is good to keep in mind though that the Chichicastenango market is huge, crowded, and that there are plenty of opportunities for incidences of robberies and pickpocketing. Here are some tips to protect yourself and your belongings as you walk through the market:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Hold your backpack in front of you with the straps around your shoulders.
- Don’t advertise your valuables or flash your cash around.
- Keep most of your excess cash stored away in a money belt underneath your clothing or in a secrete pocket and only have what you need for the day within easy access to you. Also make sure to get your cash before traveling to Chichicastenango. The few ATMs do simply not work or might not be safe to use. If you need the extra cash, just pop into a public bathroom and take the money out of your money belt.
- Don’t keep your phone in your pant pockets.
- Make sure to ask anybody before taking photos.
When time left after visiting Chichicastenango
When you still have some time left after visiting the Chichicastenango market, I can recommend you visiting the Chichicastenango cemetery. It is only a 15 minutes walk from the market. The cemeteries in Guatemala are very colorful and special to visit. For me, it is fascinating to learn about other cultures and how they honor dead, but I would never walk into a cemetery without permission or at least confirming that I will not be insulting anyone’s beliefs by my presence. The cemeteries in Guatemala feature tombstones painted as colorfully as possible. Friends and family members paint them using the favorite color of the departed as a way of honoring and remembering the dead. The Chichicastenango cemetery was very beautiful. Every tomb and cross were painted in bright pastel colors.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Chichicastenango?
I loved exploring the Chichicastenango Market and observing the fascinating Mayan culture. The town was traditional and authentic and the Mayan culture was fascinating to observe and immerse myself in. Again, if you are going purely for the shopping, there are better places to shop. You can get the same things in markets all over Guatemala for cheaper and with less chaos. If I will travel again to Guatemala, I will definitely visit Chichicastenango again and also overnight in the town, so I could watch the town’s streets being transformed as the market will be set up.
Have you visited the market in Chichicastenango? What did you think of it? What’s your favorite market that you’ve been to?
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