An additional 30 minute drive near where we turn off of the Pan-American highway to descend towards Lake Atitlán is the town of Chichicastenango. The Mayan town is famous for its market, which is held on Thursday and Sunday. We had heard a lot about the town and market and were finally able to make a visit on Sunday as we returned from the lake.
Oh Chichi, you were everything that we anticipated – packed, gritty, chaotic and totally authentic. We held our breath a bit as we finally made it into town, hoping that it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a parking spot. We had been told that a good option was to hire one of the official tourist guides wearing a vest to show us around. Since this was our first visit, we decided that would be a good option and we were able to get a guide lined up in the parking area that we pulled into.
After making sure we left with minimal items and cash secured in zippered pockets, we headed into the market with our guide. The market is quite large and there are numerous alleyways and streets all lined with vendors and their wares. We were definitely glad that for this first visit we had our guide to lead us around, especially since we only had about an hour or so to spend.
Maneuvering our way through the crowds, I felt even taller than I normally do. Even DiploMom commented that she felt like a giant, so I guess as we headed even further into the Mayan highlands, the people were getting even shorter. All the white tourists totally stand out as we are easy to spot towering over the rest of the crowds.
We weren’t too far into the market area when a big procession complete with drums, wooden recorders and incense was making its way through the street. Our guide quickly led me to the building they were headed to so that I could grab some photos. They were bringing Saint Thomas to the brotherhood (several Mayan residents of the town) that are responsible for him.
This area was right next to the Saint Thomas church, which was built in the 1500s on the site of a Mayan altar. The stone steps are what had led up to the altar and here they sell flowers, incense and other items to burn on the steps. Photographs are not allowed inside of the church, but it is another example of the syncretism between Mayan religious rituals and Catholicism. I’m not quite sure if anything particularly Catholic even takes place at the church anymore, given the heavy Mayan influence. The inside of the church resembled much of what one would expect to see in a Catholic church, save for the various stone altars on the ground that lined the main aisle where Mayan rituals take place.
After seeing the Saint Thomas church, or guide directed us down another street towards El Calvario, an essentially smaller version of the Saint Thomas church, complete with the original steps that had led to a Mayan altar.
Outside of this church there was a stone altar and when we arrived, a Mayan shaman was preparing for a ceremony.
We went inside the church for a look around and when we exited, the ceremony was underway.
Here is the view looking out from the steps towards the Saint Thomas church and the market area below.
After these visits, we headed back down into the market for a little haggling and shopping. I picked up a couple of wooden Mayan masks and DiploMom drove hard bargains for several covers to use as cushions for our dining room table chairs. We loved our visit to Chichicastenango and will definitely return before our time is finished in Guatemala. It was quite an experience and I want the opportunity to take more photographs of the market and to explore the areas that we were not able to see.