I remember when I was a little girl, how I would accompany my mother to the weekly fair in my hometown. I loved the stroll because it was always a chance to see something new. I still remember the vendors shouting loudly their products and the women bargaining the prices with my mother. But the scents, that’s what I remember the most: the dirt swirling around with the wind, the fabrics in mounts and the smell of new boots.
In Guatemala, I got a chance to relive this pleasant experience in the local markets but in a stronger way. The market in Chichicastenango is the obvious choice if you’re looking for a place where you can buy everything you need for your souvenirs: rich fully weaved fabrics, religious carvings, intricate pottery, traditional ceramics. This is also the place to indulge your finger and shoot pictures of people, people and more people. There are several other good options, such as the more commercial market in Panajachel’s main street, or the smaller but unique crafts market in the little village of Santiago, both in Lake Atitlan.
Despite what us tourists might think, the market isn’t there to please our consumer’s needs but to provide a commercial ground for the trades in the region and, therefore, to supply the local population. For that reason, you can find everything in the labyrinth alleys in Chichi. In the farmers’ market there are fresh vegetables and fruits in a crazy array of shapes and colours, or in the meat market, where pig legs slowly cook in big bubbly pans to be sold to hungry strollers. But every year, the market caters more and more to the foreign needs and so, many of the things you see being sold as hand-made traditional products are nothing more than mass-produced in factories.
The markets in Guatemala are usually laid next to religious buildings and, besides the commercial use, people use the markets to pay respect to their saints. In the staircases leading to the entrance of Santo Tomas church in Chichi, there’s a display of colourful flowers you can buy to offer to your favourite saint in payment to a favor. The smoke coming from the burning copal, an aromatic plant resin, swirls in the air together with the prayers.
The market is a reunion place, creating an opportunity for many vendors and salesmen to promote their products, some in a very interactive way, like this man selling his miracle aloe vera remedy to a somewhat cautious crowd, in Santa Cruz del Quiché.
The markets in Guatemala are an unforgettable experience, they will cling to your senses and make a vivid impression in your memory. They are a mandatory stop in anyone’s itinerary, whether you just want to indulge in a buying frenzy, take that picture or relive a childhood pleasure like me.
The easiest way to get to Chichicastenango market is to ask a tour operator for a shuttle from Panajachel, in Lake Atitlan, although you can get to Chichi from any of the major touristic places by chicken bus or shuttle. In our case, we had a Guatemalan friend that showed us the rough way, or the way locals do: we caught a bus from Xela to Totonicapán, a village 2500 meters high in the mountains and from there a pick up truck ride through pristine pine forests down to Santa Cruz del Quiché where we visited the first market. From there, another bus ride to Chichi, just in time for lunch.
Check out our quick video in Chichi’s market!