Navigating Central America’s Largest Market: Chichicastenango

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Chichicastenango is a large aboriginal town in the Northwestern Highlands of Guatemala. Its twice-weekly open-air market (by the same name) is the largest in Central America, boasting a massive array of world-renowned handicrafts from local indigenous groups.

With flowers, medicinal herbs, traje (traditional native costumes), hand-decorated blankets, bags, wood products and pottery, even the most minimalistic of travelers will have difficulty resisting a purchase here. While the Chichicastenango Market has become increasingly touristy, it is still a worthy daytrip from Guatemala City or Antigua.

 

Get In

The market operates every Thursday and Sunday. On these days there is a steady flow of buses from Guatemala City, Antigua and Panajachel.  The journey takes between three and four hours (on average) and costs around $3 USD.  Try to arrive early for a more ambient experience.

 

Before making purchases

*Inspect your goods: Sometimes vendors will try to sell unsuspecting tourists an item with a flaw or two, assuming it is better to save the more valuable products for savvy buyers. Always give the merchandise a thorough evaluation before purchasing it.

*Bargain: It’s okay to bargain. You will be charged more if you look like a tourist; often the vendors will even quote a higher price because they expect you to negotiate with them. However, always remember to bargain responsibly. Sometimes our spare change is actually dinner for a local family.

*Bring small bills: It might be difficult for vendors to make change for large bills. It also might be difficult for you to get a good price if you’re flaunting around lots of money.

 

Respect the Culture

Like many cultures around the world, you might find that the local indigenous people are not keen on having their photo taken. If you would like to take pictures of the locals, ask first. Start by being friendly. Smile. If you can communicate, try to make a bit of conversation. Then, when you feel the timing is right, ask the person if you may take a photo of them. If their answer is no, then respect that.

You might see some children walking around and begging for money. This is a difficult situation, and ultimately it is always best for you to follow your best judgment. But with that said, most locals discourage giving money to children as it rewards those responsible for their begging in the first place. Often little (if any) money stays with the children.

 

Extend Your Stay

The Chichicastenango market can be a bit overwhelming. If you want to get a more authentic feel of the town, consider extending your stay for a night or two. There are a handful of basic hotels around town. Avoid the local touts who will offer to help you find a room for a tip; you don’t need their help, and the room prices might actually be more expensive with it.

The Iglesia de Santo Tomas, adjacent to the open-air market, is a church dating back to 1540.  It is worth checking out briefly, both for its history as well as its utilization in Maya ceremonies.

 

Safety

Pick-pocketing is the most common crime in Chichicastenango. Always keep a close eye on your belongings, even while searching for the best souvenirs.

The cemetery in Chichicastenango is said to be unsafe to walk in, both during the day and at night.  Armed robbery has been reported in this area.

 

Have you been to the colorful Chichicastenango Market before? What did you think? 

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About Author

Casey Siemasko is a freelance writer, blogger, and avid traveler. She finds her life inspiration by exploring new places and meeting new people, and seeks to find magic in the most ordinary of places. When she's off the computer, she enjoys practicing yoga, training for marathons and scuba diving. Somewhere in there she also found time to write an eBook, 101 Tips to Living in Taiwan. She and her husband comprise the two lovebirds and digital nomads documenting their travel musings at http://acruisingcouple.com.

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