A visit to one of the most famous markets in Central America is a must on every Guatemala trip.
On market days Chichicastenango in the Quiché highlands bursts at the seams. On Thursdays and Sundays, more than a thousand merchants and a multiple of visitors, including a constantly growing number of (day) tourists, come to “Chichi”, as the former Tziguan Tinamit is mostly abbreviated.
The steps of the church Santo Tomás – remains of a temple platform of the Maya – then turn into a sea of flowers, covered with smoke of the ritually burnt copal resin.
Even if it is not immediately noticeable to new arrivals, Chichicastenango’s market is highly organized. During the night, the traders set up their stands in the places designated for the products to be sold. Thus, the fruit and vegetable traders have their ancestral areas as well as the sellers of ceramics, woodwork, spices and medicinal plants, candles, incense, piglets, chickens or tools of all kinds. In the central area of the market, the “comedores” (food stalls) are gathered together, where tourists are better off not eating, since the quality of the water used to prepare the food is likely to hit most people’s stomachs hard.
A nice place to temporarily escape the hustle and bustle of the market while still observing it is the small café “Casa San Juan – Comida y Arte” at the Plaza.
In Chichicastenango, as hardly anywhere else in Guatemala, the origin of the market participants from all parts of the country can be seen in the variety of traditional costumes worn by women and men.
The fact that Chichicastenango is an important spiritual centre of the Quiché-Maya, beyond the importance of its market, is also due to the discovery of Popol Vuh, the legendary handwriting that is regarded as the holy book of the Maya. The oldest copy known to this day was discovered here at the beginning of the 18th century in the Dominican monastery behind the church of Santo Tomás and translated by Father Francisco Ximénez. A small museum is dedicated to this valuable document, which contains the Quiché-Maya creation myth and rules of conduct. Visitors are encouraged to enter the church only through the side entrance.
An important ritual centre is the inscription stone “Pascual Abaj” outside Chichicastenango, where the deeds of the wind god Tuhil (Huracan) are recorded. Here locals ask with help of shamans and offerings for the solution of their problems like diseases, poverty or childlessness.