Want to really learn about a country's culture and people?
GO TO THE LOCAL MARKET
There is no better way to get a sense of the local lifestyle, rituals, aesthetics, traditions, and environment.
While traveling through Guatemala, I had the chance to visit the largest market in Central America - Chichicastenango!
CHI CHI, whatttttt?
Doesn't it have a ring to it?
'Chi Chi' is an open-air market that runs on Thursdays & Sundays. I'd only found out about it on a late Wednesday evening, but I knew I had to go.
From San Pedro La Laguna, I had two ways of getting there: a Tourist shuttle or local bus.
Since 'Last Minute' is my middle name, the tourist bus in San Pedro was full by the time I tried to sign up. I was pretty bummed, as this would be my only opportunity to go.
I stood around on the streets early Thursday morning trying to think of how I could get to Chichicastenango. As a tourist shop was opening, I ran to the owner and asked about alternatives modes of transportation. He told me I could catch the local bus and hop on the tourist bus to return back to San Pedro at the end of the day. I thought, why not?
Just as he said this, a local van miraculously passed by. He flagged it down & I jumped inside.
I, along with everyone else on the bus, became aware that I didn't quite fit in as soon as I got inside.
I was about a foot taller than every local inside. As opposed to their long black hair, I had short curly hair. I had on jeans, while they all wore variations of the same colorful woven skirts. All eyes were on me.
I sat there nervously as people piled into the van one after the other. Some were standing, some were sitting in each other's laps, and some were even hanging outside of the door.
A stop was made every minute or so to drop someone off or pick someone up off the side of the road that had their hand sticking out.
The women behind me curiously touched my hair & giggled to themselves. They were probably wondering where the heck I was from & why I was in that van.
Admittedly, I was just as confused as they were. Nobody on the bus spoke English & I honestly had no idea where I was going. I was just hoping that I'd end up at Chichicastenango at the end of the ride.
Thanks to the tour shop owner, the driver knew I needed to get off at Los Encuentros, the final stop. He was an angel for reminding me because I was pretty lost. He pointed me to a chicken bus that would take me directly to the market.
This ride was a little less crowded than the van but a little more bumpy as we rode switchbacks through the highlands. Within, 45 minutes I'd finally arrived at the colorful town of Chichicastenango.
I was introduced by shouting - vendors were repeatedly shouting out the name of whatever they were selling.
Then I was smacked by the smells - the smells of incense burning as Shaman's performed rituals on the steps of the Santo Tomas Cathedral mixed with the stench of freshly butchered animals.
I was entranced by brightly-colored patterned handicrafts at every turn - handbags, blankets, hammocks, and tapestries.
As I shuffled through the crowds, I was most impressed by the women I saw - dressed in colorful woven fabrics, toting goods over their shoulders, holding down their stalls, completely running the show.
Although I made a few purchases, I was mostly concerned with observing life in the market. There was so much to witness - the colors, the sounds, the textures, the smells, and the people. I grabbed a few cheap street snacks and spent hours aimlessly wandering between endless rows of market stalls. This exhilarating journey to Chichicastenango and my time at the market ended up being one of the highlights of my trip to Guatemala!
Scroll past the photos for tips at Chichicastenango.
TIPS FOR VISITING CHICHICASTENANGO
- Try to arrive as early as possible to see the market come to life
- Stray away from your tour group to see the tour at your own pace
- Watch for pickpockets - keep an eye on your bags, especially in crowded spaces
- I didn't deal with much harassment from vendors, but if you do not want to buy something simply look at them, firmly say "no, gracias" and keep walking.
- You can bargain/haggle with vendors if you feel that you aren't paying a fair price. Allow them to make the first offer, then counteroffer with half of that price, and bargain from there.
Don't forget travel insurance! I used World Nomads while traveling through Central America. The reason that I don't have more photos from my time in Guatemala is that I lost my phone a week later. Through insurance, which includes personal loss & theft, I was sent money to purchase a replacement phone. The insurance definitely paid off.
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