Family Vacations to Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Chichicastenango, Guatemala
Colorful markets held in Chichicastenango appeal to shoppers with bargaining skills (Corel)

Every Thursday and Sunday for more than 100 years, Chichicastenango, dubbed "Chichi" for short, blooms with nearly 300 Maya vendors from all parts of the country. Twisting mountain roads lead to Chichi through hamlets where fat pigs and feathery turkeys stand in the front yards of tin-roofed homes. Arrive by Wednesday night to roam the streets, observing the men hammering away at the maze of wooden stalls for tomorrow's market. The aromas of grilled chicken, fried potatoes, and sweet plantains permeate the air, punctuated by the quick slapping sound of women flattening tortillas between their palms.

On market days the town fills with people. Serious shoppers, including buyers for big department stores, flock to Chichi to purchase hand-woven floral wall hangings, embroidered tablecloths, area rugs, placemats, and carry-on bags, many of which journey stateside, where they sell for five to ten times the local price.

Not for everyone, Chichi appeals to those who get an adrenaline rush from bargaining and pushing through hordes. Women with stacks of woven tablecloths balanced on their heads elbow through shoppers and trios of little girls shove fistfuls of beaded necklaces toward tourists. Vendors stand in front of their stalls, beckoning and calling to browsers. Leave a booth and you may be followed by groups of women traditionally dressed in huipiles, embroidered tunics, unfurling more table runners, scarves, or wall hangings, shouting, "Buy from me, lady, buy from me."

Chichi's market appeals to locals too, as Maya women sell live chickens out of burlap bags and measure out sackfuls of black, white, and yellow corn. On Sunday, the cofradías (religious brotherhoods) lead processions through the streets.

Morerías, ceremonial mask workshops, also attract attention to this Guatemalan city. Colorful wooden masks line the walls of the workshop area, where you might get the chance to meet a carver and watch him patiently whittle the intricate details of a mask for a ceremonial dance.

The hill overlooking Chichi marks an important religious location. Every so often, at the summit, a weathered-faced shaman lights candles on an altar and kneels in front of Pascual Abaj, a blackened rock and the only shrine in all of Guatemala to the Mayan Earth god. Supplicants typically bring chocolate, sugar, and pastries as an offering to the god. The gray smoke of incense floats in front of the praying shaman, creating a vision of other-worldliness.

Tip: Because the mountain roads leading to Chichi are winding and often in rough condition, it's best to hire a car and driver or go with a reputable tour company.


Away.com's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from Amazon.com.

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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