A fair warning: this post incredibly photo-heavy. On the plus side though: the photos are incredibly full of life, culture, and color. I debated breaking up this post into multiple posts to not overdo it with the photos. But the reality is that the photos, all together, tell a really nice visual story of our 24 ish hours in Chichicastenango.
So here we are.
This last summer, during our time in Guatemala, we knew we might maybe want to visit Chichicastenango again. It wasn’t a place we *needed* to visit since we weren’t looking for items to buy, but we thought it might be fun. Well, on our second we on Lake Atitlan we ended up extending our stay in our apartment. But due to the last-minute change of plans, we needed to leave our apartment for one night for another family to come in. We decided this would be the perfect opportunity to visit Chichi. Especially since it happened to be on the day where the market was taking place.
So we packed up a small bag, called a car, and headed higher into the mountains. Chichi has become more and more well known over the years due to its large market. Tourists from all over shuttle a bus into Chichi the morning of the market, sta a few hours and then head back out to whatever location they’re staying in Guatemala. Tourists rarely spend the night. It’s not a high-end luxury town like Antigua has become. And it doesn’t have the restaurant and hotel structures like Lake Atitlan is developing. There are really about three hotel options in town and the hotels and each one is about half a century old…. or older. The hotel we stayed in is just about a century old… the ‘nicest’ hotel in town and the rooms are warmed via a fireplace. It’s old and you can feel it. But there is something very magical about that experience too.
And so when we considered staying overnight, we thought… or I thought… “this should be a cool adventure.” And it was.
The first time we visited Chichicastenango a few years ago we only came in for the day, well, a few hours really. This time we had the opportunity to really explore the town. 24 hours is really more than enough time to do this. We came in, dropped our bags, and headed to the cemetery to walk around. It’s such a gorgeous space. And the traditions are still alive with Shaman performing rituals throughout. I didn’t take photos of the ceremonies though… that feels like bad juju for sure. In general, we try to be super mindful of anywhere we visit and the energy we put into and possibly leave behind in a place.
If I’m being totally honest, sometimes I don’t like sharing photos of beautiful, ceremonial places. I hate to think that the place becomes a spot for some high-end photoshoot or fashion bloggers in flowy dresses making a scene in the place. It’s not for that. So we walked through, admired the beauty and culture of the spot, snapped a few photos along the way, kindly said hello to anyone we passed, and were on our way.
Outside of the market (and the cemetery, if you count that), there isn’t too much to do in Chichicastenango. The market days are BUSY. But on the off days, it’s just sleepy, slow, and old Mayan town in the mountains. We walked throughout the entire town, well, basically anyway. And then decided to visit the Museo de Mascaras (the mask museum). It’s just a room or two of old Mayan masks, but there is a lot of history in those two rooms for sure. The owner of the museum walks you through the history of the Mayan masks, pre and post Spanish conquest. He explains the history of shamanism and religion in Chichicastenango as well. I mean, I’m a nerd, but I found it super interesting. But I wouldn’t recommend the tour if you can’t speak Spanish.
In fact, I think it’d be quite difficult to do an overnight without at least some Spanish. The main language in town is Quiche…. which we definitely do not speak. But you can find some people who speak Spanish. And absolutely no one who speaks English, unless you count the vendors and the few lines of English they’ve learned to sell items.
Next door to the mask museum there is an old sacred shrine site, Pascual Abaj. We didn’t visit… and I’m not sure why. I wish we had.
After the market, we walked back towards the center of town. Marlowe often carries a little paint set with her when we travel and so we perched ourselves on the church stairs for her to watercolor. She drew a small crowd of Mayan boys pretty quickly. The conversations were very little. They didn’t know any Spanish and we didn’t know any Quiche, but it was sweet to see their interest in her watercolors. They all painted together and the boys left with a painting each.
Every once in awhile we headed back to the hotel, just to relax in the sun and take a break from the dust of the town. We pulled out the paint set again and watercolored a painting of the sun setting over the beautiful cemetery. We had dinner at the hotel that night. I didn’t eat much. Marlowe and Alex had a plate of rice, beans, and veggies with tortillas. Dinner at the hotel was definitely pricey for Guatemala, but it was a good easy way to end the evening.
Sleeping was an interesting experience. We knew we’d likely be cold once the fire went out. Marlowe slept in a jacket and a hat because she can’t keep blankets on to save her life. Alex and I wore sweaters and were fine under the heavy blankets. But it was loud, so very loud. Especially once 3 and 4 am rolled around. And once 5 am hit, you could here wooden plank after wooden plank as each vendor had already started setting up for the day. While we could never imagine waking up at 5 at home, 6 am is a pretty normal wake up call for us in Guatemala.
And so we were up, bright and early.
This was the absolute best part about staying overnight in Chichicastenango. I don’t think there could have been more than 8 or so other tourists staying the night in the whole town. This means we got to experience the market for what it is before the busloads of tourists came in. It was pretty amazing. By midday, the market was packed and we were done exploring and able to pack up and head back to Lake Atitlan.
If you’re up for an adventure, I’d definitely suggest doing an overnight and waking up early to hit the market 🙂
If you come on a sunday you can witness a pretty magical church experience with a mix of both Mayan rituals and Christianity too. And outside the church, lining the steps there are layers and layers of flower vendors.
the whole market is broken into multiple sections. The flowers might be my favorite.
But outside of flowers and handmade items there is also produce, animals, second-hand items, and so much more. Basically, anything you could want or need.
The busy market scene. While tourists come in, so do other Guatemalans. And you adventure enough, you make it through parts of the market that are so busy and heavily lined, you’re practically stepping over goods and people to make it through. It’s an adventure for sure.
An adventure that we all really enjoyed. We didn’t eat the most amazing food or have a 5-star resort experience, but we had a real and memorable experience in an old authentic Mayan town. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I’m grateful for all the moments of travel. Especially when we get to experience something so rich in culture and outside of the standard hotel experience.
And we didn’t head there with buying in mind, but we left with a few goods for sure. Mostly presents, but a few keepsake memory pieces for our home too 🙂
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