When exploring a country for the first time, a great way to get in touch with the culture, cuisine and customs is by visiting the local markets that spring up in the small and traditional villages. Guatemala is no exception to the rule and the small Mayan villages host some of the most colorful markets in Central America and perhaps the Americas.
So, whether you want to buy souvenirs; simply browse the authentic handicrafts or, take some colorful photos of the stalls; the markets of Guatemala especially, Chichicastenango and Sololá, should not be missed off your Guatemala travel itinerary!
The Organized Chaos of Chichicastenango Market
Don’t worry if you can’t get your mouth around the name, luckily the market is more commonly known as Chichi Market. Located in the El Quiché valley and surrounded by stunning mountain views, Chichi with its narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs can seem like a quaint and sleepy village when it’s not market day. Twice a week on a Thursday and Sunday, Chichi comes to life as members of the Mayan communities from all over the country come to buy and sell products in what is claimed to be the largest market in Central America.
Although at first there seems to be no order to the mayhem of the market with stalls stretching from the central plaza, up the stairs of the Church of Santo Tomás and down the streets leading off the plaza, there is some method to the madness. Whilst some of the stalls are aimed towards providing attractive handmade goods for travelers to take home with them; the main focus of the market is as a central meeting place for inter-village trade between the various Mayan highland communities.
The stalls are actually placed in a historical order with vendors selling certain products being placed in certain areas of the market dating back to when the first market took place in Chichi.
As one of the highlights of Guatemala, not only is the market visually pleasing, with the stunning traditional clothes worn by the locals but it provides a complete and enjoyable sensory experience. With the smells of ‘pom’ and ‘copal’ (traditional incense), the textures of the different native textiles, tasting the exotic and mouth-watering fruit as well as the sound of the hustle and bustle of the local market you should take time to stand still and simply soak up and appreciate this incredible atmosphere.
Experiencing the Authentic Sololá Market
Sololá is one of the most charming and attractive highland villages surrounding the exquisite Lake Atitlan, and offers incredible views over the eye-catching lake with the imposing volcanoes in the background. A trip to the Friday market at Sololá will repay you with a mass of enticing sights, smells and sounds whilst satisfying your taste and touch with interesting food and produce as well as locally crafted goods. Although Sololá is smaller than Chichi, the market still provides the adrenaline rush and excitement of a busy marketplace and is an unforgettable experience.
The beauty of this market is that due to its smaller size you can take a bit more time exploring the different stalls and their products or produce. Sololá market is a bit more off the traditional tourist trail, which of course has its advantages. The first thing you will notice is that there are more locals wearing traditional Mayan clothing and a wider variety of patterns and colors.
Take some time out to distinguish the different colors and patterns woven into their clothing as the various styles relate to the highland Mayan village they are from.
Passing by with authentic handmade Mayan baskets filled with their purchases from the day you are bound to see exotic fruits and vegetables that will lure your taste buds to seek out the nearest food stall. With fewer tourists at Sololá than other markets in Guatemala, you get a genuine insight and experience into the workings and produce of the local Mayan communities from the area.