The Largest Market in Central America: Chichi

05 March 2018
Chichicastenango (Chichi) and the Largest Market in Central America

Driving to the mountain town of Chichicastenango involves steep, winding roads that are generously sprinkled with potholes. Around each sharp turn lies a new visual treat such as green fields, cattle grazing on the side of the road or families standing on the rough edge of the roadway awaiting a passing chicken bus. ( In case you missed it, this is a chicken bus ) All this adventure leads to the narrow, one-way streets of the town which hosts the largest market in Central America, twice weekly. We arrived on a Saturday as they were setting up for Sunday market day. As we passed through town we saw a young man carrying a pair of legs and a bag of mannequin parts.

And some women sweeping the area where they would set up their stand.

We also saw this man carrying a basket full of live turkeys. We later learned that there is an entire section of the market which is for the sale of live animals. We saw turkeys, chickens, rabbits, cavies, geese, kittens, puppies, fish and caged birds as we passed through that section.

When we arrived in our parking lot, we were the only vehicle in the area. But the next morning that parking lot had filled with the trucks of vendors. They were jammed in tightly. Fortunately, we didn’t need to get out!

Shoppers come in droves to wander the market. Trading their wares, purchasing the items they need in their villages and selling the products they grow, weave, bake or build.

The market is primarily a Mayan exchange. Traditional dress is the norm. The shoppers and the sellers wear their traditional garb and they also buy and sell these clothing items at the market. This man is wearing the attire of a Mayan shaman and is selling herbs and offering his services for ceremonies.

The busy market is filled with bright colors and incredible sights. Here are a few images we snapped throughout the day.

These are bundles of thread which are tied off and ready to be placed on a huge foot-loom to be woven into bolts of fabric.

While visiting Chichi for the market, many families participate in ceremonies and religious practices. The two central churches and other religious sites are quite active during market days. The steps are filled with people, flowers, herbs, incense and dogs.

The view from the top steps of one church, looking towards the other church shows the canopies, tarps and covers which protect the vendors in case of rain.

After a few hours of wandering the market and shopping, we were exhausted. We went to the camper to model our purchases and take a nap. Here is Mike doing both.

After our nap we were ready to explore the city. As I mentioned, many people come here for traditional ceremonies at the churches and historical locations around the town. We hired a brilliant local tour guide who took us to some of these locations.

We followed him through cornfields and up hills. He led us to an open clearing which was scattered with rocks, carvings, candles, flowers, pine needles and incense.

From the top of the mountain we had beautiful views of the city and the valleys below. And along the path we passed this cute dog.

Then he took us to see the workshops of mask makers and costume shops. These decorative items are used for the frequent ceremonies, processions, dances and parades. They have been made in these traditional images for many generations and some of these items are hundreds of years old.

On the way to the large cemetery we passed by another ceremonial site. There was a family preparing for a wedding. This includes a large fire, a smoke cleansing, brushing the bride and groom with pine needles and chanting. Although we felt very voyeuristic and self-conscious, the tour guide assured us that the photos were okay and the family was willing to share this time with us. They are proud of their beliefs and practices.

Then we climbed the hill to the large, colorful cemetery. The concrete tombs are painted bright colors. Most of the tombs include an incense burner as well as the name and date dedication. It is an interesting blend of Catholic and Mayan practices.

At the top of the hill, in the center of the cemetery is a covered gazebo area which is maintained for the use of Mayan ceremonies. We were able to observe a man preparing the burn circle for a ceremony. This includes candles, pine sap balls, bubble gum, colored paper and firecrackers. There were also several ceremeonies going on while we were passing by.

maya ceremony preparation

The sign says “Welcome, we beg you not to use chili bombs in this sacred place. Sincerely, the indigenous municipality. Fine $68.00.”

At the entrance to the cemetery we passed a store with a clever name. It says “The final goodbye store”. Sort of a morbid attempt at humor near the cemetary gates.

Back at the camper we relaxed for a while and enjoyed the comfortable climate. Outside of our back door was this beautiful mural.

Zeb did not relax much. Unfortunately with so many ceremonies taking place he was stressed out by one of the key features of a Mayan celebration – – – firecrackers!

We had a delicious dinner of street food and then settled in for the night. While we slept the entire market was dissassembled, loaded and driven away. By morning the parking lot was cleared and the streets were passable again. This entire process would be repeated in three days as the Chichi Market repeats its honorable task of being the largest market in Central America.

Geneva Saint-Amour

Meet the Saint Amours.

Mike and Geneva Saint Amour spent several years in Prescott - Geneva was the first Director of Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy; Mike worked with Tim Carter in the County Superintendent’s office. After spending their careers in education, they decided it was time to travel. So, in October 2014, they packed up their 3 dogs into their VW van, dubbed Alta, and departed from Arizona with plans to travel indefinitely. 

This column is about their adventures on the road. A few things have changed since their initial nomadic launch. They now drive The Beast - a GMC 2500HD 4x4 truck with a mounted, customized Northstar Arrow 8.5 camper. Unfortunately, two of their dogs have passed away. Only Zeb, their “director of security” remains. He is generally found sleeping on the job. Their current path has them traveling south. 

Facebook | Instagram