Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
This market has so many stories in the travel guides and online that we finally broke and decided to make the effort to go. The guides have regularly described this as the best and biggest market in all of Central America. We had debated going to this countless times as we both weren’t really looking to buy anything as we are trying our best to travel light. In general any wooden or animal products can’t be taken home to Australia due to the quarantine limitations. We’re also very conscious of not trying to follow the tourist trail just because everybody else does something. So, this market occurs every Thursday and Sunday in the town of Chichicastenango. It is around a 1.5hr drive North from Panajachel. We ended up finding a local tour company on the main Calle Santander who offered the trip for 80Q (US$10) per person in a private shuttle. Another of these fun trips with a shuttle that was full of people. In total, this one had 15 people including 2 people in the front row plus the driver. I felt sorry for one of the last guys to be picked up who must’ve been 6ft4 or maybe a little taller and sat in the front seat next to the driver and probably hit his head on the roof many times.
Our shuttle pickup was 8am directly from our accommodation and we got out of the van in Chichi somewhere around 9.45am. We had to be back at the van around 1.45pm, so we got the promised 4hrs to explore the town and market. As we walked towards the main market, the first thing we noticed was we were one of many tour groups that had arrived on the day. A short walk away we arrived at the hotel Santo Tomas on 7a Avenida at the intersection of 6a Calle. It looks like this is a regular stop on the guided tours as we certainly weren’t the only ones to walk in. As soon as you walk up a short number of steps you’ll see a small open courtyard surrounded by the main building of the hotel with a fountain and many birds on perches. Sadly, I’m not a bird expert, but I did hear a tour guide say that these had come from local forest areas. I can only hope they were injured birds rather than caught for display. Most of the birds were either green or red Macaws. One bonus was a couple of caged toucans that seemed rather playful.
Inside the Hotel Santo Tomas
We’d had a light breakfast in the morning and by the time we’d arrived at the actual market we were both hungry again. We crossed our fingers and went on a search for a cheap morning snack. This market seems to not have any sort of official area. People setup their stalls anywhere and everywhere in all of the central streets. Some of the streets were wide and accommodating. When you arrive in the middle of the market, I instantly regretted bringing a backpack with me. It was a web of tiny little pathways. Maybe it was just me on the day, but the locals got really pushy and impatient. Sure I can understand that people have things to do and all tourists look the same. I just felt like I was getting pushed around all over the place. We found our way to the centre food hall pretty quickly and sat down for some respite. First on the order list was a couple of tamales. At 4Q each (US50cents) it was a delicious start to the day.
Inside the centre food hall at breakfast time
We then continued to explore the market with a quick stop into Santo Tomas Church and directly across the plaza the other church of Capilla del Calvario.
The church of Santo Tomas
I think by this point in time I was about done with the market. It was similar to many other markets I’d seen with the main difference being it was perhaps the most crowded of any I’d been in.
One of the many things to buy; colorful yarn.
We continued on our way walking around and found a balcony coffee shop “Los Cofrades Café & Restaurant”. We weren’t the only tourists there looking for a charge up of caffeine and a break from the market. It’s a nice little holding place to watch from a distance.
The view from the balcony
A couple of other stops I’d recommend along the way would be the cemetery (pay attention to your own safety as it was very quiet when we were there). The colours and beauty of the place were worth a 5 minute walk from the market.
Overall, the trip to the market was worth it for the experience. If you’re short on time, I think there are better things to spend your time and money on in Lake Atitlan.
The next update will be from San Pedro and our hiking and other adventures. Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/