In Latin America, roaming the streets of cities and villages and exploring their local markets is one of the best ways to get to know the culture of a given country, and Guatemala is no exception. We explore Guatemala’s colourful market culture and take a tour of the traditional markets of Chichicastenango and Sololá with Class Adventure Travel.
The markets of Guatemala offer an incredible wealth of souvenirs and authentic handicrafts, but they also provide a spectacular setting for photography – the colourful stalls, where vegetables, fruit, and vibrant fabrics melt into a rainbow-like symphony, are a sight to behold. Although markets abound across Guatemala, here are our favourite local picks.
The full name of the market might prove to be a mouthful even for the Spanish speakers visiting Guatemala – luckily, it is more commonly known as Chichi Market. Situated in the El Quiché valley and surrounded by beautiful mountain views, Chichi may seem like a tranquil, sleepy village outside of market days, when the narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs transport visitors to a different era. But twice a week, on Sunday and Thursday, Chichi comes alive as representatives and groups of Mayan communities from the whole of Guatemala gather here to engage in lively trade, buying and selling products at what is thought to be the largest market in Central America.
Although, at first, the chaos of the market appears to be untamed – with colourful, almost endless stalls running from the central square, up through the stairs of the Santo Tomás Church, and finally down to the streets leading away from the plaza – there is actually a sense of order that governs the market. The stalls are actually set according to a historical order, with specific vendors selling specific products, located in specific segments of the market – all this was originally decided when Chichi opened for the very first time. Some of the stalls sell beautiful, handcrafted goods that are sold to curious tourists and visitors, but the majority of the traders here actually focus on inter-village trade between a number of cooperating Mayan highland communities. Chichi is their meeting point and a chance to exchange news and goods.
One of the highlights of Guatemala, the market is a visual treat, showcasing unique fabrics and stunning traditional clothes worn by the locals. But Chichi also offers a complete and enjoyable sensory experience. With the smells of pom and copal (traditional incense), the textures of the different native textiles, the astounding tastes of exotic and mouth-watering fruit, as well as the sound of the hustle and bustle of the local market, visitors should take a moment to stand still, and soak up and appreciate the extraordinary atmosphere of this historical place.
Sololá is certainly among the most captivating, charming villages in the highlands surrounding the stunning Lake Atitlan. The town gives unrivalled views over the lake, with imposing volcanoes in the backdrop.
Every Friday, Sololá hosts its own busy market where enticing sights, smells and sounds fill the air. Delicious Guatemalan food, local produce and handcrafted goods are among the highlights of this weekly event; and although it is smaller than Chichi, Sololá is still more than capable of conjuring up the excitement and adrenaline rush associated with a busy marketplace, making it an unmissable experience. Thanks to its smaller size, the market allows visitors to take their time when exploring the different stalls and products – and the best thing about it is that it’s off the traditional tourist trail, making it a hidden and authentic gem. A lot of locals walk around the market wearing typical Mayan outfits in an incredibly variety of colours and patterns. A great way to explore local culture is to observe these clothes and fabrics, and distinguish the different hues and patterns – each style relates to a specific highland Mayan village from which the wearer hails.
The smaller number of tourists at Sololá, when compared to other markets across Guatemala, makes it a great place to get a genuine insight into the life and trade of local Mayan communities.
Based on materials provided by Class Adventure Travel. Discover more about Guatemala and Class Adventure Travel’s favourite destinations in Central and South America as they share their unique travel experiences and knowledge with you! Explore the superior side of travelling and plan your perfect Guatemalan travel itinerary by clicking here.