Our Central America tour (23): Chichicastenango

It was our last day in Central America (Thursday), but there was still one more adventure to be experienced: a visit to a major market. Leaving Panajachel at 8.30 am, we climbed our way out of the caldera, stopping briefly at a mirador to look back at Lago de Atitlan and its volcanoes, and headed north for the wonderfully-named town of Cihichicastenango.

On the journey, Sandra gave us a gift from the Guatemalan tourist authorities: a tiny version of a worry doll. According to Guatemalan legend, when you have a problem, you tell it to the worry doll. Then you put it under the pillow. Next morning, the problem has gone. As the leaflet puts it: “Life smiles again”.

Chichicastenango – known locally as simply Chichi – means ‘surrounded by poison ivy’ and it is located at a height of some 7,000 feet. It has a population of around 70,000 and is known for its inhabitants’ pre-Christian religious beliefs and ceremonies. The town’s narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs make this a magical place at any time. Maya traders come from outlying villages for the twice-weekly market held on Thursdays and Sundays and, of course, today was Thursday.

We reached Cichi towards 10 am and, at this elevation, the temperature was much cooler. Our ‘headquarters’ for our time in the town was the Hotel Santo Tomas, named after the local patron saint.

Sandra took us on a short walking tour which included the church, the covered fruit & vegetable market, and the extensive main market in the streets. The place was heaving with people but, since the locals are particularly short even by Guatemalan standards, we were able to make our way. The number of hawkers here was the most we had experienced on our tour, but they could be shaken off by pretending you did not notice them.

The overwhelming sense was the riot of colour. Whether selling or simply buying, the women especially wore brightly-coloured tops and skirts. Most of the women carried purchased goods or babies on their back in a kind of cloth called locally ‘tzute’ and one mother carried her baby in her ‘tzute’ breastfeeding as she walked. Some of the hawkers balanced coloured cloths, shawls and even jewellry on their heads.

Then there were the stalls themselves that lined both sides of narrow street after narrow street, the spaces in between thronging with locals and tourists. These stalls sold everything you could imagine, but cloth and handicraft predominated and both represented every hue in nature.

Sandra left us to explore the market on our own and purchase last-minute gifts (Roger & Vee bought nothing) before we returned to the hotel to have some lunch.

After four hours at Chichicastenango, we left about 2 pm to travel to Guatemala City from where we would catch our flights home. Travelling south and then east, we made a comfort stop at Chichoy and reached Guatemala City at 6.40 pm. We were staying at the Holiday Inn which was our 14th hotel of the tour.

Guatemala City – universally known as Guat – is a sprawling metropolitan area set in a vast valley. It has a population of 3 million and a reputation as dirty and dangerous, but it serves as the capital of the country with many of its best museums (although we saw none of this).

The Guatemalan six – Roger & Vee, Brian & Cally, Christine & Charmian – stayed at the hotel for the final meal of the trip.

Tomorrow first thing, we fly home ……


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