Chichicastenango Market: Save Your Pennies For Another Spot

You’ve read about it in all the guide books, seen it advertised throughout the tourist offices and heard fellow travelers talk about it. But the Chichicastenango market isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. Apart from making you feel like a bigger tourist than a bus load of older Americans, it’s pricey, massively over rated and if you’re not passing through, can easily be missed. We can understand the draw to a spot like Chichi, but in our opinion there’s a lot better places out there to spend your valuable savings.

While traveling through Guatemala you’ll often come across markets selling an abundance of brightly colored and beautiful woven garments worn by the different groups of indigenous Mayan. Most tourists jump at the opportunity to buy a few memories of their travels, but when traveling on a budget it can often be difficult to shop for souvenirs. Room in your bag and your weekly beer allowance are factors that come to your mind straight away.

Looking for bargains becomes more than just a novelty, it becomes a necessity. In Guatemala you hold out because you’ve heard that Chichicastenago market is the best place to go on their famous Sunday market day, and what you’ll find could be completely different. Here’s what unfolded when we decided to head to Chichi to get our shop on…..

We arrive in Chichi from Xela on a gloomy Saturday afternoon and the ominous signs of a market are already beginning to show, as stalls work on setting up all over town. Men go through an all too familiar routine of constructing giant scaffolding stalls and covering them with protective plastic. Women delicately unfold garments and hang brilliantly patterned table clothes on the walls. Woven bookmarks, feather earrings and other small trinkets are carefully arranged around small wooden tables by busy hands. Smooth talking phrases in English, rehearsed to perfection, echo around us we made our way through the maze of vendors.

chichicastenango market

A small girl dressed in casual clothes greets us in the centre with a smile and a ‘welcome to Chichi’ in English. After our initial greeting we realize she doesn’t speak much English and the conversation switches to Spanish, where she has a lot more confidence in speaking. We make small talk and exchange names and stories before the hard sale comes on. After politely declining her sale she continues to follow us around the town for another 20mins asking for ‘un quetzal, un regalo‘ (one quetzal, one gift). She doesn’t take to our kind refuses and in the end we head to our hostel to shake her tail, as more people begin to join the cue looking for a hand out.

After catching our breath we decide to venture out again, only to be confronted by the same girl and more of her partners in crime. This is something that happened quite a lot to us in Chichi. People didn’t seem to take a polite ‘no’ for an answer, and instead persistently followed us around the town. Something tells me they have become pretty used to receiving the odd quetzal from fed up travelers and that usually their persistence pays off. Obviously they didn’t know us.

We walk around town for a while, but quickly realize Chichi isn’t a hub of activity. There’s an interesting cemetery to visit, with its collection of multicolored headstones and decorated graves, but otherwise it’s a pretty quiet town. As a result we head to bed early, and then rise early to beat the crowds. By the time we get to to the market in the morning it’s just after 8, yet already a circus of activity. More phrases in English, more stalls selling the same stuff and all at a much higher price than what you’d usually find around Guatemala. Within the first hour we’re already walking round in circles, tired of being hassled every time we stop to take a peek.

The idea of getting a few bargains has now well and truly been abandoned, and all we were thinking about is getting out. With a winding road up to Nebaj in the back of our minds we bid farewell to the hectic carnival atmosphere that Chichi has turned into and make a beeline for the exit. For us it was just too much of an intense concentration of vendors all trying way too hard to close a sale. Here is an classic example of where persistence doesn’t always pay off, as they hoped that after the 200th time that we would finally give in. If anything it just drove us further away from the place.

chichicastenango market

In our honest opinion, check the market out if you’re still really interested, but definitely save the shopping for the quieter spots. It’s a beautiful place, full of traditional Mayan culture, but so are many other towns in Guatemala. Many tourists that we’ve met share the same view, after hearing the same warning. You’ll find the exact same souvenirs in other markets throughout the country, so don’t worry about missing out on anything. And if you do go, be conscious of pickpockets, who are a lot more ballsy on Sunday.

Chichicantenango Market Basics

Where: Chichicastenango, Guatemala (north of Lago Atitlan)

Getting There: Chicken buses run from all directions, at all times and are easy to navigate. Most buses will pass through Los Encuentros before making a change up north to Chichi. Depending on where you’re coming from they’ll take between 2-4 hours and cost you a LOT less than organizing a tour to get out there. Tours are definitely not need.

Accommodation: Among the tourist hotels you can find some cheap accommodation for 30Q if you want to stay the night.

Like all articles you’re welcome to leave your comments or experiences at Chichicastenango market. Our writing is subjective and reflects not only our opinion, but also our personal experiences. If you loved Chichi drop us a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

9 thoughts on “Chichicastenango Market: Save Your Pennies For Another Spot”

  1. Guatemala was my first experience in Central America – 14 years ago now. I remember getting completely hosed at a market (not the one you mentioned) and was even more convinced when the women actually were laughing at me. Lesson learned but I absolutely loved my time there!

  2. Thanks for the warnings. We have been all over the world and try to shun such markets where “vendors” and their cohorts are so pushy. We found Peru to be much better in that respect – at least 6,7 years ago. People presented their wares in a courteous fashion with pleasant manners but never were overbearing or rude. We could hardly believe it.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your article about Chichicastenango! I haven’t been there yet, but am planning my future travels to Guatemala and it was interesting to read about your experiences there.

    I am going to take your advice and still head to the market, but shop elsewhere, as I very much dislike being hassled when I am trying to browse and make decisions on my purchases.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I just wanted to write a follow-up comment about my experience at this market recently.

    I visited Guatemala in November and went on a day trip to the Chichicastenango Market. It was much larger than I had been expecting and it was incredible to wander around there – definitely a unique cultural experience! I loved checking out the church in the centre of town where Mayan rituals were being practiced by the locals. The shopping was also fantastic and I ended up finding some great items!

    This was one of the highlights of my trip and I would definitely go there again.

    • Thanks for the update Brittany. It just goes to show that a lot of our impressions on a place are based off personal experiences, and that sometimes going to see for yourself is the best way to go about it. Glad you had such a wonderful experience 🙂

  5. I’ve visited the Chichi market over 30 times in the last five years, initially as a tourist, then representing our NGO and guiding our service teams through it, then living there for 2 months, and most recently again in March 2022. I’ve also visited indigenous and handicraft markets in Panajachel, Sololá, Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala City, Antigua (all multiple times) and many others once. You’re right that impressions are based on personal experiences.

    The first time I went to the Chichi market was sensory overload – the explosion of colors, Kʼicheʼ spoken all around me with the occasional English come-on to non-native passersby, walkways choked with mostly local people, and ambulant vendors badgering tourist incessantly. On my early evening return walk to the refuge of Hotel Santo Tomás, a car stopped in front of me. This allowed just enough time for six children, probably ages 5 to 11, to finally surround me, each with backpacks and bags full of small stuff for sale. Tiny hands shoved pencils, magnets, hacky-sacks, fabric bracelets and what-not at my chest and arms, all of them vying for my attention using the few phrases of English they could muster. I was easily nagged to buy 30 items in a matter of 90 seconds. I did my best to politely refuse them. A full day in the market at 6,500 foot altitude burned me out, and these kids pushed me over the edge. In Spanish and not so politely, I told them that I wasn’t feeling well due to the sun reacting with my medications and needed to lay down – all true.

    The children immediately opened a path for me. The older ones told me they were sorry for making me feel bad. The younger ones told me that they hoped I felt better. One told me to take care of myself. Tears are filling my eyes as I write this. They were so polite despite how poorly I treated them. The $60 per night hotel room is more money than so many families there earn in a month. Why couldn’t I spare even a few quetzal coins for each of them?

    But I came back. I now know many of the vendors and their families by first name. I’ve visited their homes and shared meals and good conversation. So many of these families live in homes made of abode brick, corrugated metal, or cornstalks with dirt floors with as many as 12 people sharing one room. Many have numerous missing teeth, walk with noticeable injuries from years of backbreaking labor and unaffordable health care, and cook their scarce food over an open fire on the ground. Malnutrition is rampant. Many parents are forced to pull their children from school after the second or third grade so they’re available to work to support the families.

    For so many of the Chichi vendors, selling goods in the market by walking up and down the streets or in ramshackle stalls on market days are their only source of the little income they can bring in on a limited education with even more limited job opportunities. Vendors hitch rides from those fortunate enough to own a vehicle and arrive as early as 3am to begin setting up their stalls. So desperate are some of the young vendors that they feel obligated to stay in the market past nightfall until all the goods they brought are sold so that their parents can buy food.

    Chichi market vendors are some of the most hopeful, polite, industrious, artful, resourceful, and respectful people you’ll meet. Many vendors’ families make the goods they sell, using the weaving, sewing, wood carving and painting techniques passed to them from their ancestors. It’s true that one will find some of the same items sold there as in other markets – if those are the kinds of souvenirs being considered, then surely there are more convenient places than Chichi to buy them. A discriminating eye will find goods showing generational designs of Gucumatz, distinctive zig-zags, and sun patterns only used by Chichi artisans. Want to try something amazing? Strike up a conversation with the weaving and huipil vendors about the patterns they’ve chosen, what they represent and why they’re important to their culture. If you don’t speak Spanish, then hiring a tour guide to help with this interaction, despite what’s claimed in this article, will be a great investment to enhance your experience.

    Their community and economy are insular, and the market, cemetery, and Iglesia Santo Tomás make for few attractions that would interest average travelers. No huge lake, no artsy baroque colonial buildings, no massive foreign investment. There are plenty of Chichi day trip packages available that will transport you from the most sanitized tourist hotspots and back. The people of Chichi do the best with what they have, and they often need to make the most of the precious few hours that most tourists stay there before returning to their hotels in Pana. This explains why they unfortunately result to their what tourists might see as “pushy” sales tactics, delivered in crude English as a third language and unaware of foreign visitors’ cultural norms – many adults have never traveled more than 20 miles from their home.

    The Chichi market offers a world of experiences like no other market. I learn and find something new and exciting every time I go, and I’ll be going there again this year. Perhaps, like what you said, one’s enjoyment is based on how one interprets their surroundings.


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