When we think of Guatemala, one of the first things we think of is a beautiful palette of colour. The vibrancy of the people and the handicrafts culture is something that really caught our eye during the time we were there, and lucky for us we now have not one, not two, but three very unique pieces that we picked up along the way to remind us of it all in London! (10 weeks and an extra 7kg of unaccounted backpack luggage space later…)
Throughout most of Central America you will see hundreds of handwoven bags, blankets, cushion covers, rugs, trinkets in the trademark ‘Central American’ array of colours. What we learnt during our stay is that the local towns surrounding Antigua and Guatemala City are actually home to a huge community of indigenous Mayan families who make these beautiful handicrafts for a living.
So if you’re set on finding yourself something special to treasure for years to come, then where better to shop than at one of the most famous handicraft markets in the entire region? Quick, get yourself a bus ticket to Chichicastenango on a Thursday or Saturday – locally known as the ‘ChiChi’ markets and reputed to be the largest market in Central America. Even if you’re not a ‘colour’ person you will walk away remembering how vibrant and crazy colourful this place is for years to come.
We visited on a Thursday en route to Lake Atitlan (from our city base in Antigua) as part of our Intrepid tour and walked in with wonder at the beautiful fabric and materials. We walked out with one table runner, one giant picnic blanket, and the beginnings of our interior design vision for our future London dining room under our arms! #noregrets
The town’s population is only about 45,000, but the day before each market day hundreds of people flock in from the surrounding area to set up shop. Many of the vendors, often families, travel into town the evening before with their wares and stay overnight in their stall space. Handicrafts, fresh fruit, vegetables, blue corn tortillas (famous in this part of Guatemala), leathergoods, a church in the middle of all the hustle and bustle… you name it, Chichi markets will have it and the person who made it will be walking alongside you telling you about how they made it and why you should buy it!
To do Chichi markets, we recommend including this as a halfway stop on your way to the town of Panajachel (a good base for visiting Lake Atitlan – more on this in our next post). It’s on the way and doubles as a lunch break, plus several local shared shuttle services such as this one offer all-in-one tickets on market days (Thursday and Saturday) for about US$22 per person, where they pick you up from Antigua, stop off at Chichicastenango for a couple of hours, then continue onto Panajachel.
If you want to do the markets in one day, there is always the chicken bus option… which is apparently quite the experience involving winding roads and super fast school buses! But if you happen to have a group of people with you, a (much) more comfortable option is to organise a private shuttle bus from one of the local travel agents in Antigua like this one for about US$200 round trip (for 4 people, so US$50 each). A bit more expensive but it means you can leave whatever time you like, take your time at the markets and still be back in time for dinner in the pretty colonial town of Antigua :)
Is there anything else you would’ve picked up from Chichi markets if you had the extra backpack space? Definitely a poncho, and the handwoven laptop case… I was admiring that purple/pink number for so long and had to sadly say no because we already had a picnic blanket and table runner under our arms… and a cute handwoven donkey that a little girl convinced me to buy. But definitely the poncho, it would’ve been so perfect for all these chilly days we’ve been getting in London! (and it’s not even winter yet… eeek!)
Is there anything else you would’ve picked up from Chichi markets if you had the extra backpack space? I would have loved to have brought a selection of handicrafts to sell in London, I feel that picnic rugs would go down a treat with the abundance of parks and picnics. That way we could have had some sort of cash flow when we first arrived in London, whilst still being able to visit the comparatively pricey weekend markets here! I can just imagine Alice traipsing up and down Brick Lane markets in the national dress/ponchos of Guatemala selling them.
Photography by: @tobifukushima