Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, known for its traditional Maya Indian culture.

Chichicastenango serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name.

Chichicatenango is a small and stucco-white town, lying on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 meters. It is located about 140 kilometers (87 miles) northwest of Guatemala City (a 2-3 hour drive).

Chichicastenango is home to what is said to be the most beautiful native market in North and Central America, perhaps in all America, which takes place twice a week. This town has been, since pre-Hispanic times, one of the largest trading centers in the Maya area.

The famous handicraft market of Chichicastenango draws not only the K'iche' Maya of the surrounding region, but vendors from all over Guatemala. They represent many of Guatemala's linguistic groups: Mam, Ixil, Kaqchikel, and others (Guatemala has 23 indigenous languages). Each person hawks his or her products in a cacophony of color, dialects, costumes, smoke, and smells.

Vendors start setting up their own portable booths in the main plaza and nearby streets of Chichicastenango the night before and set-up continues into the early daylight hours. Although it is sometimes not immediately apparent, the market is very well organized. Vendors of specific types of items occupy traditional places in the market. The fruit and vegetable vendors have their traditional area that they occupy, as well as the vendors of pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. In the central part of the market plaza are comedores (small eateries).

Among the items sold are textiles, particularly the women's blouses. The manufacture of masks, used by dancers in traditional dances, has also made this city famous for woodcarving. Much of what is sold is of good quality.

Early in the day, homemade rockets and firecrackers are set off and continue randomly throughout the day. The smell of incense burned at the church of Santo Tomás (on the steps and in the nave) and fireworks mingle together.

Another major attraction in Chichicastenango is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás which is situated next to the market. It is built atop a pre-Columbian platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain venerated. Shamans still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year.

Other sights in Chichicastenango include native musicians playing in the streets, religious processions, mask carvers, antique and relic stores, the Popul Vuh Museum of Mayan artifacts, and the colorful cemetery.


JOURNEYS trips that include Chichicastenango:

Guatemala Maya Magic

Grand Guatemala with Tikal and Copan, Honduras


Information based on

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