Chichicastenango, lovingly called Chichi by visitors and Guatemalans alike, has become one of the most famous and most visited destinations in Guatemala. Located in the Western Highlands in the department of El Quiche at 1965 m (5,400 ft) above sea level, Chichi is about 140 km (90 miles) from Guatemala City and can be reached by car in about 2-3 hours.
Most of the way is along the Pan-American Highway, until the road to Chichicastenango forks off at Los Encuentros. From there, a winding mountain road, complete with hairpin curves, leads to Chichi, which is surrounded by mountains and pine-clad hills.
There’s been a market at Chichicastenango for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and despite the touristy side of the event, local people continue to come twice a week to trade their wares. On Sundays and Thursdays, Chichicastenango’s streets are lined with stalls and packed with buyers, and the choice is overwhelming, ranging from superb-quality Ixil huipiles to wooden dance-masks and everything in between, including pottery, gourds, belts and blankets, plus a gaudy selection of fabrics. You can still pick up some authentic weaving, but you need to be prepared to wade through a lot of very average material – and haggle hard. Your chances of getting a good deal are better before the tourist buses arrive at 10 am or in the late afternoon once things have started to quiet down. Prices are pretty competitive, but for a real bargain you need to head further into the highlands – or to Panajachel, which is a better bet for típica clothing.
For a brilliant vantage point over the vegetable market, head for the indoor balcony on the upper floor of the Centro Comercial building on the north side of the plaza. You’ll be able to gawk at the villagers below (as well as take photographs without fear of being intrusive) as they haggle and chat over bunches of carrots and onions. It’s possible to pick out costumes from all over the highlands, including huipiles from the Atitlán villages, and even from as far away as Chajul; the “space cowboy” shirts and pants are worn by men from the neighbouring Sololá area.