Chichicastenango & Sacred Mayan Sites in Guatemala

About Guatemala

Guatemala is a truly beautiful country located right next to Mexico, though it is much less visited by tourism.

I must admit that when I planned to backpack through the American Continent, Guatemala wasn’t a place I particularly looked forward to visiting. Having now lived here a little over two years, I can say it is an underrated country, definitely worth a visit.

The nature is breathtaking with volcanoes, lakes, mountains, rivers as well as jungle and beaches. The people are kind, the culture is rich and there are many places to visit.

I have written another article about Guatemala with general information that you can check out here.

In this article I’ll be sharing about Chichicastenango and 2 other Sacred Mayan Sites I visited recently.

Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango, Guatemala – March 2018: Morning at Chichicastenango’s market – from Wikipedia

Important information: The market only opens on Thursdays and Sundays.

I have now been to “Chichi” about 6 times, which is quite a lot considering that it takes 2 boat rides and 6 chicken bus rides to do the round trip in one day, from where I live now, San Juan La Laguna.

But don’t let the journey put you off! I wouldn’t have gone so many times if it wasn’t one of the most beautiful markets I’ve ever been to. And so much more than a market I discovered on our last trip there.

The Market

The market is the reason most tourists make it to Chichi, myself included.

There are markets in most towns around Guatemala, but from the many I have visited, this is my all time favourite.

Chichicastenango is located in Quiché; a department known for the preservation of Mayan Culture, which was almost extinguished after the ‘conquest’, which people here refer to as ‘la invasion’ – (the invasion), which seems more accurate when considering the context in which it happened.

As a result, Chichicastenango is a town where Mayan Culture feels more alive than in other towns around Guatemala.

In the market you can find everything from hand woven fabrics, wooden toys and ancient mayan artefacts, to crystals and offerings for Mayan ceremonies.

Syncretism

Syncretism is the amalgamation of different cultures and religions, in this case Mayan Spirituality and Catholicism imposed by the Spanish colonisers have merged into a new culture.

The different expressions of this subculture can be seen in the ceremonies held most days in front of the 2 main churches.

Sad fact: the elders say that churches were built on top of existing sacred mayan sites to coherce Mayan people to become Christian.

This is one of these churches which can be found at the back of the market.

The few tourists who make it to Chichi tend to visit the market and go home, but I recently discovered a site worth visiting whilst in the area.

Pascual Abaj

When visiting Chichi I recommend visiting Pascual Abaj.

Turuk’aj also known as Pascual Abaj, is a pre-Colombian Maya icon in the shape of a rock, that rests in a small natural park at the top of a hill.

The face of the idol is no longer visible, but the place has been a sacred Mayan site for thousands of years and the energy can be felt. There is also a small museum that you can visit. You can take a tuc tuc from the town centre and it shouldn’t cost more than 10Q per person.

Arco Gucumatz

When visiting Chichi you may also want to make a stop by the Arco Gucumatz.

Street art

Chichi also has lots of beautiful art work spread around the town. Keep your eyes peeled!

Museum

There are a few museums in Chichi and I’ve been to two, that I recommend . The first one is in the park of Pascual Abaj, where you can see wonderful specimens of masks used in Maya ceremonials.

The second is “Museo Regional de Chichicastenango”. There you can find Mayan clay artifacts, some of which are over 3000 years old!

Food

The fact that Chichi is less visited by tourism means that vegetarian food is not easy to find but there’s always something, a plate of rice and beans or a friend plantain. If you decide to stay the night, a few street food stands rise around 5 or 6pm and they have great Pupusas and atol (local corn or rice hot drink).

For breakfast I highly recommend el Comedor Antigüeño. It’s a little bit pricier than most local restaurants where you can have a full breakfast for 20Q, but the breakfast here comes with avocado and lots of love 🙂

Transport

Transport from Panajachel

If you are travelling from ‘Pana’, you can take a chicken bus opposite supermarket ‘La Torre’ to Solola

From Solola you get a bus to Los Encuentros and from there you can get a bus to Chichicastenango.

It sounds quite long but all the bus connections are very close to each other so it’s an easy journey. The bus rides cost between 5 and 15Q.

If you are travelling from Antigua I believe there are chicken buses that go to Los Encuentros from behind the market.

If you are coming from anywhere else, I recommend asking a local tourism agency as they most probably offer daily shuttles.

If you consider staying the night, there are a few options on Air B&B and numerous simple hotels where you can most probably find an affordable room.

Qʼumarkaj, Quiché

I’m sure a whole article could be written about the department of Quiche, and even about Santa Cruz del Quiche – the closest town to the Qumarkaj ruins, however we only spent a night there for the purpose of visiting the ancient Mayan site of Qumarkaj.

Qʼumarkaj, meaning “Place of old reeds” in Kʼicheʼ, is an extensive archaeological site where you can find a mayan ball game field as you can see in this image.

The site is still visited by Ajq’ijs (Mayan Shamans) and local people for traditional Mayan ceremonies

There is also a cave, that I did not find the courage to enter beyond where natural light reaches.

In Santa Cruz del Quiche we stayed in an Air B&B but like in Chichi I imagine you could find a simple hotel whilst there.

Transport

To go to Santa Cruz from Chichicastenango you can get 1 little bus close to the ‘Arco de Gukumatz’. Most people are friendly and happy to help so you can ask people in the street.

Zaculeu, Huehuetenango

Again, I’m sure a whole article could be written about the department of Huehue and the town but we only stayed on the night so we could visit Zaculeu. 

Zaculeu is also a Mayan archeological site worth visiting. Near the entrance there is a museum with lots of old Mayan artefacts. The ruins are truly imposing and it is still possible to climb them, which is not a given in all sites. 

Transport

From Santa Cruz del Quiche it is also just one bus that you can take from the main bus station to Huehue.

Last words

I could say lots more but I trust that those who come across this article will feel the sacredness of these sites and  know that they are worth the pilgrimage.

Thank you for reading and enjoy Guatemala, remember to treat these sites with reverence and take your trash wherever you go.

With Love,

Melissa

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