Thursday's and Sunday's are market days in Chichicastenango. The small town turns into a kaleidoscope of colour, noise and people. The population swells and the narrow laneways fill up with goods. We weren't shopping due to a constant battle with our bursting backpacks so we were there just for the show.
Chichi, as the town is generally called, is located at an altitude of 1965 metres in Central Guatemala and has been one of the largest trading centres for the Maya population since pre-Hispanic times. Overall 40% of the population in Guatemala is Maya and a large proportion are at home here in the western highlands.
Vendors arrive from across the highland the evening before to set up and most overnight in their makeshift booths to be ready for an early start. The stalls take over the centre of town spilling over on to sidewalks, the church steps are taken up by ladies selling flowers and the side streets are the place to buy machetes, tools, spare parts and second hand goods.
Chichi market is famous for embroidered tops, beautifully woven fabrics and blankets. Other handicrafts worth buying include carved-wood masks and ceramics. Most items look to be of great quality and one of the girls who came on the same bus as us bought a cute woven backpack for the equivalent of $18.
When the shoppers arrive, they add even more colour with their outfits. Different villages have their own style of weaving and so the women can be told apart based on how they are dressed.
We heard the best bargains are available early morning and for anybody wanting to spend the night in Chichi, Hotel Santo Tomas offers an oasis in the chaos. However like us, most people come just for the day, mostly from a base in Antigua Guatemala, a 2.5 hour drive through the mountains.
We spent a week in Antigua which was the country's capital until it suffered a huge earthquake in 1773. At that time Guatemala City was established as a new capital and Antigua lay deserted for the next 100 years and even after that time population grew slowly. Walking around town it seems as if the original earthquake-shaken cobblestones are still in place as are the ruins of the colonial churches.
Antigua is hands down one of the prettiest towns we visited in Central America and our favourite spot in Guatemala. The lack of modern developments in the centre gives a feeling of stepping back in time yet it's sophisticated with lots of great restaurants and bars.
Due to the high altitude and surrounding mountains the climate is temperate with plenty of sunshine, rain and cool nights. At the market we saw the most mouthwatering displays of fruit and an abundance of other produce. You will also find cut fruit sold from small carts on most street corners for a few coins.
The dry season runs from November to April and we happened to visit in the lead-up to Easter which is the biggest celebration of the year in Antigua. Several ceremonial displays come through town each weekend. On the Sunday night we were there thousands of people came out to watch a procession of around 100 purple-clad young men carrying a huge float. However no matter when you visit travelling around Guatemala is a colourful and unique experience.