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Chichicastenango Overview

Going north from Los Encuentros, the route winds tightly back-and-forth, past deep ravines and green plateaus, climbing up through pine forest and into the lower central highlands. Thirty minutes later the intriguing alpine town of Chichicastenango appears, straddling the only road going north. At 2021 meters (6630.5 ft) above sea level, the average temperature doesn’t go much above 18°C (64.5°F), dipping down to 5°C (41°F) at night. It is a place to get wrapped up and immerse your self in upland Guatemala.

Chichi was founded in 1540 by some K’iche’ fleeing nearby Santa Cruz del Quiché. After their home was destroyed by Alvarado’s men, the K'iche' set up camp here, near Chaviar, a commercial center at the time. Spanish settlers followed, and as a result, the area has a wealth of cultural, historical and anthropological treasures, both colonial and indigenous, as well as natural beauty.

This traditional, quiet town, of narrow cobble-stone streets and murmured faith, is also a major tourist attraction. Only 145 Kilometers (90 mi.) from Guatemala City, it offers travelers the opportunity to get a glimpse of Guatemala’s highland communities, and their traditional customs and attire, without having to trek to far into the wilderness. With plenty of minibuses shuttling tourists to town on day trips from Antigua, Chichi’s reputation as a market town has been cemented over the years. In fact, the impressive indigenous market has been held in the same spot for hundreds of years, shattering the peace and quiet of Chichi twice each week.

But that isn’t all there is to see in Chichi. Around the square you’ll find the enigmatic Iglesia de Santo Tomás, which not only demonstrates a striking mix of indigenous and ladino spiritualism, it is, moreover, the place where the Popol Vuh, the Mayan holy book, was unearthed by a Spanish priest. Nearby is the archaeological museum with displays on the region’s history. Just 20 minutes walk form the town center is the Mayan ceremonial site of Pascual Abaj (dedicated to the God of stone), also known as Turcaj. The tourist information office may also be able direct you to lesser-known, less-visited sites too.

Chichi is a fascinating town, where Mayan traditions and Catholicism are blended and respected, where history is alive and local culture is standing the test of time. It is a place that rewards some digging and exploration.

By Joanne Sykes

Born and raised in Yorkshire, England, Jo is currently working as a freelance travel writer in Latin America. With degrees in...

09 Dec 2009

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