By far the main attraction in Chichicastenango is its twice-weekly market. In fact, Chichi is almost a ghost town on non-market days, with a few vendors set up in permanent stalls on the town's main plaza.
One of the city's only other official attractions is the Museo Regional, 5a Av. 4-47, Zona 1 tel. 502/7756-1015), located cater-cornered to the Iglesia de Santo Tomás . This small museum has some decent ancient artifacts in jade, stone, and ceramic. The rooms are dimly lit, and the explanatory material is all in Spanish. This place is also sometimes called the Museo Arqueológico Rossbach because much of the collection was donated by the German priest Idelfonso Rossbach. The museum is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 8am to 4pm, and Sunday from 8am to 2pm. Admission is Q10 ($1.35/70p).
Chichicastenango's cemetery is filled with brightly painted mausoleums and aboveground crypts. While it is very photogenic and atmospheric, there have been reports of attacks on tourists here, so be careful and only visit the cemetery as part of a group or with a tour guide. The cemetery is located along the western end of 8a Calle.
Thursday and Sunday are market days in Chichi, and on these days, the city is a mad orgy of sights, sounds, and smells. Maya craft sellers from across the highlands set up makeshift booths around the central plaza, spilling over on to sidewalks, the church steps, and up various side streets. A broad selection of Guatemalan handicrafts is available, including carved-wood masks and religious figures, ceramic wares, and an immense selection of the country's amazing native textiles. In addition to the craftworks, vendors sell fruits, vegetables, flowers, medicinal herbs, and more. Note: While a discerning shopper can find quality goods in Chichicastenango's market, much of what is offered is now machine-made and geared toward the mass tourist market. Despite the seeming chaos, there's actually a historical order to the setup, with vendors selling certain products in specific areas that have been designated for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, while tourists might think the entire market is geared toward them, the market is actually the central meeting place for inter-village trade and commerce among the various highland Maya.
Vendors begin arriving in Chichi the afternoon before market day, and set up throughout the evening and into the early morning. The best time to shop is either very early, before the tour buses from Guatemala City and Lake Atitlán begin arriving, or in the afternoon, after everyone's cleared out.
Churches & Shrines
The Iglesia de Santo Tomás was built by Dominican priests more than 450 years ago on top of an ancient Maya worship site. It remains the heart and soul of Chichicastenango and -- to this day -- is used as much for traditional Maya ceremonial purposes as it is for Catholic Mass. Local Maya can almost always be found on the steps leading up to the church, burning copal incense and candles, and offering prayer. Each of the 18 steps represents one of the months in the Maya calendar. Rather than the expected pews, you'll find makeshift shrines and altars spread out on the floor with pine needles and candles. It was in the church's convent that the oldest known copy of the ancient Popol Vuh text was discovered.
The church is located on the southeast corner of the main plaza. Note: Out of respect, the front door of the church is informally reserved for locals and high church officials. Visitors are encouraged to use the side door.
Capilla del Calvario is the smaller and less active of the two churches on Chichi's main plaza. Inside you'll find hand-painted murals and an intricate wood altar with a carved Christ in a glass coffin in front. You'll notice a dark room off the main body of the church; this holds a second Christ in a glass coffin, and is where many locals prefer to pray.
The Maya shrine, Pascual Abaj, is located on a hilltop south of Chichi. A carved stone idol, said to be hundreds of years old, is the centerpiece of the shrine. This is an active site of worship for many locals, who come here to make offerings and pray. Candles, incense, flowers, food, and even booze offerings are brought here to please the gods. Be respectful of the spiritual significance of this site, and don't take pictures or interfere with the worship.
On the way to Pascual Abaj, it's worth stopping at the Museo de las Máscaras Ceremoniales (tel. 502/7756-1915). The museum has been run by the same family since it opened in 1880, and is located near the end of 9a Calle, just up the path to Pascual Abaj. Closer to downtown, you'll find Morería Santo Tomás, 5a Avenida and 9a Calle (tel. 502/7756-1882). Both of these places are actually known as morerías, the name for shops where ceremonial masks and costumes are made and stored.
While many tourists visit Pascual Abaj on their own, I recommend you go with a guide, which can be arranged through your hotel or INGUAT. It can be unsafe for solo tourists or small groups, and a local guide provides insurance against robbery as well as informing visitors of cultural sensitivities including local customs and sacred ground.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.