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Study Abroad Break: Shopaholics Delight in Chichi

Famous for it twice-weekly market, this town in the Guatemalan highlands is a must-visit destination for those studying Spanish in Antigua. Chichicastenango, known locally as “Chichi,” is located a two or three hour drive northwest of Guatemala City. While in Guatemala for pleasure or studying Spanish, many people make the unforgettable trip to the most colorful market in the Americas. 

Vendors set up booths in Chichi every Thursday and Sunday to sell their wares, which include beautiful hand-woven textiles; hand-carved traditional ceremonial dance masks; leather goods such as shoes, boots, belts, and hats; pottery and ceramics; silver jewelry; medicinal plants, herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, meat, even live animals; blankets; wall hangings; and other knick-knacks and souvenirs. The set-up begins the night before market day and continues into the early morning hours. Homemade rockets and fireworks announce the start of the market first thing in the morning and the air of celebration continues throughout the day. While the scene seems disorganized, there is actually a method to the vendors. Different sections of the central plaza are dedicated to groups of vendors selling similar products.  

In addition to the colorful market scene, visitors can check out the Santo Tomas cathedral, which is situated next to the market. This church is 400 years old and shamans still use it for rituals, complete with incense burning and occasionally they sacrifice a chicken for the gods. The Mayan creation story, the Popol Vuh, was found in this church. There are eighteen steps leading up to the church, standing for the eighteen months on the Mayan calendar. Another religious site, Pascual Abaj, is a little harder to find, located a short hike south of town. The shrine to Pascual Abaj is on a wooded hillside that offers great views of the town of Chichicastenango. The shrine itself is a stone image that locals pray to, light candles and give offerings of cigarettes and alcohol to. 

The annual town fair takes place in Chichicastenango from December 14-21. One of the important events to take place during the fair is called the palo volador, when young men climb a tall pole then spiral back to the ground, holding on to a rope that is attached to the top of the pole. All in all, Chichi is an exciting town in Guatemala to spend the day in with both outstanding shopping and cultural excursions available. 

By: AmeriSpan Staff

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