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Living Culture

Located on a high mountain ridge surrounded by pine forest, the Quiche Maya town of Chichicastenango hosts the most famous indigenous market in Central America. On Sundays and Thursdays, the central plaza overflows with fresh flowers, traditional foods, and practical house wares. Villagers in traditional dress come from miles around to trade, worship, and reunite with friends. Hand-carved masks and brilliantly embroidered textiles can be purchased directly from the artisans.

Chichicastenango—known locally as Chichi—is a holy city to the Quiche. Expressions of traditional Maya belief are ubiquitous, and frequently intertwine with Catholic rites. The whitewashed church of Santo Tomas, constructed in 1540, is built atop a Maya temple platform. Visitors burn copal incense and scatter rose petals near the church's front door in an act of reverence for the ancient altar buried there. In the church of El Calvario, at the opposite end of the market plaza, a Maya soothsayer fields inquiries in a room next to the chapel. Just south of town, at the hilltop shrine of Pascual Abaj, Maya priests conduct ceremonies around a carved stone monument.

Each year from December 14th to the 21st, a town fair is held in Chichicastenango in honor of Saint Thomas—the town's patron saint. Young men test their strength and bravery by climbing a pole known as the palo volador. After reaching the top, they spin back to earth on ropes. Nativity scenes, handmade Christmas ornaments, and processions known as posadas add to the festival atmosphere.

Mosaico Travel Services arranges privately guided tours, transportation, and accommodations in and around Chichicastenango. The town is 87 miles northwest of Guatemala City (three hours), 67 miles from Antigua (three hours), and 23 miles from Lake Atitlan (one hour). Helicopter tours can be arranged, allowing guests to arrive from Antigua or Guatemala City in under forty minutes. Call us at 801.582.2100 for more information.

" As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own."

Margaret Mead