Secrets to Travelling To Chichicastenango Market From Lake Atitlan

Going to Chichicastenango (or Chichi for short) is a perfect day trip from Lake Atitlan. Chichi is home to arguably the largest market in Central America, replete with fabrics, fabrics, and more fabrics. Guatemala is home to a gorgeous countryside with tons of fruit and vegetable production. If you didn't learn about it growing up, there was an important coup d'etat in 1954 when the United States government supported the overthrow of leftist president Jacob Arbenz over the (non) use of arable land by US corporations, but that is for another time. Guatemala is still home to a wide variety of fruits and vegetable production that feeds much of the Americas.

Indigenous plants, leftover fruit, and produce that isn't eaten is great for creating dyes. Words don't do this color explanation justice, you need to see it to believe it. The traditional Mayan garb has different styles depending on what area of Guatemala you are visiting. Thus far, all that I have seen are splendidly covered in colors of all kinds. Chichi's style is particularly eye catching.


You probably need to see it person to believe it. Colors of all types and combinations.


When you are surrounded by these colors on all sides, it can be quite the color overload. That is a good thing.

You may be thinking that you don't need a blanket and you don't sew, so why go to Chichi? Let us count the ways. You can buy handmade shoes in the style of Chuck Taylor's, except with brilliant color sewn into the fabric; or perhaps mocassins with tiny specs of color added; maybe you want sandals instead; there are children's school bags, decked out in every color; business bags; luggage, pants, skirts, shirts, dresses and clothing of every kind; table covers, cloth napkins, hot pads, and other useful things for around the house; pillow cases, baby carriers, hats, and more than we choose to put into words. **It's like Target on psychedelics**.

i58.tinypic.com_2cwraxy.jpg Belts. On mushrooms.

Not to mention the fact that fabrics comprise the bulk of the goodies in the market, but it is definitely not the only thing you can buy there. I hesitate to try and list what you can purchase, but suffice to say if you brought any money to buy a gift to bring back home, Chichi is the best place to go for that.

The following guide will give inside details to the trip from Lake Atitlan. **This will be different from your typical Frommers or Lonely Planet**, so they make great companion guides. Enjoy!

Planning Your Trip: Some Things To Keep In Mind

Don't Let The Ride There Ruin The Day

Most flights come into Guatemala City. The first thing you should notice when you leave the city is how winding the roads are, particularly as you branch out into the areas that barely have paved roads. This is especially true in the Lake Atitlan area, which is surrounded by three volcanoes and a host of other mountains. You are driving over a mountain. The ride into Lake Atitlan is winding enough to make someone who is semi queasy with motion sickness have a rough ride. Well, its the same on the way up as well. Chichi is 1.5-3 hours away depending on where you leave from on the lake, so **if your stomach cannot handle roller coasters or long car rides on curvy roads, you might want to have a plan for this trip.**

There are pharmacies in most of the towns around the lake and they should sell anti-motion sickness medication. Panajachel and San Pedro are the biggest towns and therefore the best chances of success finding anti motion sickness pills are in these towns. There is a wonderfully large pharmacy in Panajachel on the main street, Calle Santander, near the intersection with the main road out of town. This author has purchased pharmaceuticals here by the pill, so you shouldn't have to buy a whole box if you don't want to. Then again, if you frequently get motion sickness, shouldn't you be keeping a bottle in your purse or travel bag? If it's cheap and your traveling by bus around Central America, it will come in handy for those who hate roller coasters.


This photo is taken from Calle Santander looking to the road that leads out of Panajachel. This intersection is a useful point of reference. To get here, get off the boat at Pana and walk directly straight (about ten minutes) until you can't. Then veer right. As you walk on this street, you will reach this intersection. The pizza and chicken place will be on your left…and the bank will be on your right. The turn around the bank is Calle Santander.


The place where these photos are taken, the exact spot of the photographer, is a large pharmacy. Most of them know a little English as well so you non Spanish speakers may get lucky.

If you don't approve of excessive or unnecessary pharmaceutial use, there are non drug options as well. San Pedro, Panajachel, and San Marcos all sell a locally brewed ginger beer, and ginger is well known for settling upset stomachs. Visit the health food store in San Pedro and expect to pay around 26 Quetzales for the drink. Panajachel has a store called Sandras that sells it for around 26 Q as well. San Marcos has a small tienda near the basketball court that sells ginger beer for 22 Q, although they are frequently sold out (I wonder why?). However, all of these stores open AFTER the typical shuttle leaves for Chichi, which is almost always 8 a.m. Hence, you should make this purchase the night before. Almost all hostels in the area provide at least a micro fridge for guest use.

The super budget option (AKA free) is the peppermints that a few restaurants deposit onto their check holders when you ask for “la cuenta”. This is hit or miss as only a few restaurants do this, and even then sporadically so. However, you can take that lead and visit the local candy shop (dulcerias) and ask for peppermint candies. Peppermint is known to settle the stomach.

Public Transportation

Guatemala, like a number of Central American countries, has received/purchased old American school bus fleets and converted them into pimped out public transit. Seriously, check a few of these out. Some will say they are not safe to ride on, but this author has ridden on Guatemalan public transporation at least a dozen times and the hype doesn't match the advice. There are still guidelines I would suggest following when you ride in public transit if you are a foreigner, but you shoudn't fall for the “its not safe” dogma because it is more nuanced than that. Thus author has ridden Guatamalan public transportation more times than he can count on his hands and so if you are the adventurous type, it is an option. If not, then simply skip to the private transoprtation section below.


First, we will cover how to go to Chichi by public transportation. Then we will discuss how much money you will save doing it.

Getting To Chichi

There are public buses that reach a few of the towns dotted around the lake but not all of them. Panajachel is considered the main hub. It is also the fastest way out to Chichi so we won't bother describing taking public buses from other towns.

By the way, this author can testify to the fact that the motion sickness experienced on Guatemalan roads is not as bad on chicken buses. It may have to do with half of the windows being down, or it may be something with the size of the vehicle dampening the unnecessary motion from potholes and tumulos (speed bumps). Either way, the experience of motion sickness occurs less on these buses.

Now, **Getting to Chichi on a budget requires taking three public buses**. First, if you are in any other town outside of Panajachel, you need to take a boat to Pana.  Once you step off the Pana dock, walk straight out for about 10 minutes until the road makes a Y like fork.

Just across the fork you should see what appears to be a bus terminal, i.e. a metal awning covering a bench. Wait here and take the bus to Solola. It will be heading out of town (towards the “left” if you keep the lake to your back). All the chicken buses have on their front top area a sign of where they go and where they come from. Just peak at the top of the bus as it pulls up and look for something like Solola-Panajachel-Encuentros (usually the sign has 3 places). If you don't see it, don't be afraid to ask. In this author's estimation, **the bus driver and his helper (the fee collector) are very helpful and are high unlikely to lie to you about where they are going**. Speaking of which, whatever the bus fee is to Solola (it changes), it should be 3-4Q. Again, this author has rarely seen a Guatemalan bus fee collector over charge a tourist. Which isn't to say it doesn't happen, but we have see restuarant owners, store owners, boat drivers, and others consistently attempt to overcharge, so in comparison the public bus transaction is pretty worry free. Pay attention to what the locals pay, ask what the current rate is at your hostel, or take a look at the front of the bus. Sometimes they list the prices, especially if a price increase just happened so even the locals can be up to speed.

The bus ride up to Solola is around 30 minutes. You will know when you arrive in Solola when almost everyone left on the bus gets off, possibly everyone. Keep you eyes open for signs anyway just to be sure. When getting off the bus, ask the bus driver nicely where your next bus to “Los Encuentros” is. Definitely don't assume they speak English. In Spanish you could say “Donde esta el autobus de Los Encuentros?” (Dohn-day ess-tah el ow-toe-buus de Los En-kwen-tros?). They will point you in the right direction. Once on the bus for Los Encuentros, repeat the process above. Watch what others pay and when in doubt, hand them a 5Q, 10Q or 20Q bill and wait expectantly for change. It should be 5Q or less. Also bear in mind a ton of people may pack onto the bus and then around half will get off on at the first stop. So if the bus seems ridiculously full, it should slim down in about five minutes.

Once again, almost everyone should get off at the final destination of this bus, the town of Los Encuentros. This town is considered a highway hub and you should see a sizeable handful of other buses. Ask the bus driver where the bus for Chichi is. (“Donde esta el autobus de Chichi?” or {dohn-day ess-tah el ow-toe-buus de chi-chi?}). He will point to an area quite populated by buses and “microbuses”. Here you have an option. There will be another massive chicken bus with a Chichi sign on the top. You can take that bus if you want. The cost should be 5-6Q. Or you can take what amounts to a 10-12 seater van to Chichi, which is usually parked right next to, in front of, or behind the Chichi chicken bus. That microbus is probably 3-5Q more but it will probably feel more comfortable. Whatever you decide, now you are at Chichi market! For beginners, just go with the Chichi chicken bus.

In total, you will need to add up your initial boat cost (5-25Q), the first bus (3Q), the second bus (3-5Q), and the third bus (5-10Q depending on what you choose). As an example, if you came from San Marcos you probably are paying 20Q for the boat ride (if you speak slick spanish you may be able to pay 15Q but this is the going tourist rate). So 20Q + 3Q + 5Q + 5Q=33Q. Now double that for the reverse trip home and your cost for visiting Chichi via public transportation should be around 65Q. **That is roughly 8 USD round trip which isn't too shabby, but not great either**. It will be more if you come from the lake town of San Pedro and less if you come from Jaibalito, Santa Cruz, or Panajachel because of the boat cost.

Private Transportation

Usually you can expect the private shuttle option to be at least double of what the public option is. For instance, the maximum you should ever pay for a pubic boat in Lake Atitlan is from Panajachel to San Pedro at 25Q. A private boat typically starts at 150Q and only goes up from there. In this case, however, the **going rate of a Chichi shuttle is 80Q, or around 10 USD. That is only 2 bucks more than the public method!** If you are not familiar with public transportation even in your home country or otherwise have not desire to figure out another country's system of transit, this seems like a very good option. Almost all of them leave at 8 a.m., arrive around 10 a.m. and they will pick up where they drop you off in front of the market at 2 p.m., giving you four hours.

Be forewarned that the shuttle from Pana is probably 30 minutes, if not more, shorter of a trip than any shuttle from San Pedro or San Marcos. Those extra 30 minutes from San Pedro or San Marcos are on more winding and motion sickness type roads, so it may be worth it for the weak stomachs to take a shuttle from Pana even if their hotel or hostel is somewhere else. We don't mean to say you WILL get sick; on the contrary. We have only seen one person get sick on mutiple shuttles. But we have seen plenty more comment that the ride gets them a tad queasy and that they manage. You can probably manage as well, but you can also take the precautions mentioned in the above section.

Make sure to bring a time piece because the shuttle driver might wait up to 30 minutes for you but they will not wait forever.

Tips on Chichi market

If anyone told you to haggle for a price, this is the place to do it. Other than the couple rare exceptions, basically everything is haggleable if they are selling it outside the confines of a brick and mortar store. What ever price they quote, **you should be able to get the price 20-25% lower**. Those who hate haggling should get it to this place and if they are okay with that price, accept it. Anything more than that depends on your bargaining skills, your Spanish sophistication, and how desparate the seller may be to get a buck. Pro's aim for 50% of the listed price, but even they settle for around 30% when they can't go lower. Very small items or historical items may have little no wiggle room. Also, do not forget that if you really want the item and they won't come below 10%, evaluate yourself if its worth it. **Who gives a damn if you were “supposed” to pay $9 and you paid $13 if you really want it?**

Some of you won't be used to the constant attempts to get you to buy something. When you are walking by, they are some slick salespersons and they will use every trick in the book to get you to stop walking and view their shop. Many vendors send people to walk around and try to sell things; they don't even wait for you to come to them! If this bothers you, it is extremely important that you recognize they are doing their jobs as businessman/women. Because of this, there is nothing personal between the exchanges and you can politely, but firmly, say no and **turn away**. Become fabulously reinterested in your hunger or something over there. Locking eyes with a seller here, particularly a mobile one, could guarantee minutes of a hard sell. When something genuinely catches your eye, pause and take your time to give it a look. That way when a business person comes over to try and sell it to you, at least you are interested. Interestingly, the people who don't like this business environment tend to not like the haggling culture. They would prefer just one official price. The other half of people enjoy the game of haggling from the consumer's perspective and this environment is more fun than annoying.

Now, **We advise that you bring Quetzales to spend and not dollars.** Many of them will actually take USD, but that is because they will give you a poor exchage rate for it. Do yourself a favor and exchange those dollars for a decent rate before getting to Chihi. The rate isn't terrible, probably 30 cents to 60 cents for every ten dollars. Spend a hundred bucks, however, and you could've had a free lunch.

Most things fall within the 2-30 dollar range post haggling. A few big ticket items will cost more. How much money you bring is a very personal decision, but your average budget traveler shouldn't need more than 800Q (around 100 dollars) if you plan to buy a few gifts. Non budget travelers probably can be a few thousand Quetzales. Super budget travelers can get away with just 200Q with gifts and lunch included, albeit cheaper gifts. Know your own spending habits and plan accordingly.

When you enter Chichi market, walk directly straight without turning off side roads. You should reach a semi circle of white steps that lead to an elevated white chruch. It actually doesn't matter where you enter the market because they all pretty much lead to this one place. This is like the central hub of Chichi market. You will see 5 or 6 roads leading off of it. Make it your place to meet up if anyone gets separated. It's also a good place to meet at around 1:30-1:45 before your shuttle leaves. If you walk out of the “spoke” furthest to the right of the semi circle steps (“right” as if you are standing on the steps), that will lead you directly to a bathroom on your left hand side within a few minutes of walking. Continue walking past the bathroom and you will reach the main street where almost all shuttles drop you off.


If you do like a good tourist does and just walk around gawking at stuff, eventually you'll stumble upon the market's lunch area. We recommend ploping down at one of the many pollo frito places. Sometimes they have chicken or beef soup and possibly one or two more main menu items. It tends to come with vegetables, french fries, and tortillas. The menu is only around 5 items long so don't expect an actual menu. It is rather cheap, around 20-30Q for the fried chicken meal and quite good. The soup should be cheaper in price.

You can find more traditional sit down restaurants dotted here and there within Chichi but they are surprisingly sparse. There are also the occasional grilled meat vendors who sell a few things; tortas, tacos, and things of this nature. But again, they are few and far between considering how big Chichi is.

Some take the approach of nibbling and snacking the whole day. You can find any fruit you want, nuts, ice cream, candies, pizza, bags of coco water, and things of this sort.


There isn't really a concern for safety at Chichi. Use your common sense and put your camera securely away when you are done taking photos, but you most definitely can take photos here. Don't flash hundreds of dollars needlessly. These are all rules you should follow when traveling anyway. Some say there is a heightened chance of pick pocketing but this author never felt like the environment was hostile in this manner.


possibly photo to be added later

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