Chichicastenango Maya Market & Lake Atitlan

Chichicastenango Maya Market & Lake Atitlan

April 2023

The next stop on our route through Guatemala was to be the place with the lovely name of Chichicastenango. After a long drive of no less than 180 kilometers, we spent two nights with a lovely family in “Chichi”. By now we were in the highlands with altitudes between 1,700 and 2,500 meters. The advantage is that the temperatures there are a lot more pleasant. The disadvantage is that it takes a day to cover 180 kilometers. we were required to drive an infinite number of hairpin turns  to cross the various valleys.

Campsite Chichicastenango

We were warmly welcomed by two large dogs who were apparently used to strangers on their property. Chichicastenango hosts the largest market in Central America twice a week which attracts thousands of people from all over the region every Thursday and Sunday. For our dinner today we had decided to find a restaurant in the center to get to know the small town. Along the busy main road it slowly went uphill where large colorful buses, also called “Chicken buses”, which form a regular service between here and the surrounding country. They are forced to give extra throttle, resulting in thick, black smoke from the exhaust that filled the narrow streets.

"Chicken Bus"

The next day we stretched our legs and walked to the center again. In the small streets adjacent to the central square, wooden market stalls sold everything and on the central square itself market stalls were close together. Colored tarpaulins tied to long ropes served as a cover through which barely a ray of sunlight penetrated, making it sometimes seem as if you were walking inside a market hall. 

The fruit and vegetable market took place in a covered space behind the square which, judging by the scoreboard and baskets on either side on the floor, serves as a sports hall on non-market days. 

It was not even officially market day and yet there was already a lot going on. At a local eatery we ordered the “Guatemala Tipico” dish. Scrambled eggs with fried bananas served with a dark bean sauce that is commonly eaten for breakfast here. With tortillas, of course. We ended the day with a movie in our bus and looked forward to tomorrow because Sunday means market day!

Joining the locals for almuerzo (lunch)

We set off early, as we wanted to be there before the crowds of tourists who would probably invade the town today. At around 9 a.m., we crossed the archway at the entrance to the town for the third time and relatively quickly noticed the difference to the other days. Where yesterday there was an empty street, today the market stalls were already starting to appear. We plunged into the hustle and bustle and let ourselves drift in all directions. Sometimes we turned left and then right again. The market alleys filled with stalls, goods and people seemed to go on forever. Maya everywhere, colors and smells everywhere. It was simply a rush for all the senses. Countless Mayan women sat on the church steps selling the most beautiful flowers, incense was waved in front of the church and we literally disappeared into the fog.

We walked back and forth through the narrow alleyways, fortunately we are both much taller than the Guatemalans and so at least we didn’t lose track. We took a break in a small café and after about two hours we had had enough. We had seen enough, but before we walked back to the car, we treated ourselves to a simple lunch in a “comodor tipico”.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Chichi and off to Lago Atitlan. There were only about 90 kilometers to drive, but once again it was a tough ride. The first challenge was maneuvering out of the market town. You really should avoid getting lost, because the wrong road can suddenly become extremely narrow or super steep or, in the worst case, both. Once we had managed that, countless hairpin bends awaited us again. At some point, the area around us disappeared into the fog and this was to be the first harbinger of the days to come. After we had made it down the last 17, particularly narrow, hairpin bends, we arrived at Lago Atitlan.

The lake is described by some as the most beautiful lake in the world. Unfortunately, we could neither confirm nor refute this at first, as we simply couldn’t really see much. We therefore decided to look for our place to stay for the next 3 nights. We ended up at the “Firefly Garden” near Santiago Atitlan. Cheyo and Jonathan gave us a warm welcome to this little paradise. They have created a small community for campers and backpackers with a cabana, pitches, kitchen, shower, etc. In the evening, we sat together around the campfire and roasted marshmallows on a stick.

Firefly Gardens

The “Firefly Garden” is typically one of those places where we feel at home. Amidst the greenery among the many trees where so many bird voices can be heard, it is wonderful to wake up in the morning. We did not do much for another day. At least we did not leave the grounds where, towards dusk, many fireflies could indeed be seen.

By collectivo and ferry connection the next day we went to the other side of the lake. We took the first ferry in the busy town of Santiago de Atitlan to San Pedro. The narrow streets in Santiago were filled on both sides with market stalls with women in traditional dress in between them who had simply laid a rug on the ground to sell their wares that way. Fruit and vegetables, clothing or other basics were displayed.

Today we had resolved to hike a bit along the lake. In San Pedro we transferred to another ferry that took us to Santa Cruz La Laguna which marked the beginning of the hike. We enjoyed a beautiful eight-kilometer hike. The trail went up and down but with always a view of the blue water. What stood out were the sometimes enormous villas built here and there on the steep slopes. We hardly saw any people, but the houses betrayed that there must be life there after all. It is mostly rich Americans and Canadians who are having a good time here and have probably left for the north by now. 

A cloud cover slid by, allowing us only occasional glimpses of the two volcanoes on the other side. So at the end of the afternoon it began to rain as expected. Dry under the roof of the ferry we sailed back via San Pedro to Santiago. The last bit by collectivo to the Firefly Gardens. Here we agreed with Jonathan to climb the mountain behind the property at 7 am the next morning for a hopefully beautiful and clear view of Lago Atitlan.


No sooner said than done, even if we found it a little difficult when the alarm clock rang at 6am. But after all, we had a date. Accompanied by Molly, the Firefly Gardens’ female dog in heat, and two male dogs from the area who followed Molly around every day, we set off on the ascent. The sun was shining and we actually had the best view of the lake yet, even if it still wasn’t clear. After about half an hour, we reached the top of the viewpoint, where we took a breather and chatted a bit about God and the world. From time to time, a few local farmers appeared with their machetes and greeted us all in a friendly manner.


Once we were back, we treated ourselves to a shower and breakfast and said goodbye to Kira, Jonathan, Naomi and Ashraf. Once again, we had met some really great people and had a wonderful time.

Eddy and Romy van Es © 2020, All Rights Reserved.

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