Guatemala is famous for the vividly colored handwoven textiles that locals expertly craft into everything from hammocks to purses. And there’s no better place to shop for these fashion finds than at Central America’s largest indigenous market in Chichicastenango, a highland community two hours north of Guatemala City. Rivaling the most extensive of malls and unfolding on the cobblestone streets of the central plaza Thursdays and Sundays, the market draws more than 300 vendors from all over the country. A vast array of wares — including handcrafted instruments, baskets, ceramics, blankets, and produce — fill the stalls from every angle. But what to buy? For those shoppers keen on souvenirs that reflect Guatemala’s rich Mayan heritage, here are our five key picks.
1. Handwoven Scarf
Scarfs are chic and versatile. In virtually anywhere in the world, anyone can wear them on their neck, around their shoulders, on their head — the options are endless. At the Chichicastenango market, you’ll want a handcrafted scarf. Be on the lookout for machine-made knockoffs by examining the sides and underside of the cloth; there should be telltale loops and threads that indicate that the scarf was created on a loom. Arrive early, before 10 a.m., for the best selection and fewer crowds. And haggling is expected, so don’t accept the first marked-up offer.
2. Tablecloth or Runner
A beautifully designed tablecloth — which can also double as a wall hanging — makes a lovely gift or the perfect souvenir. The pieces run from plain woven fabrics to fanciful embroidered motifs, and they’re of course typically priced much cheaper here than anything you’ll find stateside. Browse through the bold colors and designs, comparing the size of the cloths to make sure it’s a good fit for the table you’re considering.
Handmade terracotta vessels have been a hallmark of Mayan culture for centuries. At the market, you’ll find rows of pots, water pitchers, bowls, griddles, and candleholders glistening under the sun. All sizes from tiny to huge are available, so luggage space doesn’t have to limit your purchase. Be sure to buy a piece that can be properly secured to prevent breakage.
Sure, you can purchase bags of ground Guatemalan coffee almost anywhere these days, but if you head to Chichi’s covered indoor market, where produce is piled practically to the ceiling, you can score coffee beans that are fresh and will appease even the most distinguished coffee connoisseur. You’ll spot a selection of beans in different colors spilling out of baskets and burlap sacks alike. Scoop up the beans of your choice and the vendors will bag them for you.
If you’re familiar with quality metals and stones, this market supplies an amazing display of traditional necklaces, rings, and bracelets. Guatemala is noted for jade production, and you can scoop up unusual colors like black and lavender. That said, the stalls are also lined with fake jewelry. If you’re not so familiar with determining authenticity, leather necklaces with carved stone pendants and woven bracelets are safer, less expensive bets for souvenirs with a connection to Mayan traditions.