Shopping in the Guatemalan Markets, San Juan la Laguna, Santiago and Chichicastenango

Planning a full weekend for our off days, we started first thing Saturday morning for the nearby village of San Juan la Laguna. Travelers are typically going to be asked to pay substantially more than the locals for transportation needs such as the local boats or tuk tuks. It is easy to overpay for the services if you are unfamiliar with what the appropriate charges should be. Our trip to San Juan went from an initial 40 quetzales ($5.00) per person to 20 quetzales ($2.50) for both of us following some negotiations, a local would pay 10 quetzales. Even though English is spoken in most, if not all the hotels and larger restaurants, in the stores, the market places and for local transportation needs, some basic Spanish is necessary to get around and to enable you to purchase items you may need.

San Juan is a small, tranquil village of around 3000, with limited tourist activity or accommodations,
it does have a bank with an ATM, which is not available in San Marcos (and we were thankful for this.) Forty murals decorate the buildings throughout this clean little town, primarily depicting historical events. Earthquakes, hurricanes, mud slides, war and sometimes just day to day live are the theme on the works completed through the years by a variety of artists.

Walking along the streets, we found a number of women's cooperatives which have been created over the past 20 years. Formation of the cooperatives was in response to a need for women to find a stable income for themselves and their
children to supplement the income of their husbands, who often earn less than $5.00 a day, but also for many women who were widowed during the Civil War which raged in the country from 1960 to 1996, leaving the women as the sole breadwinner. Organizing into the coops opened many doors, providing families with sufficient income to feed and educate their children.

Coops sell items ranging from homemade soaps and shampoos to
incredibly beautiful hand woven pieces. The woven pieces were the focus of our exploration. The women start the process by cultivating the cotton, removing the seeds by hand, spinning the thread, dyeing the thread with natural dyes made from tree bark, vegetables, insects, leaves or flowers, and finally weaving the fabric. Designs and colors used in the fabrics vary throughout Guatemala depending on the local Mayan traditions. The thread is woven into scarves, placemats, shawls, tablecloths, table runners, clothing, purses, etc. One difference with the shopping experience in San Juan is the limited negotiations that the women will allow on their goods. Items are priced, and in most cases the price will remain firm. Considering the work which has gone into each piece, they are worth every quetzales!

Remnants of San Juan waterfront area
Moving down to the docks in San Juan we viewed substantial evidence of the rising waters of Lake Atitlan. Numerous structures now lying under the water used to be a part of the vibrant waterfront for the community. Though we had seen signs of this in San Marcos as well, the dock area in this village had been more developed, so there was more destruction. Questioning locals regarding the flooding along the shores of the lake met with shrugged shoulders. The water has risen several meters over the past few years but no one seems to know why.

Utilizing the public boat to the town of Santiago, we were taken in by an English speaking local, who
sold us round trip tickets for the boat at 25 quetzales per person each way. Turns out the captain of the boat is the one who should be paid, this scammer gave us a receipt and took off with the money. Luckily, the captain honored the receipt and did not ask us to pay again. Lesson learned. We later heard about another hotel guest who had paid 600 quetzales for a private boat to come across the Lake.  

Santiago dock
Arriving at the dock at Santiago can be a little overwhelming. Referred to by some as "the gauntlet", hundreds of vendors line both sides of the street hawking their products. Some will persistently follow you with
Young boy fishing at the Santiago dock using only fishing line.
products in hand trying to persuade you to purchase their wares by reducing the prices as you walk away. Things get much less hectic as you create some distance from the dock. One man followed us for 2 blocks, insisting that we needed his services as a guide to maneuver the market. Once departing from our side he scored a paying customer within a few minutes.

Located beneath 3 volcanos, this city of 33,000 has the largest indigenous population in Central
America and every day is market day. Items ranging from leather goods to carvings to countless handwoven items and produce are for sale. Still recovering from the mudslides caused by Hurricane Stan in 2005, the city is starting to make progress.

Sunday morning started with a 1 1/2 hour shuttle trip to the Chichi market. Thousands of
Small portion of Chichi market
Guatemalans from all over the country travel to the city on Thursday and Sunday every week for this huge market. Just about everything you can think of is available at the market, including livestock. Some areas of the market were totally chaotic and it was hardly necessary to walk, you just got pushed along by the crowd. Deals were part of the game here, with the vendors starting off with a high price knowing they would be negotiated down. Alan bought 2 wood carved masks for 80 quetzales, pricing had started at 200. Four hours later we climbed into the shuttle exhausted by our adventure. It had been a unique and crazy experience.
Best tortillas in San Juan

Cabbage headed for San Marcos

On steps of church in Santiago

Along the road to San Marcos

Chichi market

Chichi market

Chicken for dinner?

Chichi market traffic chaos


People on the step of the church in Chichi

Burning incense at the church

San Juan barber

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