Best things to do and see in Chichicastenango, Guatemala

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Best things to do and see in Chichicastenango Guatemala

Many of us have thought -myself included- that the only things to see in Chichicastenango are the market and the church. However, this Mayan town, one of the most authentic in Guatemala, has a lot more to offer. The cemetery is one of the most noteworthy in the whole country, and the Mayan ceremonial plazas and museums are a must-see. After discovering all that it has, in this post, I detail the best things to do and see in Chichicastenango.

1. Cemetery of Chichicastenango

The Cemetery of Chichicastenango is well-known and representative of the current Mayan culture in Guatemala. It is a place of tradition and beliefs and is known for its colourful tombstones. Some international magazines have called it one of the world’s most colourful cemeteries.

Different colours on the graves show the family role of the deceased. This is a Mayan-Quiche custom based on their belief in a world between life and death.

There are a lot of mausoleums that you could easily mistake for small colourful houses if it weren’t for all the crosses that surround them. The locals often leave offerings and maintain the graves. There are several Mayan altars inside the cemetery where it is common to find people praying for their dead. As you can imagine, this cemetery is one of the most festive on November 1st, the Día de los Muertos or All Saints’ Day. Almost the whole town gathers here and celebrates with food and drinks.

How to get to the Cemetery of Chichicastenango

The cemetery is easily accessible from the centre of Chichicastenango. It is located 400 meters (1300 feet) away from the Santo Tomas Church, which is the central point of the famous market of this town. In less than 10 minutes of walking along 8th Street towards the north, you will find yourself at the main entrance.

2. Plaza Olajuj B’aktun

This plaza is one of the most interesting places in Chichicastenango. It is used for Mayan ceremonies and was inaugurated on December in 2012 to commemorate the end of 13 B’aktun (a period of time of 394 years in the Mayan calendar). Some people even interpreted this event as a prediction of the end of the world, though it was actually just the start of a new period in the Mayan calendar.

There are seven stelae placed according to the four cardinal directions which are the basis for all Mayan ceremonies. Astronomy is very important in the religion and history of this civilization. The stelae were created in modern times. You may notice this when you look at each one in detail, as they appear newly made.

How to get to Plaza Oxlajuj B’aktun

Plaza Oxlajuj B’aktun is located inside the Cemetery of Chichicastenango. To get there, you need to cross the entire length of the cemetery, about 600 meters (1900 feet). It is very likely that you will find some ceremony happening at the time of your visit. However, be aware that it is a sacred site for the locals, so be respectful when taking videos or photos.

3. Museo de Máscaras Ceremoniales (Museum of Ceremonial Masks)

Best things to do and see in Chichicastenango Guatemala

This small museum exhibits thousands of Mayan masks and costumes worn on November 1st, All Saints’ Day, and during the town’s patronal festival on December 21st. Dances narrated in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, are performed at these events. The dancers wear these costumes for up to 7 days in a row representing Mayan deities, which are mostly a mixture of animals and humans.

Each costume and mask can be worth up to 8,500 GTQ (more than 1,000 USD). As such, they are collectively owned by the town’s municipality. This institution is in charge of the administration of the traditional and historical objects of Chichicastenango. The entrance to the museum costs 25 GTQ (3 USD). Inside the museum, there is also a restaurant called Pascual Abaj.

How to get to the Museum of Ceremonial Masks

To get to the Museum of Ceremonial Masks from the centre of town, walk south on 5th Avenue, cross to your right onto 9th Street, and walk 500 meters (1600 feet) until you reach the museum. You will not get lost because the path and the little red house of the museum are signposted.

4. Pascual Abaj Altar on Turk’aj Hill

Best things to do and see in Chichicastenango Guatemala

The visit to the Altar of Pascual Abaj (a Mayan god with a Spanish name given by Christianized indigenous people) is an uphill hike of almost two kilometres from the centre of Chichicastenango. This is a site with several Mayan altars where ceremonies are held every morning. Occasionally you may find more people performing offerings and prayers during the rest of the day. The altars are another evidence of the religious syncretism between Mayan Spirituality and Christianity. There are both Christian crosses and candles in the four Mayan colours: white, red, yellow and black.

From this hill, you have a panoramic view of the whole town. You will notice the colourful cemetery and the two Catholic churches. Besides the Plaza B’aktun, this is another important place for the Mayan-Quiches and an interesting site to see in Chichicastenango.

How to get to Pascual Abaj Altar on Turk’aj Hill

To get to the Pascual Abaj Altar you follow the same path to the Museum of Ceremonial Masks: 5th Avenue south and then 9th Street to the end. You will walk on the only path for about 1.5 km (1 mi). The path is quite steep, so reaching the top will give you great satisfaction.

5. Regional Museum of Chichicastenango

Best things to do and see in Chichicastenango Guatemala

This is an archaeological museum that exhibits about 500 pieces from the Classic (200 AD) and post-Classic (1200 AD) periods of the ancient Mayan Civilization. It is a small place with three exhibition rooms, two of which house these exhibits, Mayan textiles and a manuscript of one of the first Spanish translations of the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya. Finally, the third room exhibits a model of the town with an explanation of the most important points in the history of the Mayan-Quiche region.

It is a modest museum but still interesting for the archaeological collections of the region. If you have half an hour to spare, this is an excellent option to see in Chichicastenango. You will find jewellery, ceramics, and small stone and jade stelae. There are also statuettes representing figures of authority of the ancient population of Mayan-Quiche. The Mayan-Quiche were and still are one of the strongest and most extended indigenous populations in Guatemala. The great majority of the archaeological findings of this ethnic group are found in the Museum of Archaeology of Guatemala City. Some others are in the Popol Vuh Museum of the Francisco Marroquin University, also in the capital of the country.

The museum is located inside the Santo Tomas Parish Church, the main church in Chichicastenango. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. The entrance fee is 5 GTQ (0.60 USD). Please note that they only accept local currency in cash.

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Also read:

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Interesting facts about Mayan culture in Guatemala today

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