Guatemala Travel Planner - (Page 8)

la k e a t it la n con t in ued Maya culture. Close to San Pedro but accessed only by boat is San Juan La Laguna, a special village whose Tzutuhil inhabitants take pride in their craft traditions: your clients can learn all about weaving at the local women’s cooperative; naïf painters welcome visitors to their homes and workshops; and fishermen take clients out in their ca y ucos to share their techniques of lake fishing. The village has two language institutes and several fine little B Bs. Another “newcomer” village is Jaibalito, also accessible only by boat, and taking advantage of a more remote location and quiet environment, lodges have sprouted up here. Not far from Panajachel, Tuesday, Friday and Sunday are market days in the Solola, where the plaza next to the cathedral is ablaze C hichicastenango S anto tomas C hurch. O ne of Atitlan’s most popular day ex cursions takes visitors to one of the country’s most famous indigenous markets, Chichicastenango, where on Thursdays and Sundays, thousands of locals gather for a market of fresh produce, livestock and handicrafts, including tex tiles, blankets, wooden saints, leather bags, hand-woven belts and its signature wooden masks used in traditional ceremonies. Visitors often arrive the night before market day and stay at one of the town’s colonial-style inns to be on hand early for the best buys. The most important site in the town of cobbled streets and red rooftops is Santo Tomas Church, a mecca for those indigenous people who attend ceremonies that are more Maya than Catholic. Sunday is the day to observe (no photography) the services, marked by chanting, prayer and burning incense, and a church floor covered with offerings of maize, flowers and candles. The Festival of Santo Tomas is held Dec. 13 to 21. “ Chichi,” as everyone calls this largest market in Central America, is also a 3-hour drive from Guatemala City, and can be included on a highlands circuit coming from or going to Huehuetenango. 8 with the colorful regional garments of people from the surrounding villages. The market is huge, well-organized by products, and jammed with buyers and sellers, particularly on Fridays. Sunday mornings, the officers of the cof r a d ia s (religious brotherhoods) parade ceremoniously to the cathedral. The Western H ighlands: M ark ets M ania For travelers who love to immerse themselves in a country’s vibrant culture, there is no corner of Central America more fascinating than the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Actually, in the view of many visitors, these highlands are what a journey to Guatemala is all about. The scenery is spectacular—rolling hills, towering mountains, pristine lakes—in this region of eternal spring. And certainly one of the most special rewards is encountering the “living” Maya, descendants of the ancient temple-builders who can trace their roots back centuries as a member of cultures such as Cakchiquel, Tzutuhil and Quiche. They carry on traditions in colorful dress, gather weekly at markets to sell their finely made crafts, and celebrate their heritage in religious ceremonies and festivals that are often a dramatic mix of Christian and pre-Hispanic beliefs. West from Lake Atitlan is Quetzaltenango, with interesting attractions such as the Catedral del Espiritu Santo and the restored 18th century Municipal Theater. Locally called Xela, this is a good base for visiting a host of villages with must-see markets, hot springs, and the archaeological sites and beaches along the Pacific coast. From Xela, drive early to San Francisco El Alto, whose Friday market is the region’s largest and certainly one of Guatemala’s best: the town squares are piled high with fruits and vegetables, and one block from the central church is the livestock market. From Quetzaltenango, close-by is Almolonga, prosperous from growing gorgeous vegetables that are sold on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays by hordes of indigenous women decked out in embroidered aprons. A primary site in this area is the most extraordinary church in Guatemala, San Andres Xecul, whose bright-yellow facade is crammed with native motifs such as angels, fruits, flowers, and animals, both painted and carved. Continue on to Totonicapan, an important handicrafts center where potters, weavers and silversmiths have their workshops in their houses; Saturdays is market day in “Toto.” Wednesdays and Sundays are market days in Momostenango, one of the most traditional highland communities famous for its woolen blankets and ponchos woven on large foot looms. No highlands visit is complete without seeing Zunil, whose market is held Mondays in the church square, although one should also walk through the wholesale warehouse at the entrance to the village where bales of flowers, cabbages and onions are sorted by women in a variety of colorful traditional highland dress. The inhabitants of Zunil worship the cult of San Simon (elsewhere called Maximon), a saint whose house is filled with offerings, alcohol and burning incense. The faithful come in droves to consult with a figure dressed in European clothes, its face hidden behind sunglasses; each year he moves to a different house. Visitors should shop in Zunil at the excellent Santa Ana Handicrafts Cooperative or even take a weaving lesson. 5-12 Cities .indd 8 6/20/13 12:56 PM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Guatemala Travel Planner

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Guatemala Travel Planner