Cultural Tourism in Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism – Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Chichicastenango is an indigenous village lying on the crest of the northern volcanoes in Guatemala. It is at an altitude of almost 2000 meters (6500 feet) and is especially busy during market days which are held every Thursday and Sunday. The market days are a hustle and bustle atmosphere, unlike anything I have ever experienced in all of my travels. The mountain villagers come from around Lake Atitlan to sell their wares and most are dressed in traditional Mayan outfits, with each village identifiable based on the clothing that they wear. 98% of the people in Chichicastenango are K’iche’ Mayan Indians and 92% speak the K’iche’ language.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Guatemala Tourism – Mayan Masks

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala


In case you would like to check out some volunteer programs, I have included a link to a local program in Guatemala.


Guatemala Tourism – Dark Eyes

His deep dark eyes, blonde mustache, and pale skin haunted me as I wandered thru the market. I would see him over and over again at different vendor shops and I wondered who he was. Many times, I couldn’t help but stare back at his golden blond hair, dark eyebrows, golden or ostrich-feathered crown and sometimes with a glorious costume made with a colorful and magnificently sequined vest.

“Who was he?” my thoughts raced.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

 “But wait, there were more.”

Cultural Tourism

The eyes of parrots, turtles, monkeys, tigers, zebras, fish and owls.  They were all staring back at me as well. Many were colorfully painted with big roundish eyes and intricate markings. Others lashed their tongues out at me. It seemed as if the animals had come alive as I stared back at them.

Cultural Tourism Mask Museum Chichicastenago, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism
Mask Museum
Chichicastenango, Guatemala

There were also the eyes of the ancient warriors from the Mayan culture, who were dark, almost sinister. Because we, as a rule, don’t use masks in our society, they have this kind of mysterious connotation to them. When donned in ritual, these mask allowed men to become gods. Also among them were dried ears of corn or maize and bags of water hanging from the walls, the rafters and the doors.  When asked why: “to ward off evil spirits.”  This is the land of the Mayan religion combined with Spanish Christianity and the symbiosis that has occurred here for over 500 years.

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism Definition:

Cultural Tourism

box image source: wiki

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural tourism (or culture tourism) is the subset of tourism concerned with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s) and other elements that helped shape their way of life.- Wikipedia

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism – Chichicastenango, Guatemala Market

When it comes to cultural tourism, one of the most intriguing towns in Guatemala that reveals the wealth of its rich cultural heritage is Chichicastenango. It is as if time has stood still here. The K’iche’ Mayans have continued to sell their flowers on the church steps, vibrantly colored vegetables, and hand-carved wooden masks as if nothing has changed in the world around them. Walking thru the market there are severed chicken heads, mayan women grabbing turkey’s by the throat and rows of  vividly colored threads, that have been carefully woven into blankets.

Things to do in Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

I observed the ceremonial burning of incense with rose petals scattered on the steps of the 400 year-old Saint Tomas Church. Later in the day, on the steps of Capilla del Calvario Church, I witnessed a ceremony of the removal of bad spirits from a local Mayan man. He had requested the removal for the hope of good health. It was fascinating to watch the shaman pray over him, do the laying of the hands and then spit at him on the steps of the church with his family watching on. Chaos and fascination are the name of the game here, never knowing where to look next.

Things to do in Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism – Mask Museum

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

While exploring Guatemala, I had the opportunity to visit a back-alley mask museum in Chichicastenango known as Moreria Santo Miguel Ignacio. The Moreria Santo Miguel Ignacio Museum is here to help record the cultural significance of the costumes and masks from the K’iche Mayan’s past, so that it is not lost in centuries to come. I use the word “museum” loosely here, as it is also the wood shop of a family who carves and paints masks for a living. They have brought together a group of people that are interested in preserving the costumes and masks that belong to the village and keep them stored in an upstairs room.

Cultural Tourism

Mask Museum, Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Passing through the open door, I can see literally hundreds of masks and statues in all sorts of conditions. Many are hanging from the ceilings and the walls, and there are still many more that are covered in dust and dirt in glass smudged and cracked counter displays. I am immediately greeted and taken to the upstairs room where the costumes are stored with no words spoken. Although fascinating, I can barely breath due to the stuffiness and heat of the room with no air conditioning, which is common place here. I notice the man takes each piece out carefully and gently to show my group the details of the suit and headdress.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Over in the corner of the room, there is an altar, not unlike the one I built for my own son when he passed. I understand the power of the prayer place in a room. It is obvious they are quite convicted here.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

The costumes and masks stored here are used for the village dances that include the reenactment of religious and mythological themes. There were mask here made for dances like “el baile de los viejitos,” or “the dance of the old men” and the “el baile de los Tecuanes,” or “the dance of the wild beasts”, where dancers wear masks of wild animals like jaguars or tigers. Another dance, “el baile de la conquista” or “the dance of the Spanish Conquest”, has made this village very well known. Our wood maker was kind enough to try on one of the costumes with the mask and pose for a photo. You can see from the photo below how elaborate the designs, clothing materials, headdress, and mask are.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism – Baile de la Conquista Origins

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

The dance begins in the capital of the K’iche’ kingdom where the King (Rey) K’iche’ hears the news of the Spaniards’ arrival. The king then sends his sons and daughters to lead an army against the Spaniards. Next up are the scenes where the K’iche’ chieftains and the Spanish officers swear allegiance to their respective leaders. Then the battle ensues between the K’iche’ army and the Spanish troops, but the K’iche’ army is soon defeated.  The dance concludes as the Kʻiche’ warriors submit peaceably to Spanish rule and embrace Christianity.

Here was a painting in the mask museum representing the Spanish conquistador, possibly Cortez or Alvarado.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

The origins of some of the masks come from the Pre-Hispanic past when masks were buried with the dead. It was believed that they had a transformational function to help get one who has passed from this life to his death.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Today these masks are seen throughout the village in the outdoor shops as decorations for sale, as well as in the local restaurants, homes and hotels.

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Unlike anything I have ever seen in all my travels in over 75 countries, this ancient village was such a mix of mystical spiritualism, backroad markets, and colorful chaos, that it was hard to get a handle of what it all means. I felt as though I was being transformed, like the masks, back to a different time and place.

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

It was magical, rustic, and fascinating all at the same time. And although the original meaning of these masks may have been forgotten, they tend to use them here to help craft the identity of the people.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

  • “Masking is a universal phenomenon. In most cultures around the world, masks are worn to protect, to symbolize social status, to exalt, to mock and to amuse. They transport the wearer from the world of the ordinary into a world which is otherwise out of reach, permitting the wearer to become an actor on the stage of his or her dreams-to act out fears and fantasies repressed by convention in ritual condemned by society. Masks serve as vehicles through which tensions are relaxed, dilemmas resolved, social taboos bridged, and lines of communication established.”
    Dr. Marion Oettinger
    Dancing Faces: Mexican Masks in a Cultural Context

Cultural Tourism – Why is Cultural Tourism Important?

One of the better aspects of cultural tourism is that it can be experienced in almost every part of the world. I have written extensively about the old world crafts of violin makers and the lost art of print blocking in Italy, for instance. This type of tourism provides a great opportunity for the conservation of the culture and heritage by bringing in economic resources to allow for the preservation of some of these ways of life. I believe it possibly can help people’s tolerance and cultural understanding when meeting other people from these areas.  This in turn could lead to a more peaceful approach to modern life and the negative impacts of globalization.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

In my humble opinion, this village is one of the “do not miss” things to do while in Guatemala.

Cultural Tourism: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Shoe depository at the Mask Museum

Disclosure: I was a guest of the Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGUAT), whose hospitality was gracious and took great care in the safety of my group. Along for the ride were travel writers Annette Slowik-White of Bucket List Journey, Jessica Kay of A Passion and a Passport, and Stephanie Be of Travel Break.

Allianz Global Assistance- Travel Insurance

Allianz Global Assistance- Travel Insurance

Thank you to Allianz Global Assistance for my comprehensive travel insurance coverage while in Guatemala.

Chichicastenango

Things to do in Guatemala

 

 

 

2018-11-27T12:27:45+00:00

9 Comments

  1. Rutavi Mehta August 16, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Wowww ! Guatemala is such a colorful place. I must say it is very close to a state in India called Rajasthan. The beautiful mask and cultural aspect gave a depth to this article and thoughts of reader. Nice to drop by!

    • Cacinda Maloney August 16, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Yes, quite colorful. Thanks for dropping by…I have never been to India. yet….

  2. Yessika August 20, 2015 at 11:36 am

    I really enjoyed reading your article, as Guatemalan girl, I can confirm all this amazing information. Guatemala is full of culture, and when people refer to “Culture” it is not just for tourism, it is real culture living every day in the cities, communities and small village, on the street etc…

    • Cacinda Maloney August 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      I absolutely agree with you… the real culture is living every day as they do… in real life…

  3. Petra, Jordan By Night and the Cave Bar August 21, 2015 at 1:17 am

    […] visiting Jordan. In my humble opinion, I thought it was an amazing adventure and one worth doing. Cultural tourism anywhere you go is typically worth the time you put into it. What else are you going to do in the […]

  4. Hannah @Gettingstamped August 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    We learned a lot especially their culture when we visited Guatemala.

    • Cacinda Maloney August 26, 2015 at 11:23 pm

      Oh me too, it is like history comes alive!

  5. […] A cultural treasure, this church was founded in 1777 by George Leile, the slave of a Baptist Church Deacon! The church was built by its congregation made up of entirely slaves and finished in 1859. It is on Franklin Square and was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. Still today you can see the holes drilled into the floor to funnel fresh air into the tunnels below for escaped slaves. […]

  6. […] well-known St. Remy in Provence, France. As well as the delightful Guatemalan market city of Chichicastenango and the gorgeous city of Oia, on Santorini Island in Greece. I also want to mention that I […]

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