Chichicastenango, town, SW Guatemala. In the heart of the highlands, Chichicastenango was a trading town in ancient times. It became the spiritual center of the Quiché after their defeat (1524) by Pedro de Alvarado. The town, often called Santo Tomás, is quaint and charming, with a maze of winding streets surrounding the main plaza, the site of one of the most colorful town markets in Central America. In the Dominican monastery (founded 1542) was discovered the famous Popul-Vuh manuscript of Maya-Quiché mythology. There are several excellent collections of relics, especially of carved jade. Chichicastenango is a popular tourist center.

Chichicastenango, also known as Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, is a town in the El Quiché department of Guatemala, known for its traditional Maya Indian culture. The Spanish conquistadors gave the town its name from the Nahuatl name used by their soldiers from Tlaxcala: Tzitzicaztenanco, or City of Nettles. Its original name was Chaviar.

Chichicastenango serves as the municipal seat for the surrounding municipality of the same name.

Chichicatenango is a small and stucco-white town, lying on the crests of mountaintops at an altitude of 1,965 m (6,447 ft). It is located about 140 km (87 miles) northwest of Guatemala City.


On Thursdays and Sundays there is a large market where vendors sell handicrafts, food, flowers, pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal (traditional incense), cal (lime for preparing tortillas), grindstones, pigs and chickens, machetes, and other tools. In the central part of the market plaza are comedores (small eateries).

Among the items sold are textiles, particularly the women's blouses. The manufacture of masks, used by dancers in traditional dances has also made this city well-known for woodcarving.

Church of Santo Tomás

Next to the market is the 400-year old church of Santo Tomás. It is built atop a Pre-Columbian platform, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain venerated. Shamans still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods. Each of the 18 stairs that lead up to the church stands for one month of the Maya calendar year. They also have an ancient carved stone known as Pascual Abaj nearby and the Maya priests perform several rituals there. Writing on the stone records the doings of a king named Tohil (Fate).

In Music

At least three songs have been written about the town.

  • “Chichicastenango” Xavier Cugat 1937
  • "In Chi-Chi Castenango" Edmundo Ros Mambo Jambo: Original Recordings 1941-1950
  • "In the Land of The Maya" Lennie Gallant In the Land of The Maya

In addition, the character Rosie from Bye Bye Birdie repeatedly mentions her relatives in Chichicastenango.


Chichicastenango is composed of the municipal seat and 81 rural communities. Nearby village communities include Paquixic (1.0 nm), Chucam (1.0 nm), Chujupen (1.4 nm), Camanibal (2.2 nm), Chontala (2.2 nm) and Chucojom (1.0 nm).


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