- Encounters with locals
- Off the beaten track
After spending more than a year in Guatemala, I can say without any hesitation that San Francisco el Alto is the most beautiful and most impressive market of the entire country.
Although this small village of around 60,000 inhabitants at the gates of the Altiplano does not look like much during the rest of the week, it's the main economic engine of the whole Totonicapán region. Every Friday at 4am, hundreds of thousands of traders come from neighbouring areas and flock to its streets with the hope of selling their crops. Since the time of colonisation, trade in San Francisco el Alto has just kept on growing to the point where it has become a true local tradition.
Located about fifteen kilometres from, and overlooking the city of, Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in the country, San Francisco el Alto is positioned very strategically. It's the commercial hub linking together the highland provinces with the Pan-American road which serves Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu, further south. The goods sold there are as rich and diverse as those sold at neighbouring market in Chichicastenango, but what sets it apart has to be the origins of its visitors. Indeed, in contrast to "Chichi" which has long been developed for tourists, the San Francisco el Alto market is organised both by and for indigenous peoples. Stretching over several kilometers and occupying every corner, the stalls sell a variety of products ranging from household appliances to food, through to clothing, seeds, potteries and even animals. The upper village square is another favourite of mine because it brings together a real menagerie of goats, cows, pigs, ducks, dogs, rabbits, etc.
You probably already know that this little stop off the beaten path is unmissable for me while on holiday in Guatemala, provided I have the time to take a detour over there and can visit on a Friday.