It might not be the most apt analogy, but there are two Guatemalan markets that are a little like the Brady family ... or two members of the Brady family, anyway.
Chichicastenango is the one everybody knows. The popular one. The one who gets the accolades. The one that's on everyone's tongue.
"Chichi," as it's abbreviated, is the Marsha of Guatemalan markets.
"Chichi Chichi Chichi!" says the Sololá market.
Sololá doesn't get all the attention that Chichi does, but boy, does it deserve a look.
As we traveled around the country looking for Guatemalan textiles of every description, Sololá was right at the top of our list of must-see destinations. When we read about its rich, lively market in our pre-departure research, we got our hopes up, and it still far exceeded expectations.
To get there, we caught a chicken bus along the side of the road in Panajachel, which is a convenient travel base with some attractions (Lago Atitlán, a pair of stellar restaurants and hospitable-if-flea-ridden stray dogs) and detractions (kind of touristy, kind of a lot of hippies).
The drive was quick (being all of about 8 km) and scenic, and when the bus stopped to disgorge its passengers onto the shady central park with a fanciful gazebo at its heart, we knew we were in for a treat. Everywhere we looked, men and women alike were dressed in jaw-dropping textiles.
Like other pueblos in Guatemala, Sololá has its own unique textile traditions. Sololá textiles, in particular, are jaspe to the maxxx – jaspé being the Guatemalan textile term for the tie-dyeing technique that is called "ikat" elswhere in the world. The woven fabric – used for cortes, huipiles, trousers, shirt-jackets, belts, tzutes and, well, virtually everything – features interspersed vertical bands of both brightly colored and and white patterns on a black field. Minimalism is not on trend here – it's common to see floss embroidery in a rainbow of colors layered over the already riotous jaspé background.
Men who continue to wear the traditional Sololá traje add some extra interest in a couple of ways. Their shirt-jackets often feature applique details in white; one of the most frequently-seen patterns is a stylized bat spreading across the shoulders – which looks masculine in the best way possible (read: badass). They also wear a felted wool wrap-around apron, generally in a cream-and-coffee brown checker pattern. Accessorize with a felt bag and a straw or black wool cowboy hat and you've got yourself one hell of an impressive look.
Sololá felt dramatically different from Chichi largely because of the lack of tourists. Granted, that can change depending on when you're traveling, but this is still very much a functional (and fashionable) market for the people who live in the region. There's ample opportunity to buy some of the stunning textiles, but I didn't end up making too many purchases. I was too gobsmacked by the sheer volume and variety of goods on offer, and too wrapped up in taking in the riot of color that filled every inch of my field of vision. Simply having a wander and snacking on as many chuchitos as you come across will certainly make the trip worth your while.