Highlands markets highlight visit to region

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ZUNIL, Guatemala -- Leaving plenty of time for market-hopping and shopping is one of the key elements in designing client-pleasing tours through Guatemala.

Markets are an important part of Indian life today, showcasing weavings, embroideries, masks and musical instruments whose materials, colors and patterns are tied to ancient traditions still alive and well in the Guatemala highlands.

Lying north of Guatemala City, Chichicastenango is the region's most famous Indian market, open at dawn for business Thursdays and Sundays, and few U.S. tour operator programs omit a day (or an overnight) in "Chichi" for clients to enjoy this outdoor emporium of textiles, woodcarvings, ceramics and basketry -- all at bargain prices.

Clients staying in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan will enjoy another panorama of crafts, most particularly the weavings and embroideries that are part of the traditional dress of the Maya Indians of this region.

From my viewpoint, there is no better shop for high-quality crafts in Panajachel than the gift boutique at the Hotel Atitlan; however, to go to the source of weavings and embroideries, visitors take boat trips to the lakeside village of Santiago Atitlan, where market day is Friday.

Traditional market days in the Highlands of Guatemala are always lively and colorful affairs. Yet any day, one can enjoy seeing women wearing their huipiles, intricately embroidered with birds and flowers, and many of these blouses are for sale.

Saturday is the time to be in the Solola market, where men wear shirts and pants in traditional patterns of pink, red and mauve, topped with wide-brimmed hats. The women join the rich palette of colors as they select hanks of brightly dyed yarn and stuff their baskets with fresh produce.

West from Lake Atitlan, the town of Quetzaltenango is a good highland base from which to drive early to San Francisco el Alto, whose Friday market is the largest in the region and one of Guatemala's best. The town squares are piled high with fruits and vegetables.

From Quetzaltenango, clients can visit San Andres Xecul, a church whose bright yellow facade is crammed with simple motifs -- angels, fruit, flowers and animals, painted and carved -- then drive to Totonicapan, an important handicrafts center where potters, weavers and silversmiths have their workshops in their houses; Saturday is market day in "Toto."

No highlands visit is complete without seeing Zunil, where market is held Mondays in the church square. 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 highlands costumes.

The inhabitants of Zunil worship the cult of Maximon, a saint whose "house" is filled with offerings, alcohol and incense; the faithful come in droves to consult a figure dressed in European clothes, its face hidden behind sunglasses.

When planning client trips in Guatemala, leave time for the highlands.

GTC, Grupo TACA promote country

MIAMI -- The Guatemala Tourism Commission and Grupo TACA will continue their series of educational seminars for U.S. travel agents in December.

Seminars will be held on Dec. 3 in Chicago at the Downtown Hyatt; on Dec. 4 in Boston at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel; and on Dec. 5 in New York at the New York Helmsley Hotel.

Programs start with registration at 5:30 p.m., followed by a welcome drink and the seminar; evening activities also include a trade show, dinner and door prizes.

For locations in each city, contact the Guatemala Information Center at (800) 557-0017; fax: (305) 476-9702; e-mail: [email protected].

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