Daytripper: Cool Trips. Close by.
Daytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This issue focuses on: the other San Francisco (el Alto).
By Diana Pastor
Perhaps it is not famous for the Golden Gate, for an abundance of sea lions on its beaches or for its steep streets. Rather, this city is famous for its chilly climate, its weekly market and conglomeration of commerce. I am speaking of San Francisco el Alto in the municipality of Totonicapán, whose name honors the fact that it sits a lofty 2630 meters above sea level. Its temperatures oscillate between 7 and 18 degrees C (45-64 degrees F), making the city one of the coldest in the Guatemalan Highlands.
Historically San Francisco’s inhabitants used to call the city Chusiguán, which means “above the ravine”. Only a few people are aware of the fact that the city’s name was changed from Chusiguán to San Francisco el Alto in honor of San Francisco of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
Today San Francisco is one of the most attractive parts of Guatemala due to the fact that the K’iche’ ethnic group continues to predominate its population. However unlike many other affluent indigenous communities, the inhabitants don’t specialize in agriculture but rather commerce – most importantly every type of textiles. This activity is so widespread that approximately 8 of every 10 people perform work related to tailoring: producing clothes, selling materials for the clothing industry, supplies for sewing machines or re-sale of clothing brought from the Mexican border at La Mesilla.
Besides the above, other products are sold rapidly at the weekly market, which occurs every Friday – from cute puppies to pots and pans. Being one of the largest and most varied markets in the entire country, the prices for the products are some of the best you’ll find in the entire region.
Getting to San Francisco el Alto from Quetzaltenango is easy and fast. You can take a 2nd class bus from either the Minerva terminal or from La Rotonda monument at the intersection of 7a Avenida (Calzada Independencia) and Cuesta Blanca in Zona 2. They run from early morning to early evening. Fare is Q5. The trip will take you around 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Of course your trip will seem much shorter if you focus on enjoying the natural, green mountain landscape you’ll encounter along the way.