Sometimes you visit a place and you just need to share it with the world. Our brief trip to San Andrés Xecul was one such place. It’s an amazing place to witness the life of Guatemala’s indigenous population and, with a little bit of Spanish, you can get an awful lot out of this tiny dot on the map.
San Andrés Xecul is located about 15km away from the city of Quetzaltenango (conveniently also called Xela which is much easier to pronounce!) and has two beautiful yellow churches which will be a highlight of a visit to this part of Guatemala. It’s a trip that will last about half a day but it’s one that we would highly recommend you do if you are travelling in the area.
Our Uber dropped us off right outside the main Iglesia Catolica. This is really THE thing to see, although read on and you’ll find out just how much more we found. This impressive church came to prominence some years ago when it was featured in National Geographic and more recently on the front cover of the 2009 Lonely Planet guide book to Guatemala. Despite this we had the place pretty much to ourselves aside from a few indigenous families who seemed to be tourists themselves judging by the selfies they were taking. The frontal façade is covered in mustard-yellow and decorated with naïve art statues and paintings. It is simply beautiful and probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Look carefully for jaguars, local fruit and vegetables, and a whole host of religious figures. At the back you’ll see the cupola in multi-coloured glory, but you won’t see it until you are some distance away! Inside it’s pretty plain to be honest, but that’s surely part of its attraction. There are several religious statues, presumably paraded through the streets for various festivals. It did seem one of them had gone walkabout when we were there!
From there we followed the main street uphill. It’s quite a gradient but there were some cool murals along the way to entertain us before we turned the final corner and saw the Iglesia de Calvario. This chapel is like a mini version of the main church but it’s well worth the climb if only for the magnificent views of the surrounding area. Be aware that Google Maps has an entry just called Calvario which is in the wrong position despite its associated pictures. You need to look for the entry with the full name.
Tucked away behind the chapel we found an old man tending to a Mayan temple where offerings are made on a continuous basis. This was where speaking Spanish was particularly useful. Although reluctant to have his photo taken (I really wanted to show his gold teeth to the world!) he was quite happy to chat about what he was doing. A mound of something I didn’t understand is constructed and it is then covered in yellow and white candles forming a cross shape. This is nothing to do with Catholicism though. It represents the cardinal points with particular emphasis on East and West to represent the sun rising and setting each day. Some sort of paraffin-like liquid is poured on to keep the flames burning and once it has all burned out, this old man sweeps the remains into a big pile at the back. He seemed very content with his job. Another thing you may see up there is a row or two of corn-on-the-cob drying on balconies. It’s quite an interesting sight.
From the top we caught the colourful sight of cotton being dried on rooftops. It seems that some families specialise in one particular colour whilst others produce a range of tones. On our way back down the hill we did manage to catch a glimpse of a family working on a range of reds and saw a stack of white thread for sale in a shop. Clearly this is where the cotton to produce the brightly coloured local fabrics is made.
We also saw the ladies of the town queuing to have their corn ground at the local mill. Nobody wanted to talk to me but I did manage to grab a snap of the machine at work. Nearby they produce tortillas for sale at the local market which was definitely worth a visit – if only for the public toilets before your trip back to Xela!!
The practicalities of getting there and back from Xela are actually quite simple. We took an Uber from the city for the equivalent of just Q50 (£5/$6.50 including a tip) which was safe, comfortable and extremely efficient. Once there we walked around but if the uphill section fills you with dread, there are loads of tuk-tuks around. You can wait for a chicken bus to take you all the way back but instead we paid a tuk-tuk the princely sum of Q5 (50p/65c) each to get to the nearby town of Cuatro Caminos. The driver took us straight to where the chicken bus picked us up to take us back to the city for another Q5 each. We decided not to go all the way to the bus station, opting instead to monitor Maps on our phones and get off a 20 minute walk from our hotel.
Have you been to San Andrés Xecul? Does this blog make you want to go? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Also, have to mention Passport and Pixels as without her blog post, might not have bothered with this part of the trip!