There is no such thing as a good night's sleep before market day in Chichicastenango.

First-timers to this village in the western highlands of Guatemala may think the revolution has started again, but the staccato pops and thundering booms are merely celebratory firecrackers and homemade rockets and not the return of civil unrest. The earth tremors are not bombardments, only the benign rumblings of one of the country's 35 volcanoes, a handful still active. Still, the quake often is strong enough to move your bed a foot across the floor.

Then there are the moans and gear-grinding groans of the ancient overloaded trucks and arthritic recycled school buses as they squeeze through the narrow cobbled streets, delivering bundles of goods and bundled-up Indians, squealing piglets and plaintively yelping turkeys who seem to sense their destiny with the chopping block.

Cool mountain air carries the tantalizing greasy smell of chicharrones -- fried pork rinds -- and the pungent scent of copal incense. The pork is cooked in huge kettles throughout the night to keep the workers fueled as they lash together their makeshift booths. The incense is courtesy of the religious who pay their respects by candlelight on the steps of Santo Tomas cathedral in the central plaza.

Mingled with all of this is the restless excitement of having survived the trip from Guatemala City, along a perilous route of zigzags and hairpin turns studded with roadside shrines to those who didn't make it, and finally arriving at a place so remote and mysteriously Mayan. Like a child on Christmas Eve, one lies awake with wonderment at what tomorrow will bring.

There is no such thing as a good night's sleep in Chichicastenango.

Another volley of rockets gets you to your feet before daybreak -- and that's a good time to hit the market and watch the colors unfold like a brilliant sunrise.

Textiles and Traditions Mexico and Costa Rica are popular destinations for U.S. travelers. Not so many venture into neighboring Guatemala. Most of the country's 800,000 annual visitors are European, according to the Guatemala Tourist Commission. "Europeans are more adventuresome," said one official. "Your State Department discourages travel," said another.

Americans certainly shied away during Guatemala's 36 years of civil unrest, in which some 200,000 residents died. Despite a 1996 peace accord, the State Department still advises caution due to criminal activity within the country. I made my fifth trip there this fall without incident.

Guatemala is a small country -- roughly the size of Kentucky -- at the northern end of the Central American isthmus, bordering Mexico to the north and El Salvador and Honduras to the south. It is a loud country on the color spectrum, a land of bright flowers and rainbow textiles.

Some 20 indigenous Mayan tribes still adhere to tradition and wear their handwoven and elaborately embroidered huipiles (blouses, pronounced wee-peel-es), cortes (skirts) and pantaloons, creating a polychromatic explosion on a landscape already vibrant with blaze-orange jacaranda, fuchsia bougainvillea and azure skies. The costumes of these rural people -- who are less subject to modern or outside influences, or even interested in them -- express their native artistry and are an intrinsic part of the country's beauty, especially on festival and market days when everyone wears their finest.

And so it is with the remote Quiche Maya, who turn their village of Chichi into one vast produce and textile market every Thursday and Sunday. Twice a week this small mountain town becomes a temple of tipica, the Spanish term for native handicrafts and now used by some in a derogatory sense for second-rate goods. Others, however, view tipica as a treasure trove of ethnic wares, inviting the discerning eye to ferret out the aesthetic from the everyday. Chichi offers such a challenge.

Textiles tumble out of displays in riotous color. Blankets, shawls, scarves, hammocks, ponchos, belts, backpacks and purses of every imaginable shape and purpose are produced in volume to catch the tourist dollar. Machine-made, serviceable and . . . well, cheery in their brightness, these items are plentiful and cheap and snatched up by travelers. Collectors and textile experts search for the more complex and painstakingly hand-woven pieces, mainly huipiles, created on backstrap looms that have been used by the Indians for centuries. Some huipiles take months to make -- each design, pattern, color and choice of thread a telling detail as to the woman's village, marital status, social standing and wealth. Women read each other's huipiles at a glance.

Sometimes, when times are hard, a woman will sell the huipil she is wearing or an extra one she keeps like a savings account. Sometimes you will find one in a little shop off the main road. Sometimes you will go home empty-handed.

Dozens of vendors offer wooden animal masks, santos, virgins, angels, devils, dogs, cats, alligators and snakes, reflecting a culture rich in woodworking. True, the majority of items look as if they were produced by pattern and painted by number, but once separated from the pack and placed on your mantel back home, the effect is charming.

Pottery is represented in both utilitarian pieces -- tableware, water jugs and planters -- and replicas of favorite Mayan designs. Beaded jewelry is abundant. And then there are the commodities the locals want and need. Vegetables and fruits picked the day before are stacked in colorful pyramids, alongside chickens and eggs, live pigs and sausage links, cornmeal, coffee and candles, spices, herbs and curatives, heavy-duty machetes, cheap pots and pans, plastic combs and ballpoint pens.

Navigation through the maze of market vendors is slow going. You fall in step with a conga line of people carrying more than their body weight in bundles on their backs and baskets on their heads, goods to be sold or goods already purchased.

Marketplace vignettes leave you reaching for your camera: A young woman squeezing oranges with two dark-eyed babies peeping out of the blanket sling on her back; a boy carrying a bouquet of calla lilies twice his size (and costing less than 50 cents); an old woman with a wide-eyed gobbler under each arm; a Mayan shaman in a fog of incense, chanting to the dead souls inside the cathedral, oblivious to the well-dressed Italians with camcorders who nearly trip over the flower ladies on the church steps in their eagerness to get a picture.

The silent, obdurate Quiches go about their business and religious practices unfazed by picture-snapping tourists. Their processions and rituals are not for our entertainment but are integral to the Mayan life, and go on in spite of us. They will, however, sell us some tipica and a hot meal.

Around the corner are the food stalls where pretty girls with thick black braids are shaping blue corn tortillas and serving up heaping plates of aromatic red pepian -- chicken stew flavored with hot chiles, tomatillos, tomatoes and squash seeds -- to hungry workers eager for a hearty breakfast. Stoic children sit quietly on long wooden benches drinking atol, a starchy liquid gruel made from corn that cheaply fills empty bellies.

If you want some cafe{acute} con leche -- and you will, to break the early-morning chill -- bring your own cup. The caldron simmers invitingly, but the enamelware coffee cups are passed from customer to customer with only a quick dip in a pan of standing water. Don't pass up the sweet potatoes cooked with honey, cinnamon and vanilla.

The charm of Chichi itself is somewhat obscured on market days by the confusion and crowds, including tourists who arrive by busloads in midmorning and leave by midafternoon. I arrive a day early and explore the idle streets, find again the family of woodcarvers whose masks are made for religious ceremonies and not for souvenirs, eat at a local cafe, enter the cathedral in quiet contemplation and take to heart the sign that recently has been posted in Spanish: "You don't need a cell phone or beeper to talk to God. So turn them off."

I visit the graveyard. Have a cool drink in the courtyard of the Mayan Inn. Get my fortune told by the elder birdman, whose caged yellow canaries select a prophecy for less than 30 cents -- "You need to be idle more but not irresponsible. You have the ability to lose weight and find love." I watch the Indians settle in. Take a siesta. I won't get a good night's sleep.

Colonial Treasures in Antigua Chichi and its renowned market are one stop on the popular highland trilogy. The other two are Antigua, the architecturally noteworthy colonial capital, and bohemian Panajachel and the surrounding villages of Lake Atitlan.

Most visitors land at the airport in Guatemala City and head right to Antigua, less than 30 miles away. Clean and comfortable, it is home to the country's cafe society. Rich Guatemalans have homes in Antigua. Gore Vidal owned a house here. President Clinton spent the night here. International students attend one of the dozen or more Spanish language schools here, lending a youthful college atmosphere to the historic cobblestone streets. In Antigua, you can get a frozen yogurt, a bottle of Chilean wine, a fresh bagel.

Tourism has overtaken coffee plantations as the major industry. Old farms have been turned into small inns with well-tended gardens and swimming pools. Boutique designers have elevated tipica into fine table linens and upholstery fabric, leather-trimmed bags and upscale clothing, though the Indians still sell their handicrafts at several open-air markets. One cafe plays opera, a restored hotel has a marimba band, nightclubs feature techno music, a dancing school teaches salsa.

"Old Guatemala" was the capital of New Spain, the area that now encompasses Central America and the Mexican state of Chiapas, from 1543 until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. The capital subsequently was moved to its present site of Guatemala City. During its heyday, Antigua attracted many convents, monasteries and churches, which exist today as romantic ruins and ongoing restoration projects. The lively town square park with its much-photographed mermaid fountain is surrounded by colonial architecture. It's easy to imagine you are in old Spain.

It's the kind of town where you get your bearings from volcanoes (it has three) and churches (more than 10): Take the street to the left of the big volcano, the church in front of the volcano, turn at the Church of Remedies. It is a strolling town with shops, restaurants, lodging, tour companies, language schools, Internet cafes and ruins, all within blocks of each other along Mediterranean-colored walled streets.

My first stop is always La Fonda de la Calle Real for lunch -- perhaps grilled spring onions on a tortilla (tasting smoky from the wood-burning grill), followed by the house soup, caldo real -- chicken and rice in broth with fresh cilantro, onions and spices. For nearly 30 years, La Fonda has been serving no-frills market food on a plate. Fried plantains and black beans that are always better than any other black beans, rice and corn tamales, pepian, chiles rellenos. It's a good introduction to Guatemalan cooking.

Down the avenida from the restaurant, toward the church La Merced, is Nim Po't, a Mayan consignment store the size of a warehouse with 12,000 square feet of textiles, antiques and handicrafts from all over the country. It is a retail museum. Items are inventoried by region with educational descriptions accompanying each village display.

People bring old clothing, belts, hats, saddles, baskets, saint boxes, quilts and carvings to sell. Weaving and woodworking cooperatives supply the store with new items. A rebozo (woven scarf) may sell for as little as $10, or up to hundreds of dollars. Huipiles range from tattered used clothing to treasured art works costing $3,000 or more. Visa is accepted; haggling is not. I visited the store three times in two days, after comparison shopping in other shops and at market stalls. I bought all three times.

The churches and ruins are free, mostly. Some charge a modest fee for a tour. I like to take a walk at sunset, when the stone facades are bathed in pink and the volcanoes turn dark green as they stand silent guard over the pastel city. I imagine I hear the nuns of long ago being called to evensong at Las Capuchinas ruins. Candles flicker inside the cathedral and churches. The air smells of wood smoke as evening fires are lit for cooking. Street artists stay for the last light, then pack up their easels and go home.

Renewal at Lake Atitlan I save Lake Atitlan for last. It is a place for physical and spiritual renewal after a frenzy of market-hopping and shopping, my time of calm and rejuvenation before returning to the juggling act of work and everyday life. The road from Antigua to Lake Atitlan is only 60 miles, but it requires two hours or more to navigate, depending on how many trucks and buses you are daring enough to pass.

It is a white-knuckle journey across vast barrancas. These ravines have no guardrails but, again, plenty of crosses to mark the spot where a bus or car went over the cliff. It is a trip that makes your first view of the lake, and its deep peacefulness, even more appreciated. The sight is simply awesome, and one is humbled by the beauty.

Aldous Huxley, writing in "Beyond the Mexique Bay in 1930s," said he thought Italy's Lake Como was "the limit of the permissibly picturesque" until he saw Lake Atitlan, with its three volcanoes and ever-changing vistas.

The lake is mysterious and very deep, down to 1,000 feet in the parts that have been charted. Volcanic eruptions years ago sealed off the lake and there are no river outlets. Its waters drain into the Pacific by underground seepage.

Clouds engulf the volcano cones until they disappear and reappear several times a day. The color of the water changes from emerald green to turquoise to sky blue. A placid surface becomes dangerously roiled in a matter of minutes when an afternoon xocomil blows and all the launch operators and fishermen know to head for shore immediately.

Twelve Indian villages surround the lake, most accessible only by boat, and each with a distinctive personality and appeal. Santa Cruz is home to 2,000 Kaqchikel inhabitants, who climb 45 minutes up a winding cobblestone road to get to their pueblos from the dock. San Marcos has a meditation center that attracts international healers and spiritual seekers. San Pedro draws a youthful backpacking crowd and has a Spanish-language school. Santiago Atitlan is noted for its weaving and woodworking cooperatives.

Panajachel is the commercial center of the lake, with hotels, boutiques, restaurants, banks, nightclubs and crowds of New Agers who are the children and grandchildren of the original hippies who sought out Pana in the '60s and '70s for cheap drugs and easy living. Tipica vendors line the streets, dreadlocked musicians play drums, youthful jewelry designers string beads, stray dogs stray.

I walk two blocks to the dock and flag down a launch. Twenty minutes later I am in heaven at the Villa Sumaya.

Seven tastefully furnished guest rooms face the Toliman Volcano, which I can see from my front door as well as my bed. There are massages, yoga sessions, a sauna and a hot tub, and fresh lake fish and organic greens for dinner and strawberry tart for dessert. I study the lake for hours, watch the clouds form beehive hairdos on the volcano cones, read until I fall asleep at midday, walk the flower-studded grounds, take a swim, hike to Santa Cruz, talk to the fishermen and admire their dugout canoes, hop a launch to Santiago, eavesdrop on the women washing clothes at the water's edge, join fellow guests -- a young couple from Spain -- for wine at sunset, watch the flickering lights of San Pedro across the dark lake, rise early to catch the sunrise -- but the clouds get there first.

My two-night stay becomes three. I sink into crisp white sheets, pull a cotton comforter up to my chin and slumber like a baby. There is no such thing as a bad night's sleep at the Villa Sumaya.

Susan Harb last wrote for Travel about Seagrove, N.C., pottery.

Arts and crafts abound in Guatemala, clockwise from top: A Mayan woman crushes potter's clay in Totonicapan, one of the villages at Lake Atitlan; an embroidered huipil (blouse); a carved animal mask; a richly colored handbag; and traditional fabric woven into belts and other garments. After a shopping frenzy in Guatemala, get some rest (and a much-needed massage) at Villa Sumaya on Lake Atitlan.Chichicastenango, a village in Guatemala's western highlands, comes alive during market days.In Chichi, bright handwoven fabrics can be bought by the yard for very little.