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Top Guatemala

Western Highlands

Comprising the provinces of Huehuetenango, Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango and San Marcos, Guatemala’s western highlands are mostly for die-hard travelers who are looking to get off the gringo trail and look for some adventure.

 Crossed by the picturesque Cuchumatanes mountain chain, Guatemala’s western highlands are rugged and beautiful, and home to a largely indigenous population. Away from the main cities, local women still wear huipiles (native blouses) and more people speak traditional languages such as Mam, Jacalteco and QuichĂ©. Travelers who stay in the region for a while will be able to identify where a person is from by their clothing.

 There are several towns, cities and sites of interest for visitors in the region. The city of Quetzaltenango, also referred to as XelajĂş or Xela (“SHAY-la”), is Guatemala’s second largest city and a popular spot for visitors who want to learn Spanish in a more authentic or less gringo-ey place than Antigua or Panajachel.

Todos Santos Cuchumatán is a traditional Mayan village, located in the remote mountains above bustling Huehuetenango. It is known for its traditional lifestyle, men who still wear native clothing, and its annual festival of Todos Santos on October 31- November 2.

The province of Huehuetenango is also home to the ruins of Zaculeu, a Mayan stronghold that fell to the Spanish early in the conquest.

The province of Totonicapán is noteworthy for having genuine native markets in both the city of Totonicapán and Momostenango. Visitors who have already visited the larger and more famous market in Chichicastenango may want to see these smaller, more authentic markets. 

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
02 Oct 2007

Things to do in Western Highlands

Parque Centroamérica

134441Like most Guatemalan cities, Xela is built around a Central Park. The Parque Centroamérica gives a European feel with the presence of Greek columns. On the south side, stands La Casa de la Cultura ...
City Plaza
Quetzaltenango , Guatemala

Casa de la Cultura

134443When the Espiritu Santo Church and Franciscan convent were built, a cemetery was built at the location of the present Casa de la Cultura. In 1872, after the triumph of the Liberal Revolution, the ...
Historical Building
Quetzaltenango , Guatemala


Zaculeu lies just 4km west of Huehuetenango’s central plaza. In October 1525, the historical Mam ceremonial site fell to Spanish conquistador Gonzalo de Alvarado after a two month siege. Dating as ...
Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Santa Maria

Climbing Santa Maria (3772 m) can be easily done from Xela. You can start walking at the village Llanos del Pinal, 5 km south of Xela. The trip to the summit takes about four hours. The last 20 ...
Quetzaltenango , Guatemala

Parque Central

At the heart of Huehuetenango is the parque central. Carefully tended gardens surround an old colonial era fountain, making this park one of the country’s prettier central plazas. Visitors can ...
City Plaza
Huehuetenango, Guatemala

Museo Del Ferrocarril

The Museo del Ferrocarril is a must see for train enthusiasts or simply those interested in learning a bit more about Guatemala’s history. This well put together museum features several old ...
Quetzaltenango , Guatemala

Hiking In And Around Todos Santos

137929When you find yourself in Todos Santos. The Internet café by the Hotelito Todos Santos Inn is an informal tourist information point and from there you can organize guided hikes for about $15 per ...
Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala

Cumanchúm / Tojcunenchén

Taking the track which climbs up behind the church will lead you to the ceremonial site of Tojcunenchén. There are only a few grassy mounds here but it is still used for traditional Maya rituals and ...
Other Activity
Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala

Mayan Sauna

137363 You can try a traditional Mayan sauna, or temazcal, at the Academia de Español y Mam Hispanomaya or the Casa Familiar. These are small stone-built or adobe structures, called a chuj, which you ...
Other Activity
Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala

Museo Balam

137328This family-run museum’s raison d’être is to show-case its collection of typical local dresses, holiday and ceremonial outfits, shoes and masks, all lovingly passed down from generation to ...
Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Guatemala

Horseback Riding

Saddle up for a horseback adventure in the Quetzaltenango valley. Feel the magic of freedom and infinite space, the intense blue of the sky, the vertigo of the ravines with carpets of crops on the ...
Horseback Riding
Quetzaltenango , Guatemala
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