Western Highlands Attractions
Known as El Altiplano, the region lies from the outskirts of Guatemala City to the Mexican border and from Huehuetenango to the Pacific.The Western Highlands are home to over 30 volcanoes, which reach heights of up to 3800m/12,464ft. The area experiences frequent earthquake activity.It has the highest concentration of indigenous people and is rich in tradition. The Western Highlands has archeological sites and colonial architecture spread throughout an area which grows vegetable for most of the nation.
One of Guatemala's most impressive sights and prominent tourist areas is Lake Atitlán. This incredibly scenic lake is a volcanic crater, with volcanoes rearing up in the distance.
Zunil is a pretty agricultural town located in a lush mountain setting with a green patchwork of farms in the valley around it.Zunil's houses are one short storey tall with doorways less than 1.7m/5.5 ft. Zunil's only different structures are the plain four-storied market and the Spanish church known for its ornate silver altar with eight pairs of serpentine columns.Established in 1529 Zunil is famous for its textiles and is one of the homes of the unusual cigar-smoking Mayan saint, San Simon. The wooden idol is moved to a different house each year and the locals can tell you where he can be found, propped up in a chair and receiving offerings of rum, cigarettes, candles and flowers.
The attractive Fuentes Georginas is a natural steam bath with reputedly-curative powers located in an exotic tropical jungle.The sulfurous mineral-rich water is heated directly from a volcano and is a contrast to the cloud forest where it is misty and cool even on a sunny day.
Mario Dary Rivera Quetzal Reserve
The 1,000 ha/2,849ac of the Mario Dary Rivera Quetzal Reserve were preserved to protect the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.The Quetzal can be seen in the early hours of the morning on the two informative nature trails that rise to an elevation of 2,300m/7,590ft in the cloud forest. Other birds, such as the green toucan, are seen throughout the day amid the orchids, bromeliads and ferns in one of Guatemala's best-preserved rain forests.A third trail is designed for people of limited mobility.
The ancient capital of the Kakchiquel Maya kingdom, Iximché contains the ruins of four large plazas surrounded by 30m/98ft high temples. Some of the temples are fully uncovered with original plaster and paint in place while others are still grass-covered.On-site are two large ball courts and a museum.Iximché was the first capital of Guatemala for three years in the 16th C, but the capital was moved to a safer place after the indigenous people rebelled against the Spaniards.
Todos Santos Cuchumatanes, Guatemala
The little town of Todos Santos, is set in a valley of the Cuchumatanes Mountains at an altitude of 2,470 m/8,077 ft.Both the men and women of Todos Santos wear distinctive, hand-woven clothing.Visitors to the town may study Spanish or Mam, a local language.The Mam people of Todos Santos hold a festival bringing together the feast day of their patron saint and the Day of the Dead with horse races, traditional dances and visits to the graves of their dead ancestors.
Isolated Chichicastenango is surrounded by valleys and overshadowing mountains. The town's sleepy cobblestone streets come alive on Thursdays and Sundays as it hosts the most hectic market in Guatemala. Chichicastenango also known as "Chichi" is famous for its distinctive textiles.
Church of Santo Tomás
Mayan religious rites mingled with Catholicism are witnessed at Iglesio Santo Tomas c 1540. Rituals start at church's steps, as they, like Mayan pyramids, are an integral part of the place of worship. Here prayers are chanted and incense is burned while offerings are laid on the church floor inside.
A small body of water located near the road between Santa Cruz del Quiché and Chichicastenango with refreshing scenery and cool temperatures.
Pascual Abaj is a shrine to the Mayan earth god. Food, drink and incense are offered to the to ensure the earth's continued fertility.
The local color of this town of 20,000 and mountain scenery are enjoyed despite the dank and chilly weather. Cobán was founded in 1538 and is a jumping off point to Cuevas Lanquin and Champey. This was one of the regions most affected by Guatemala's civil war.
The Lanquin Caves are deep limestone caverns containing an underground river with various lagoons and unique rock formations.A religious shrine is contained within and the caves are considered sacred by the local indigenous people.The thousands of bats who make their home here provide an interesting spectacle as they leave in a nightly mass exodus from the cave to feed in the nearby forest.
Vivero Verapaz Orchid Nursery
La Victorias National Park
Templo el Calvario
Templo el Calvario offers a view of Cobán from atop its steep steps. Offerings of natural elements are left on the shrines and crucifixes in front of it.
Huehuetenango is a self-sufficient mountain town of 20,000 located along the ridges of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, Central America's highest mountain chain. Coffee growing, sheep rearing and mining are the main activities of the region and a lively indigenous market is filled daily with traders.
The late Post-Classic religious center of Zaculeu, is the ancient capital of the Mam Maya group. Laying on the banks of a stream in the Cuchumatan Mountains, Zaculeu contains a ball court and several temples which have been restored with a thick coat of plaster.
Huehuetenango's main shaded plaza is surrounded by imposing buildings, including a huge colonial church, the city hall and band shell. Huehuetenango's Parque Central contains a relief map of the town.
Sololá, a departmental capital is located on a plateau overlooking Lake Atitlán. Its market is one of the best in the highlands. Held on Friday, it caters to the townspeople, not travelers. Produce, house wares and the yarn used in the village's distinctive weaving is sold here.
The Cahabon River is a clear water river with waterfalls and challenging rapids. The river runs through grottoes, natural hot water springs and dense forests; the home of toucans, parrots, herons and many other birds.
Useful tips: Rafting with some degree of difficulty.
Semuc Champey consists of a series of naturally terraced pools branching off the Cahabon River and cascading through the forest. Nearby is a limestone cave through which the river runs. Declared a national monument, Semuc Champey is considered to be the most beautiful place in the department of Alta Verapaz.
Mixco Viejo was a prominent city of the Post Classic Maya. The ruins dating back to the 13th C are made up of 12 groups of pyramids surrounded by steep ravines. Important structures include a ball court near the main plaza and the twin pyramids.
The 9,000 people of remote Nebaj preserve their ancient way of life by conversing in native languages and practicing a hybrid of Maya rituals and Catholic principles. The mountainous scenery draws visitors as does the town's distinctive weaving.
San Pedro Carcha, Guatemala
In San Pedro Carchá is the Balneario las Islas, a natural swimming pool at the bottom of a gentle waterfall. San Pedro Carchá is known for its production of silver jewelry.
The small village of Nahualá has a Tuesday and Sunday market frequented with men and women in their traditional brightly-woven clothes.
The Tajumulco Volcano is the highest peak in Central America. The climb to 4,220 m/13,842ft top offers views of the volcanic chains and the Pacific Lowlands.
Chuimekana Thermal Baths
The Chuimekana Thermal Baths are springs with reputedly medicinal properties.
Tacaná is the second-highest volcano in Guatemala at 4,029m/13,429 ft.
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