Why Visit the Western Highlands
The highlands of Guatemala are a beautiful region with rolling fertile valleys, pine forests and striking lakes, such as the legendary Lake Atitlan. However, there is much more to discover than this famed lake and surrounding market towns. Travelling deeper into the western highlands is an opportunity to be fully immersed in the indigenous communities that dominate this area. It is an explosion of colour and culture.
High up in the Cuchumatanes mountains are three small villages Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal which make up the Ixil Triangle. These villages are fiercely traditional, as are most towns in the area. Local dialects are spoken, some do not even speak Spanish. Traditional dress is still worn by both men and women with patterns woven into their cloth which determine which community they are from.
San Andres Xecul
San Andres Xecul is home to a striking brightly painted church, host to a bizarre mix of Catholicism and Maya practices. Jaguar paintings can be found on the ceiling and monkeys painted on the walls together with the angels. Shamans perform rituals between catholic services.
A remote village far off any tourist trail that really sees no visitors for 364 days a year, until the 1st November when the annual drunken horse race takes place. Todos Santos celebrates All Saints Day with a less than salubrious event of drunken horse racing. The inebriated village men race about for the day, trying to stay on their trusty steeds as they descend into an intoxicated stupor. However, Todos Santos is worth a visit at any time of year for a truly authentic highland village experience. Stay at the charming Unicornio Azul, 40 minutes from Todos Santos village for breathtaking scenery and excellent riding opportunities.
This is a wonderful addition to any itinerary to Guatemala. There are a number of homestays available in the highlands. The village of Totonicapán offers accommodation to travellers and it is possible to choose according to interests. For example it is possible to stay with a farmer, a weaver or potter. Typically you may stay with a family with two or three children and often dogs. English will not be spoken, but the stay is very welcoming. Dine with the family over some hearty home cooking, and be shown their craft or introduced to their livestock. Accommodation is simple, but a truly genuine experience.