Huehuetenango is located along the ridges of the Sierra de Los Cuchamatanes, the highest mountain chain of Central America, with altitudes that reach up to 4000 m. It is one of the country’s largest departments with a varying climate that ranges from deep cold to hot and humid. Several rivers originate here like the rives Selegua, Cuilco, Chixoy and Salinas.
A large number of its inhabitants are of Mayan descent, mainly Mam, although they share the territory with Chuje, Kanjobal and Jacalteca. The department is divided into 31 municipal districts that differ especially in how people dress. People are generally farmers, shepherds or artisans who manufacture textiles, guitars, fireworks, pottery and baskets, and sugar cane. Their main religion is the ancient Mayan religion and with some Christian elements.
During the Classic period (250-900 A.D.), Huehuetenango was part of the Mam Kingdom, which ruled most of the western highlands until the Quichés forced them out in 1525. This region has a background of liberalism and rebellion. It proclaimed its independence before it became an official matter, took part in the 1870 uprisings and contributed to the dictatorship of then president Manuel Estrada Cabrera.
Places to visit in Huehuetenango
City of Huehuetenango
The city is situated at the base of the Cuchumatanes Mountains, at 1902 m altitude and 90 km (2 h) from Quetzaltenango and 266 km (5 h) from Guatemala City. It is the closest town to La Mesilla - borderline checkpoint between Mexico and Guatemala. Huehuetenango’s population is primarily a crossbreed or mestizo. The most important place is the central park, which is surrounded by the City Hall buildings, the colonial church and several neo-classical buildings. At the plaza one can find a relief map of the whole department, which measures almost 30 sq. m.Zaculeu
This archaeological site is located 5 min away from Huehuetenango city. Zaculeu used to be the capital city of the Mam Kingdom. It consists of a series of plazas, stepped pyramids, temples and the ballgame court. Today we know that this once flourishing Maya town kept close commercial contact with Nebaj and Kaminal Juyú. Its artisans used to carve small Jade figurines.
After the downfall of Tecún Umán in Quetzaltenango, Pedro de Alvarado sent his brother Gonzalo to calm the war wishes of the posts for 4 months, until which time they surrendered. Unlike other sites in Petén, buildings here are low, flat, without any relieves or decorations. There is a small museum where pottery pieces and skeletal remains are shown. It is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.Chiantla
This pilgrimage center is located about 8 km (10 min) from Huehuetenango. A beautiful silver statue of the Candelaria Virgin dressed in fine filigree can be found in its church. This virgin effigy was made between 1560 and 1580. The church itself dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. You can find several handicraft shops selling and manufacturing copper objects.Juan Diéguez Olaverri Mirador
12 km from Chiantla, taking the 9N highway, you will find this beautiful spot and understand why the poet Juan Diéguez Olaverri got his inspiration here. His verses are actually carved into stones in the surroundings. On a clear and sunny day one can see the farthest peaks of the mountain range as well as the Tacaná, Tajumulco, Santa María, Atitlán and other volcanoes.Origin of the San Juan River
The river is born in Aguacatán, 24 km from Huehuetenango, at the base of the Cuchumatanes Mounts. It has extremely cold water and has several facilities for recreational activities.San Mateo Ixtatán
Since the pre-Hispanic period, this Chuj village is an important commercial center due to its salt mines. Locals worship nature and consider the sun as their father and the Moon as their mother. This is why the huipiles worn by women have red solar figures embroidered on the fabric.Todos Santos Cuchumatan
This Maya-Mam village sits on top of the Cuchumatanes range, 50 km from Huehuetenango. Its inhabitants still use the 260-day Mayan calendar.
The local fair is held from October 23 to November 3rd and is very colorful. It begins with a ceremony at the cemetery, where the elders and the cofrades or brotherhood leaders invoke the souls of the dead. On October 31st, they serenade their loved ones who have passed away, offering them food and flowers. That same evening, horsemen prepare for the “skack koyl” (wild horse race), dancing and drinking alcoholic beverages. The competition takes place on November 1st, when some of the horsemen literally fall from their horses. The feast is followed by the music and the staging of the Danza de la Conquista dance. On November 2, day of the dead, they say farewell to their ancestors.Soloma
The Chuj settled here on an ancient lake. Women wear pristine-white huipiles with colorful circular motifs embroidered on the fabric. The headpiece is a white cloth with the same embroidery that according to their beliefs keeps them from evil.