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The department of Quiche is the third largest department of the republic. Quiches history and origins are referred to in the sacred book Popol Vuh. It is said that the Quiches had to leave the city of Tulan under King Tamub’s reign. They occupied the a piece of land they named Quiche. They managed to expand their territory so that towards the end of the post-classic period they dominated one third of Guatemala. In 1523 the Quiche kings sent their army from their capital city Gumarcaaj or Utatlan to Quetzaltenango to stop the advance of Pedro de Alvarado.

This mountainous region with deep ravines, high plateaus, valleys and peaks stands out because of it amazing flora and fauna. You will also find traces of the pre-hispanic as well as colonial times.

The Quiches are very proud of their heritage and ancient traditions. Their inhabitants are dedicated in great part to agriculture with all kinds of crops, among others basic grains, wheat, potatoes and on a smaller scale coffee, rice and tobacco. Each community has its patron saint festivals, “cofradías” (brotherhoods) and religious customs, which are mixed with pre-hispanic rites and Spanish religious ceremonies. They maintain strong bonds with their traditions, customs and they have great respect for the elderly.

Places to visit in Quiche:

Follow highway CA-1 to Los Encuentros, at km 128, then turn right on national highway No. 15 and proceed to Chichicastenango and after 19 km You will find Santa Cruz del Quiche.

Santa Cruz del Quiche:

Santa Cruz is the capital of the department. It is situated 19 km north of Chichicastenango and 164 km from the Capital at an altitude of 2021 m. The town was founded in 1524. Its cathedral was built in the 17th century. The main festival is celebrated from the 16th to the 19th of August in honor of Santa Elena. During the festival the dance of the Snake is performed with a snake called the mazacuata. Groups of masked dancers, known as convites dance through the streets during the festival as well.

K'umarcaj or Utatlan

K'umarcaj or Utatlan is an archaeological site located 4 km from Santa Cruz del Quiche. It was the capital of the dominion of Quiche. The remains of this town tell us a lot about its former opulence. After the Spaniards defeated the Quiches near Quetzaltenango they invited Pedro de Alvarado to visit their city. When Alvarado approached the plaza he had a foreboding and made the Quiche leaders leave. Presently the archaeological site has a visitor’s center, a museum and specialized personnel to provide tourists with information.

Laguna Lemoa

The lagoon is located near the highway between Chichicastenango and Santa Cruz del Quiche. Enjoy the beautiful landscape surrounding the lagoon and take advantage of the facilities for recreation and rest.


Chichicastenango means: Place of the nettles. The town was founded by Quiches who fled Utatlan. They settled close to Chaviar, the commercial emporium of the Cackchiquels. Today the Quiches Indians continue calling the town Siguan Tinamit which means Place surrounded by ravines. The name they gave themselves is Masheños which derived from Max and means Tomas. Chichi, as locals like to call their home, is located 145 km from Guatemala City.

From an early age the women here learn the art of weaving on a waist-heel loom. The huipiles they make carry symbols that represent the universe as well as lightning, corn, cardinal points, the sun and a beveled bird. The men weave the belts and wool jackets for their black suits. The jacket and pants are very similar to those used by Spanish soldiers during the colonial times.

The wooden masks that the dancers use bringing them closer to their gods are also manufactured in Chichicastenango. A mask factory and a warehouse storing all of the costumes for the dancers and renting the outfits, is located in the last house on the trail to Pascual Abaj.

There are fourteen cofradias (brotherhoods) in Chichicastenango, each with six to eight brothers guarding a saint, which is kept in the house of the first mayor. The saint is only taken out for processions and festivals.

The most important occupation among the Quiches is that of a Maya priest or Chuchkajau (motherfather). He possesses powers that allow him to mediate between believers and the gods. He performs special rites, and points out the proper days for planting and harvesting.

The festive days of the Christian calendar are celebrated with fireworks and music on the 17th, to 21st, of December in honor Santo Tomas. Processions and traditional dances like La Conquista and El Torito take place. This is one of the three towns where the daring acrobatic act El Palo Volador of pre-hispanic origin honoring the sun is performed.

Places to visit in Chichicastenango

The Open Air Market

Market day traditionally takes place on Thursdays and Sundays. The marketers come down from the mountains and from other villages to the central plaza between the church of Santo Tomas and the chapel of the Calvary to sell their goods in an impressive native market that has hardly changed over the centuries. The florists congregate on the steps of the church and the streets are flanked by weavings, masks carved from wood and pieces of pottery among other handicrafts.

The central and north sections of the plaza are where seeds, tools and thread are sold, among other articles.

Santo Tomas Church
Was founded in 1541 over the base of a pre-Hispanic archeological site, the same as many other constructions. It represents a splendid example of colonial architecture. In its outsides as well as inside the Indian and ladino rites are mixed. On its 18-step stairway one can observe the maya chuchkajau priests, who pray and burn corncobs full of copal. Inside, entire families kneel and pray before the altars, full of candles, flower offerings, alcohol and in some cases food.

Calvary of the “SEÑOR SEPULTADO”
As already mentioned, it is at the other end of the plaza, in front of the church of Santo Tomás. Its architecture is not much different from the rest of colonial churches, which can be seen in the highlands. It steps, also, are a gathering point of priests, soothsayers and penitents.

Rossbach Museum
It is located on the south side of the plaza, and is named after father Idelfonso Rossbach, who was the town’s catholic priest for many years. In the museum, samples of ceramic-ware, remains of weapons such as lances, knives and hatchets, milling stones and a collection of jade pieces can be seen.

Cerro Pascual Abaj
Also known as “Turcaj” it is one of the mountains or hills at Chichicastenango, where religious expressions of profound tradition are held; ceremonies and rites dedicated to Pascual Abaj (represented by a stone deity) in which Spanish Catholicism and ancestral maya rites meld. The locals offer flowers, food, beverages, incense and sometimes chickens.

An ancient township who’s church dates from the beginning of the colony. Maybe its outstanding feature is the native dress worn mainly by the women, a bright red and very showy huipil with purple colored brocade, and aniline tinted skirt with color strips.

Is famous for its fortress, built by the Quichés to protect themselves from the attacks of those from Rabinal. In 1931 it was declared a national pre-Columbian monument. During the local fiesta, which takes place on August 15th, the Palo Volador (flying pole), ceremony can be appreciated. It consists of a high pole, which is climbed by four chose, and when they reach the top, they descend swinging around from a rope tied to their ankles, until they reach ground.

It is located by the Río Negro in an arid area of the Cuchumatanes mountain range. It is outstanding because of its dwellers that extract black salt with very rudimentary methods. Lamac and Tubal native groups founded it.

San Pedro Jocopilas
Part of it is a hamlet called Comitancillo, of the village Santa María, which was declared a national archeological monument in 1931. Presently it is a town where potters predominate and is only 8 kms. on a dirt road from the department capital.

San Juan Cotzal
One of the municipalities of the Ixil triangle. Its inhabitants are dedicated to producing rope and rigging articles, from the fiber of maguey and are located in the Sierra de las Minas about thirty minutes from Chajul.

During the Hispanic period it was known as Neva. As attractions, the Cascada de Plata, the Boquerón lookouts and the Clavellinas, can be mentioned. It is famous because of the many jade stones and pottery found there. It is famous because of the many jade stones dwellers keep many of their customs and ways of life, still without contamination of western influence.

A town famous for its dress; it is by the riverbank where the native dress is best appreciated, so distinctive of this region. The huipiles are turquoise, red, purple and some parts green, the skirt is completely red and the shawls are blue.
Presently its people are dedicated to agriculture, with crops of beans, coffee, squash, potatoes, oranges, plantains and chili peppers.

El Quiche Department Map & Places to Visit

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