Recommend April 2018 - 9


Travelers interested in Maya sites might
book an excursion to Iximche, whose ruins
are made up of four large plazas that demark
distinct religious and residential areas. There
are ball courts and several large temples as
well as a mound that is an active site of Maya
worship today.

The Western Highlands boast not only Central
America's highest mountains and volcanoes,
but also its most authentic and vibrant
indigenous culture, on view in colorful markets
and mountain villages.

26. The primary site in this area is the
most extraordinary church in Guatemala,
San Andres Xecul, whose bright yellow facade
is crammed with native motifs such as angels,
fruits, flowers and animals, both painted
and carved.


West from Lake Atitlán,
Guatemala's second-largest city is attractive
Quetzaltenango, with interesting attractions
such as the Catedral del Espiritu Santo
and the restored 18th century Municipal
Theater. Locally called "Xela," this is a good
base for exploring a host of villages with
must-see markets, and an excellent language
school destination.


From Quetzaltenango, drive early to San
Franciso el Alto, whose Friday market is the
region's largest, with town squares piled high
with local produce and a livestock market one
block from the church. On Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays, don't miss the women selling
gigantic fruits and vegetables in the Almolonga
market, and continue on to Totonicapan, an
important handicrafts center whose artisans
fashion pottery, weavings and silverwork-
Saturday is market day in "Toto."

29. Arrive before 10 a.m. at the biweekly market (Thursday and Sunday) of
Chichicastenango-"Chichi" locally. If it's
Sunday, follow the procession of flower-bearing
locals to the 400-year-old Santo Tomas
Church for its incense-laden Sunday Mass.
Otherwise explore the stalls filled with handembroidered tapestries, handmade dolls and
hand-woven baskets.

30. From Quetzaltenango, the drive is 60
miles along the Pan American Highway north
to Huehuetenango (a.k.a. "Huehue" and

pronounced way-way) in coffee country. This
is the northern highlands base for exploring
the forested Cuchumatan Mountains range,
and for visiting, outside town, the Maya ruins
of Zaculeu, which was the principal Mam
culture's ceremonial site, dating to the Early
Classic period (AD 400-700) and occupied
for more than 1,000 years. There are several
pyramid temples remaining and a little museum
documenting the site.


No village in the Cuchumatan region is
more interesting than Todos Santos, located in
an isolated valley and populated by the Mamspeaking Maya, well-known for their weaving
skills. Market day is Saturday, but the village is
best known for the annual horse races-with
local riders dressed in colorful, traditional
colthing with capes flying-held Nov. 1 on
El Dia de Todos los Santos. It's a 2-day event
highlighted with traditional foods served in
the square, and masked dances. On Nov. 2, the
action moves to the cemetery with marimba
bands and drink stands set among the graves to
celebrate with deceased ancestors.


Emerging on the eco and cultural
tourism scene is a three-village destination
called the Ixil Triangle: Nejab, Cajul and San
Juan Cotzal. Accessed from Huehuetenango
and heralded for their spectacular Swiss
Alps-style scenery and weavings made by the
Ixil-speaking residents, the area has become the
new darling of adventurous hikers.

Collectively known as "Las Verapaces," the
departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz form a
green heartland, embracing mountains cloaked
in verdant cloud forests, which harbor the
national bird, the resplendent quetzal, and
national flower, a rare orchid known as monja
blanca or Lycaste skinneri.


Baja Verapaz is home to the Mario Dary
Biotopo, a national reserve exclusively set
aside to protect its quetzal population (most
easily viewed during early morning hours). The
reserve, one of the best-preserved forests in the
country, has two well-maintained nature trails. ➤


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recommend April 2018

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