Ultimate Guide to the Western Highlands of Guatemala

Western Highlands of Guatemala

Get off the tried-and-true trail to explore the homelands of the Maya people and Guatemala’s second-largest city named after the Quetzal bird, Quetzaltenango, better known as Xela (Shay-la). Here you can enjoy a trip through the bustling mountain town of Huehuetenango on your way to Todos Santos Cuchumatan, one of the last remaining traditional indigenous villages of Guatemala. In this post, I’m going to discuss the Western Highlands of Guatemala in deep.

These highlands, also known as the Altiplano, are great for adventure travelers. Here you can hike volcanoes and soak in natural thermal springs while enjoying spectacular views of mountains and volcanic lakes.

iximche mayan ruins in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

Guide to the Western Highlands Of Guatemala

Where is It?

See the map

Places To Be

These are the most popular hot spots in this region. But for the gotta-see-it-all traveler, scroll down to the CITIES LESS TRAVELED to get the goods on this whole region.


Get ready for a colorful, traditional, and sensory-filled time when you arrive at Chichicastenango (better known as Chichi). Besides being one of the greatest and best-known traditional markets in all of Central America and one of the most visited in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, you’ll have a chance to view the traditional ceremonies and beliefs still followed by the Ka’ iche’ Indians of this area. Plus, don’t forget your best haggling tools, you can’t live without them here!

Can’t Miss This

  • Market – Thursdays and Sundays
  • Pascual Abaj
  • Iglesia Santo Tomas Fiesta de Santo Tomas – December 14-21


The second-largest city of Guatemala is quickly growing in popularity for its cultural hub and gateway to the Western Highlands and amazing volcano tours. With over 300,000 people, Quetzaltenango, is still the central city for the Maya Ki’che who still refer to it as Xelaja (Xela for short, pronounced sheh-la).

quetzaltenango xela in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

Can’t Miss This

  • Parque Centroamerica
  • Santa Mari­a Volcano and Santiaguito (active)
  • The Train Museum (Museo del Ferrocarril de los Altos)
  • Catedral Metropolitano de los Altos

Todos Santos Cuchumatan

Sitting on a western slope of the Cuchumatanes mountain range, Todos Santos Cuchumatan, still follows the Mam Mayan traditions and the residents proudly display their local pride by wearing traditional attire. Men – straw hats with a wide, blue, grommeted ribbon and bright red pants with thin white stripes matching a striped shirt and oversized embroidered collars. Women – purple huipiles.

Can’t Miss This

  • Chuj – hot steam baths
  • Cumancham or Tojcunenchan, ruins where Mayan ceremonies are performed
  • November 1 All Saints Day
  • Hike to site of Las Letras

So much TO SEE in the Atlantic Lowlands and Coastal Region!

Local Market at Chichicastenango in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

Museums & Gardens in Western Highlands of Guatemala

  • Copavic Glass Factory
  • Minerva Zoo (Parque Zoologico Minerva)
  • Iglesia Santo Tomas
  • Rossbach Museum (Museo Rossbach)
  • Pascual Abaj
  • Museo de las Mascaras Ceremoniales
  • The Train Museum (Museo del Ferrocarril de los Altos)
  • Natural History Museum (Museo de Historia Natural)

Parks & Reserves

Hikes in the area are stunning.

  • Los Riscos
  • Laguna Chicabal
  • Cuchumatanes mountain chain
  • Laguna Maxbal
  • Laguna Brava and its cenotes
  • Mirador Olaverri


There are tours being offered for all but Santiaguito. If anyone offers a tour there turn them down and report them to the authorities as it is forbidden to go there due to the lethal gases coming out of the volcano.

  • Santo Tomas Volcano
  • Santa Mari­a Volcano
  • Santiaguito Volcano (active)
  • Tacaná Volcano
  • Tajumulco Volcano

Hot Springs

  • Fuentes Georginas

Top Mayan Ruins in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

  • Kâ’umarcaaj
  • Wajxaklajunh
  • Mixco Viejo
  • Iximche
  • Takalik Abaj
  • Zaculeu

hiking tacana volcano in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

So Much TO DO in the Atlantic Lowlands and Coastal Region!

Nature & Adventure Activities

  • Volcano climbs and tours
  • Chuj – hot steam baths
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Shopping at the numerous traditional and Indian Markets
  • Rock climbing

Cultural Activities worth Checking Put

  • Las Cofradas of Chichicastenango
  • Weaving tours
  • Mayan Ceremonies

Less Traveled Cities

  • Tecpan – The town isn’t really worth visiting but the many steak restaurants lined along the highway definitely are. This is one of the local’s from Guatemala city and Antigua favorite places to go to during the weekends.
  • Huehuetenango
  • The Ixil Triangle: Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal, and Chajul
  • Zunil
  • Uspantan
  • Laj Chimel, the birthplace of Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Mench
  • Totonicapan
  • Santa Cruz del Quiche
  • San Pedro Soloma
  • San Mateo Ixtatan
  • Santa Eulalia
  • San Francisco El Alto
  • San Andres Xecul
  • Salcaja
  • Sacapulas
  • Pachalum
  • Momostenango
  • Chiantla
  • Cantel
  • Barillas
  • Almolonga
  • Aguacatan
  • Acul

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Western Highlands Of Guatemala Travel Guide - Travel Experta

Last Updated on February 18, 2023

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