Monday, March 15, 2010

Welcome to the Highlands: The Living Maya Culture

Photo by galasdeguatemala.com, used with authorization.
So far, our journey had been concentrated in the central valley of the country and we visited the departments of Guatemala and Sacatepequez, including a few interesting attractions and popular outings from Guatemala City, as well as Antigua Guatemala and some of the enchanting towns in the surroundings.
View Guatemala: Modern and Colonial in a larger map
Today, through the Inter American Highway (the road identified as 1 or CA1 in the map) towards the West, we are going to start a new chapter: The Living Maya Culture. On our way we are going to find many of the so called "chicken buses", as we can see in the main image of this post.
The first territory we will visit during this part of our journey is Chimaltenango, located in the Iximche Valley. This is the valley where the Spaniards built the first capital of the Reign of Guatemala. From Chimaltenango, we will continue our journey along the Inter American Highway and some secondary roads, until we arrive to Huehuetenango, very close to the border with Mexico.
Almost all of the Maya sites from the post-classic period of this civilization have been found across the highlands area, among others:
Iximche, Kaqchikel voice that means Place of Corn Trees, located in Chimaltenango. Nevertheless this city was partially destroyed during the colonial times,  some interesting and well preserved remains may be still appreciated.
Chuitinamit, Tzu'tuhil voice that means Towns' Flower, located in the area of Santiago Atitlan.
Gu'marcaj (also known as Utatlan), was the capital of the K'iche Empire and is located very close to what we know today as Santa Cruz del Quiche.
Zaculeu, located in Huehuetenango, it is also known as Xinabajul and was the capital of the Mam Empire.
Even though we could make a stop in every one of the archaeological sites in the region, I decided to show you only a couple of them and focus the trip more in the living Maya culture and nature, as we can appreciate it today.
About the landscape, let me tell you that this is an area where you can enjoy breath-taking views: from the Atitlan Lake in Solola to the Magdalena River in Huehuetenango, from the Xicabal Volcano and Lagoon in Quetzaltenango to the Tajumulco Volcano in  San Marcos, the highlands is a rich zone with abundance of conifers forests -actually, Guatemala has the largest amount of conifers species in the world's tropical zone, including the endemic and endangered Pinabete (Abies guatemalensis), pasture lands and wheat fields, and colorful markets.
I remember traveling with my family through that area being a child, on board of a chicken bus of course, and telling my mother that the fields looked like a very large quilt made with cute scraps of flowers, vegetables, corn, wheat, goats, lambs, chickens...
I sincerely hope that our journey through the highlands of Guatemala will inspire you to soon visit this amazing country!

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