Huehuetenango is a city located at the foot of the Los Cuchumatanes mountain range in Guatemala. Most of the people living in and around Huehuetenango are of Mam Mayan descent. The town is rather quiet, serving mostly as a gateway to the Cuchumatanes mountains and for exploring the mountains’ isolated villages.
The site or territory of Huehuetenango was once a part of the Mam Mayan Empire. Originally, there was no city at Huehuetenango, only the ancient city of Zaculeu about a few miles away. Zaculeu was built around 600AD by the Mam and this Mayan tribe made it their capital. The city’s location was strategically chosen for its natural barriers on all three sides. In 1524, the Spanish led by Gonzalo de Alvarado could not attack the city successfully because of its natural defenses, so they sieged Zaculeu until the Mam villagers surrendered. After conquering Zaculeu, the Spaniards decided to establish a new city of Huehuetenango a few miles away instead of rebuilding Zaculeu. They forced the Mam to move there.
Most of the attractions of Huehuetenango are near the town’s main square, Parque Central, where you’ll find an elegant fountain and a shell-shaped bandstand. Across from the fountain is the Catedral de la Immaculada Conception, a beautiful yellow church. The Mercado Central is also only a few blocks from Parque Central. It is a lively market where you can purchase local handicrafts, fabrics, and other souvenirs.
The main attraction of Huehuetenango, however, is the ancient ruins of the old capital of Zaculeu. About two miles away from Huehuetenango, Zaculeu’s ruins consists of a few pyramidal temples, a ball court, and a museum dedicated to the ruins, which includes statues and artifacts found on the site. Unfortunately, the original unearthed stones comprise only a small portion of the original structures. To restore the site, the original archaeologists covered the pyramids with concrete. Since concrete was not a common building material during Mayan times, many criticize the Zaculeu ruins as being the worst restoration effort of an archaeological site in all of Guatemala.
Also of interest in Huehuetenango are the scenic views outside of town. There are many for instances north of Huehuetenango. There is a winding dirt road that leads to the mountains, where you’ll find a few traditional villages situated between the rocky peaks. The drive provides some spectacular views of the Los Cuchumatanes.
There are western restaurants and eateries in Huehuetenango, but most of the good food in town are the Mexican dishes. Huehuetenango is known for its grilled meats and beef and chicken dishes.