The serpentine Carretera Interamericana forms the main artery of transport in the highlands, and this highway and its junctions will inevitably become very familiar. Most of the route between Guatemala City and the turn-off for Quetzaltenango is now a smooth four-lane highway, though traffic is always heavy. The first of three major junctions you’ll get to know is Chimaltenango, from where you can make connections to Antigua. Continuing west, Los Encuentros is the next main junction, where one road heads off to the north for Chichicastenango and another branches south to Panajachel. Beyond this is Cuatro Caminos, from where side roads lead to Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán and San Francisco el Alto. The Carretera Interamericana continues on to Huehuetenango before it reaches the Mexican border at La Mesilla. Virtually every bus travelling along the highway will stop at all of these junctions.
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Iximché, the pre-conquest capital of the Kaqchikel, is 5km south of the Interamericana on a beautiful exposed site, isolated on three sides by plunging ravines and surrounded by pine forests. The majority of the buildings, originally built of adobe, have disappeared but the site – which housed a population of about ten thousand – is very atmospheric.
Iximché was first established around 1470. From the early days of the conquest the Kaqchikel Maya allied themselves with the Spanish, in order to defeat their tribal enemies the K’iche’. Grateful for the assistance, the Spanish established their first headquarters near here on May 7, 1524. The Kaqchikel referred to Alvarado as Tonatiuh, the son of the sun, and as a mark of respect he was given the daughter of a Kaqchikel king as a gift.
But within months the Kaqchikel rebelled, outraged by Alvarado’s demands for tribute. The conquistador retaliated by burning Iximché and then moved operations to the greater safety of Ciudad Vieja, a short distance from Antigua.
George W. Bush stopped by Iximché in 2007 and was treated to a marimba display and a demonstration of the Maya ball game. Not everyone was pleased with his appearance, and Maya elders later held a ceremony to spiritually cleanse the site and the residual “bad energy”.