The Xela area offers some of the country’s most evocative highland scenery, with volcanic cones soaring above forested ridges, and a number of fascinating indigenous villages to explore. Straddling the coast road south of the city are Almolonga and Zunil, where you’ll find superb hot springs, including Fuentes Georginas, a stunning natural spa. Just west of here the Santa María volcano, towering above Quetzaltenango, is a terrific if exhausting excursion. The most accessible climb in the area lies southwest of the city, up Volcán Chicabal to an exquisite crater lake set in the extinct volcano’s cone.
North of the city, the traditional Maya town of Olintepeque is renowned for its shrine devoted to the pagan saint of San Pascual. A little further distant are Totonicapán, a departmental capital, and the famous market town of San Francisco el Alto, perched on a rocky outcrop. Beyond here, in the midst of a pine forest, lies Momostenango, the country’s principal wool-producing centre.