The Highlands: Places to Explore

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Santiago Atitlán

Across the lake from Panajachel lies its rival in size, Santiago Atitlán, a small city with a fascinating, tragic history. With a population of about 48,000, this capital of the proud and independent Tzutuhil people is one of the largest indigenous communities in Guatemala. It bravely resisted political domination during the country's civil war, which meant that many residents were murdered by the military. After a 1990 massacre in which 11 unarmed people were killed, the villagers protested the presence of the army in their town. To everyone's surprise, the army actually left, and Santiago Atitlán became a model for other highland towns fighting governmental oppression.

A road that leads up from the dock is lined on both sides with shops selling artesanía—take a good look at the huipils embroidered with elaborate depictions of fruits, birds, and spirits, Santiago's signature designs. Many local women wear a tocoyal, which is a 12-yard-long band wrapped around their forehead. Older men also wear traditional dress, black-and-white-stripe calf-length pants with detailed embroidery below the knee. As happens so many other places in Guatemala, younger men have latched onto Western-style clothing.

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