Spanish King Charles V dubbed Cobán La Ciudad Imperial ("the Imperial City"), a designation that generates pride among residents even today. Little remains of the town's regal past, however. It has fallen victim to the wrecking ball and an out-with-the-old, in-with-new mentality of successive city governments. This mostly indigenous city of 70,000 bustles with prosperity, thanks to its position as a hub of the lucrative coffee and cardamom industries, and to its role as the center of a growing tourism region.

The longtime residents of Cobán are the Q'eqchí Maya. Though they are seldom featured in the tourism brochures, many women still wear traditional clothing. Cortes (woven skirts), each made of 8 meters (27 feet) of fabric, are gathered and usually worn to just below the knees. They are traditionally paired with embroidered huipiles fashioned from a rectangular piece of fabric with a hole cut out for the neck and the sides sewn up, but today many women wear lacy, machine-made blouses instead.

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