Deep in the department of Huehuetenango lies the intensely traditional town of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, a fascinating place for visitors interested in indigenous Mayan culture. The road to Todos Santos from Huehuetenango proper climbs steadily until a tiny community called La Ventosa, after which you’ll gradually descend into town and soon begin to see its awesome traditional traje. This remote village is squeezed into a narrow strip between ridges of the Cuchumatanes mountains and looks up at cliffs of over 3,800 meters on either side. Todos Santos is one of the few places where most men, even young boys, still use traditional dress, which includes snazzy red-and-white striped pants, a light blue jacket with intricately embroidered collars and cuffs, and straw hats wrapped with a blue cloth. A predominantly indigenous place, locals still opt for the 260-day Tzolkin calendar over the 365-day Gregorian alternative. Todos Santos is a must-see for those fascinated with Guatemala’s indigenous culture, but it has definitely lost some of the magic over the years. Many of the traditional wooden houses are being lost to massive cement structures funded by remesas from the United States.
Todos Santos is also famous for one of the greatest Día de los Santos traditions around. On November 1st, men get lit up on beer and homemade cusha and race horses down a sand-lined strip near the soccer field. The focus of the wild horse race is less on winning than being the last one sober enough to stay on a horse. Despite the day’s drunken debauchery, the festival days before and after November 1st are not taken lightly. Local brotherhoods take charge of ceremonies at the cemetery, bringing offerings to leave for their deceased loved ones. The week is an intriguing blend of partying and sadness, with plenty of alcohol paired with important, highly spiritual rituals. If you are unable to be here for Día de los Santos, be sure to check out the lively Saturday market.
Without a doubt, the main attraction in Todos Santos is the Día de los Santos horse race, but there is enough to do to make a visit worthwhile the rest of the year as well. In town, daily life can best be observed in the plaza for Saturday market days. In addition to the textile cooperative at Hotel Casa Familiar, there is another called Cooperativa Estrella de Occidente on the main drag. The Museo Balam offers interesting displays of Todos Santos costumes, history, and traditions, as well as an exhibit on the marimba. Up the hill behind the Hotel Casa Familiar and Comedor Katy is a small archeological site known as Cumanchúm or Tojcunenchén. The ruins are unimpressive but close enough that they’re worth a look.
Opportunities for hiking include climbing La Torre , the highest non-volcanic point in the Central American isthmus or exploring the caves surrounding La Maceta (the flowerpot), a tree miraculously growing from a giant boulder along the highway towards Tres Caminos. During the rainy season, there is a small waterfall nearby, as well as somes sacred altars and stunning forest scenery to explore. A popular trip is to Las Letras, where ‘Todos Santos’ is spelled out Hollywood-style with painted white rocks on the hill overlooking town. Other excellent hikes include those to the remote villages of Tzichim or Tuicoy, the Laguna de Ordoñez, or La Peña de los Cuervos. Local guides charge reasonable prices to lead you to any of these sites. For more information on how to get here and where to stay, be sure to check out the travel guide.