The Highlands – El Altiplano – stretch from Antigua to the Mexican border, and is Guatemala's most breath-taking region by some degree. Mayan identity is stronger here than anywhere in the country and over a dozen distinct groups dwell within the region, each with its own language and clothing. Indigenous tradition blends most tantalizingly with Spanish, and it is common to see Maya rituals taking place in front of and inside colonial churches.
Most travelers spend a spell at the dizzyingly beautiful Lago de Atitlán, an azure lake cartoonishly ringed by volcanoes. From here it's easy to strike out to the exuberant spectacle of the weekly market at Chichicastenango. Head west to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's laidback second city. Northward spread the Cuchumatanes mountains, where Mayan life follows its own rhythms amidst picturesque villages and fantastic mountain landscapes. For hikers, this is the promised land.