Verapaz translates to "true peace," but its history reveals a path of destruction blazed by the Spanish conquistadors who met unprecedented resistance in the high mountains of this region. The fierce resistance was such that the Spaniards dubbed the area Tierra de Guerra (Land of War). In the early 16th century, a groundbreaking human-rights activist, the Dominican priest Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, proposed the use of gentle persuasion, "evangelical love," and religious conversion instead of outright suppression. De las Casas's tactic was so successful that by 1545, Prince Phillip of Spain renamed the region Verapaz, and prohibited the use of the name Tierra de Guerra.
Today, the high mountains, dense forest, and rugged terrain offer a sense of peaceful respite from the more hectic and crowded destinations of Guatemala's Western Highlands. The Verapaz region is actually divided into two, hence Las Verapaces. This is a heavily indigenous region, and the Mayan languages of Q'eqchi and Pocomchí are dominant rather than Spanish.
Cobán, which is a budding adventure tourism hot spot, is the most important city in the Verapaz region, and makes an excellent base from which to explore Las Verapaces. The region south and east of Las Verapaces is known as El Oriente, or "the East." While it has no significant draw for tourists, it's home to the historic city of Esquipulas, near the southeastern border by Honduras. The magnificent Basílica and famous "Black Christ" are revered by Roman Catholics who travel from throughout Guatemala and the world on pilgrimage. Just over the border, in Honduras, lay the Maya ruins of Copán, one of the most important classic Maya archaeological sites yet discovered, with perhaps the best preserved and displayed collection of stone carvings and stelae.