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Todos Santos Chuchumatán

Todos Santos Chuchumatán is a beautiful and remote mountain town that remains a major Mam Maya center. Todos Santos suffered some serious atrocities during the civil war, and an army massacre in 1981 is still fresh in the minds of many here.

Both men and women in the area still wear traditional dress. In fact, the huipiles and other textile products from Todos Santos are famous throughout Guatemala, and even the men are known for their crocheted handbags. The market, open Saturday and Wednesday, is a great place to purchase the local wares. Todos Santos Chuchumatán is very small, but still attracts a fair number of backpackers and adventurous tourists. There are a few schools catering to foreign tourists looking to learn Mam, Spanish, or traditional weaving technique.

The town's greatest fame comes from its drunken horse race, held each year on All Saints' Day, November 1. The corrida, or "horse race," dates back to the days of the conquistadors, and is a combination of a drinking game, horse race, and endurance event. Local riders, usually already drunk before the early morning start, race back and forth along a course, drinking after each leg. Racers keep going until they literally fall off their horses, at which point they are dragged to the perimeter to wallow and retch. Over the years there have been deaths and serious injuries. The spectacle is a bit tough to watch for some, as the humor of it all gives way to drunken danger and debauchery. If you plan to come for the corrida, be sure to arrive several days early in order to nail down a room, as the limited accommodations in town go fast for these festivities, and it's nearly impossible to reserve anything in advance.

At other times of the year, Todos Santos Chuchumatán serves as a good base for some beautiful hiking. The town sits at 2,500m (8,200 ft.), and the surrounding mountains are much higher. It's often cold here, especially at night, so be sure to bring appropriate clothing. Some popular hiking destinations include the 3,837m (12,585-ft.) summit of La Torre, which offers amazing views on clear days. The small village of San Juan Atitlán is another popular destination.

Todos Santos is also known for its hot steam baths, or chuj. Found in most homes, and often available to tourists for a few quetzales, the chuj are mud-brick structures with a fire pit at the center. Rocks are heated, and then the bather pours cold water over the rocks and themselves, enjoying the mix of hot steam and refreshing water.

All of the hotels in town are very simple, and none have a phone for reservations. Among those I recommend are Casa Familiar (tel. 502/7783-0656) and Hotelito Todos Santos (tel. 502/7783-0603).

Todos Santos Chuchumatán is located 45km (28 miles) northwest of Huehu, and periodic buses connect the two. Buses leave every couple of hours between 6am and 6pm from the main Huehuetenango bus terminal. Ask your hotel in Huehue for the current schedule, which changes according to demand. Fare is around Q12 ($1.60/80p). The ride takes about 3 hours due to the rough road. It's also possible to hike from Huehuetenango or Xela to Todos Santos; all the hotel tour desks and tour companies mentioned above can help arrange this.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.