The rugged geography of Guatemala's Western Highlands is a dense patchwork of volcanic mountains and lakes populated mostly by small, and often isolated, villages of the country's many Maya people. Some of the primary tribes who call this area home include the Ki'che, Mam, Kekchi, Tz'utujil, Ixil, Kaqchiquel, and Jacaltec. Most still practice small-scale plot farming on milpas, which are usually predominantly sown with corn. Locals live on a mix of subsistence farming and bartering. Aside from the food they grow, they also produce intricately designed and brightly colored woven textiles.

In Spanish, the Western Highlands are called the Altiplano, comprised of seven distinct provinces: Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Huehuetenango, Quiché, San Marcos, Totonicapán, and Chimaltenanago.

Aside from the area around Lake Atitlán, other highlights of the Western Highlands include the small city of Chichicastenango and its remarkable market; the university and language-school hub of Quetzaltenango; and the northern outpost of the almost border-town Huehuetenango. Surrounding these larger cities are many small, beautiful villages worth exploring. In addition, the area presents opportunities for hiking volcanoes, soaking in hot springs, or trekking through the isolated region known as the Ixil Triangle.