Head southeast from Huehuetenango  on the Pan-American Highway, some 80 kilometers toward Guatemala City , to the highland city of Quetzaltenango. The country’s second-largest city is the main population center of the country’s K’iche’ Mayans and an increasingly popular destination with language schools  for students and volunteer opportunities  for NGO workers.
Its original K’iche’ name is Xelajú, still widely in use today, though in its abbreviated form, Xela. Set in a sprawling valley dominated by the near-perfect cone of 3,772-meter (12,375-foot) Santa María Volcano and the adjacent (active) Santiaguito, the city has a population of about 300,000. It sits at a rather high altitude of 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) and can be correspondingly chilly.
Xela is very cosmopolitan and has all the feel of a European highland city. It is considerably safe for a city of its size and has a lively cultural scene peppered by the presence of an ever-increasing number of foreign visitors. There are also good hotels and restaurants, along with interesting day trips to neighboring highland Mayan villages that still adhere strictly to the old ways.
Nearby natural attractions include a wonderful crater lake, climbs to the surrounding volcanoes, and soaking in warm hot springs. If you really start to long for the warmer climates, the sweltering Pacific Coastal lowlands are just about an hour away and beaches lie not much farther.
Xela’s airport terminal was being upgraded as part of a Guatemalan governmental plan to revamp several domestic airports. The airport will be international with probable flights to parts of Mexico and daily flights to Guatemala City. Flights to GUA should cost in the vicinity of $65-70 one way and take about 22 minutes.
Xela is a transportation hub for many buses heading to and from highland destinations. Upon arriving in town, you can avoid ending up at the Minerva bus terminal, which is well outside the city center, by getting off at a stop at 7a Avenida and 7a Calle. You’ll see a giant monument to the marimba with a Mayan woman atop it at a traffic circle on Avenida de la Independencia. Most buses stop here and you can grab a taxi or minibus to the city center. If you do end up at the terminal, you can grab a taxi or bus into town from the side of 4a Calle. Look for the bus labeled “Parque.”
Adrenalina Tours (13 Avenida and 4a Calle Zona 1, Pasaje Enríquez, tel. 7761-4509 or 7767-2474, www.adrenalinatours.com ) is recommended for dependable shuttle-bus service to destinations including Guatemala City , Antigua , Panajachel , the Mexican border, Chichicastenango , and Huehuetenango .