About 10 kilometers from Salamá , back toward the La Cumbre Junction, is the wonderfully atmospheric town of San Jerónimo. This is about as clean and pleasant as highland Guatemalan towns get. The weather, at a comfortable altitude around 1,100 meters (3,600 feet), is just warm enough.San Jerónimo has an interesting history, as it was here that sugarcane cultivation first made inroads into the local economy with the establishment of Central America’s first sugar mill by Dominican friars in 1601. The new crop came from Jamaica, along with new technology and 700 slaves from the island nation.
During the 17th century, the friars built a Roman-style aqueduct with 124 archways to bring water to the sugar mill and town as production continued to increase. Wine and moonshine were also eventually produced in addition to sugar. The growth of these industries would be checked in 1829 with the expulsion from Guatemala of various religious orders under the liberal government of the time. You can still see the old remains of the archways scattered throughout town, giving San Jerónimo a unique feel.
Among the town’s most interesting attractions is its beautiful 17th-century baroque church, set on the plaza. Inside, there’s an altar brought from France and crafted with sheets of 18-karat gold. The plaza also harbors some ancient carved stones.
There are minibuses every half hour from Salamá to San Jerónimo between 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The town’s most interesting attraction is the Museo del Trapiche (tel. 5514-6959, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat. and Sun., donation), set on the grounds of the old Hacienda San Geronimo, Central America’s first sugar mill. It once housed 1,000 workers and boasted a production of 90 tons of processed sugar per year, a figure matched only by the great sugar mills of Mexico and Brazil.
Among the relics you’ll find here are a giant press and metallic waterwheel measuring seven meters in diameter and weighing a ton. There are displays on popular art and handicrafts, including old costumes, baskets, and woven items as well as archaeological relics, including pre-Columbian pottery.
With the expulsion of the Dominican friars, San Geronimo became state property and was later auctioned off. It was eventually abandoned in 1893 but has now regained some of its former splendor.
Complementing the town’s lovely provincial atmosphere are some nice hotels, should you wish to stay here.
Hotel Hacienda Real del Trapiche (tel. 7940-2542, $20 d) is right at the entrance to town and has 10 pleasant rooms with good beds, private hot-water bath, and cable TV. There is a restaurant with excellent home-cooked meals.
Another excellent option is the Hotel Posada de los Frayles (tel. 7723-5733, $28 d), with 10 comfortable rooms in a beautiful colonial-style building set among nicely landscaped gardens with tropical flowers and plants. Rooms have private hot-water bathroom, comfortable beds, and cable TV. There’s a swimming pool and the restaurant serves decent meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.