These Isolated Guatemalan Mountain Towns Didn't Even Appear On Official Maps Until 1996

ixil triangle

Photo: Eric Goldschein

The Ixil Triangle, named for the shape made by the three towns in the region, is one of the most visually stunning parts of Guatemala.It’s also one of the most tragic.

During the 36-year-long Guatemalan Civil War, which lasted until 1996, guerrilla warriors used the mountainous region as a base of operations and the Guatemalan Army responded with a scorched-earth policy to destroy nearby villages.

Thousands of people in the indigenous Ixil community were tortured and killed. And the towns that make up the Ixil Triangle, Santa Maria Nebaj and two others, were literally erased from the country’s official maps until the end of the war.

The Ixil people continue to live in the region today in relative isolation; they don’t speak Spanish, have little access to technology, and are suspicious of outsiders.

Eric Goldschein, a reporter (and former Business Insider intern) spent two days trekking through the region with a guide. He shared some photos and his story with us.

Have an amazing travel story and photos to share? Send an email to [email protected] and we could feature your adventure next.

The Ixil Triangle is defined by three municipalities in the Cuchumatanes mountains: Santa Maria Nebaj, San Gaspar Chajul, and San Juan Cotzal.

Eric's trip began at Lake Atitlan, an eight-hour drive from the closest Ixil town of Nebaj.

Eric met Nicholas, his guide, in the town of Nebaj.

They boarded a collectivo van and set out for a 2-day trek through the mountains with plans to stop in the towns of Xeo and Cotzol.

After an hour in the van, the trail began.

Here's what it looked like near the trail head--it can be seen zig-zagging up the mountain to the town of Xeo, hours away.

The trail took Eric and his guide past small gardens and farms, and slowly began winding its way down the mountain.

Finally, Eric and his guide began to ascend the mountain on the other side. It was so steep, even the trees were falling over.

Lunch in a dirt-floored home in Xeo. It was the first of many meals of beans and eggs Eric would eat. And it was here he realised that no one spoke Spanish, only the native Ixil language.

Late in the day they walked down the dirt road into Cotzol. Parts were serene.

And now, since it's accessible by truck, parts are kind of ugly, Eric told us.

Here's the home where they spent the night. Nicholas read Nuestro Diario, a popular Guatemalan newspaper.

Along the trail, just after getting started on day two.

On the way back down the mountain towards Nebaj, they stopped by a freezing cold river for some respite.

Here's the hostel owner, cooking breakfast. It was, of course, beans and eggs. Eric got to eat with the whole family, including half a dozen grandchildren.

Two of the grandchildren, who spoke bits of English.

Hitchhiking the backs of pickup trucks is also a popular way to get around, especially on the less traveled routes.

Finally, after eight hours on the chicken bus and by van, Eric arrived back on the shores of Lake Atitlan.

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