Zunil is a small agricultural village in the western highlands of Guatemala about six miles south of Quetzaltenango. The village is made up entirely of indigenous Quiché people and is one of the most beautiful villages in the highlands, situated at the base of an extinct volcano and surrounded by fertile valley lands. Divided by the Samalá River, the town’s portrait is quite idyllic: vegetable gardens, street market stands, mud and adobe houses, and elegant white churches. Today, most of the tourists who come to Zunil are side-trip visitors from Quetzaltenango. Unfortunately, Zunil is a sleepy village often bypassed by the time-constrained or unaware traveler.
Zunil did not exist prior to the arrival of the Spanish, although it was located in a region or territory controlled by the Quiché kingdom. About five years after the Spanish Conquistador, Pedro de Alvarado, conquered the Quiché in 1524, the Spanish founded the village. Zunil remained under Spanish rule thereafter until Guatemala regained its independence in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Zunil suffered through an earthquake and an eruption of the Santa María volcano nearby. The two natural catastrophes destroyed part of the village.
Attractions Today, Zunil is perhaps best known for its medicinal hot springs at Las Fuentes Georginas. Up in the hills about five or six miles from Zunil, there are pools of natural hot springs fed by the volcanic waters. The springs have lost their potency over the years and are somewhat tepid nowadays. But Las Fuentes Georginas is still worth the trip. One of the best ways to experience thes “good life” is to relax in one of these pools in their natural basins. While lounging, you can sip a beer or margarita and enjoy the scenic views of the surrounding mountains, ravines, lush forests, and low-hanging clouds. Las Fuentes Georginas also has some nearby cabanas that can be rented if you want to enjoy this beautiful spot for more than a day. Las Fuentes Georginas is also a good starting point for hiking the trails in and around the mountains and valleys of Zunil.
In addition to Las Fuentes Georginas, there are also thermal baths at Turicentro Aguas Amargas. These are private baths located outside of Zunil, with its waters fed by volcanic waters. Unlike Las Fuentes Georginas, Turicentro Aguas Amargas is administered by Zunil with the profits used to help fund community projects.
Zunil has a few religious and architectural sites as well. The Colonial Church located at the town’s center was constructed in the Spanish colonial days. It has a very ornate façade and its interior is partly decorated with silver. There are also various other religious sites around the village, including altars where people make offerings to the Mayan god, Tzáqol Bitol, who is the creator of earth. The San Simón Mayan statue has become a major tourist favorite as well. This statue is of a god to whom the people make offerings such as cigars, money, flowers, alcohol, and candles when they want to request a favor from him. The site of this statue moves around every year, so you’ll need to pay a few quetzals to one of the villagers to have him or her take you to the statue’s location.
The town holds a market day every Monday when the men and women set up stands and stalls to hawk their fruits, vegetables, fabrics, and other goods. If you are not interested in buying any of these, it is still worth checking out the market. You’ll be enamored by the beautiful bright colors and traditional dress sets worn by the men and women.