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San Mateo Ixtatán is located atop the Cuchumantes Mountains at 8,500 feet above sea-level, in the department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala. It is one of three major Chuj-Maya speaking municipalities in Guatemala and home of the Chuj Mayan Language Academy.  It is estimated that 30,000 people live in the municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán with 7,000 living in town itself and 23,000 scattered among 70 villages. The town center is located 12 hours by bus from Guatemala City.

The name “Ixtatán” is believed to derive from a Nahuatl word meaning abundance of salt. Salt has been produced in San Mateo Ixtatán for hundreds if not thousands of years. Salt water rises up in wells and is used in cooking or boiled to produce a tasty white salt. When masa is added according to ancient techniques, the salt turns black, thus the region is known as the land of the k’ik atz’am, or black salt.


Within the town of San Mateo Ixtatán there are un-excavated Mayan temples that date back to the Post-Classic Period, roughly a thousand years ago. The largest one is known as Wajxaklajunh, meaning eighteen, or Yol K’u, meaning within the sun. It is spectacularly situated on a promontory, surrounded by four large mounds. It is said to have been an astronomical temple. Another archaeological site, K’atepan, can be seen from Wajxaklajunh on the other side of the valley and means old temple in the Chuj language.

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