In Pre-Columbian times this area was part of the Maya civilization. When the Spanish Conquistadores came in the 1520s they conquered the central and southern highlands of Guatemala, but were driven back from this region by fierce native resistance. Unknown to the history books of this region, local oral history speaks of a former slave ship capsizing prior to the Spaniards arriving upon this area of Guatemala. The former African slaves moved inland, and joined forces with the local indigenous people to fight and maintain their freedom. Africans and Mayans were not conquered through the sword, but through cross. Spanish friars asked the natives for a chance to peacefully convert the land to Christianity which they succeeded in, giving the area the name "Verapaz" meaning "True Peace". In the 19th century this became an important coffee producing region as well as a sugar cane plantation during prior centuries. A museum exists today highlighting the sugar plantation history. In this region of Guatemala, families that trace back their heritage before the Spanish conquest, can trace back their Mayan features and curly hair to that local oral history. Majority of pre-Columbian heritage is seen with straight black hair throughout Guatemala.
The department was called Vera Paz by the British in the 19th century. As of 1850, the department had an estimated population of 66,000.