Soon after the fall of Tula in Mexico, the Toltec moved south and invaded the K'iche' region. Around A . D . 1250, the Toltec gained control over the region and began to diffuse elements of their own culture into K'iche' culture. These cultural features include superior military technology, human sacrifice, monumental buildings, ball courts, and urban life. Although Toltec domination changed the K'iche' way of life, the Toltec were unable to force the K'iche' to change their language. Instead, the Toltec learned the K'iche' language.
Between A . D . 1250 and the early 1500s, K'iche' civilization grew and expanded. One of their accomplishments was an advanced form of hieroglyphic writing, which has been preserved in their holy book, the Popol Vuh. The K'iche' also attempted to conquer surrounding peoples during this period. By the eve of the Spanish Conquest, the K'iche' were fighting wars with the Kaqchikel, the Tz'utujil, the Ixil, and the Uspanteko. The Spanish later made use of this pre-existing conflict by forming alliances with the Kaqchikel and the Tz'utujil.
In 1524 Spanish troops under Pedro de Alvarado marched on the K'iche' nation. At this time, it was known as the state of Utatlán. It was named after the strongest of the three cities that made up the confederacy of the K'iche' nation. Although the K'iche' heavily resisted, de Alvarado was able to conquer them. The city of Utatlán was burned but later rebuilt as the city of Santa Cruz de Quiché.
During the colonial period, the Spaniards attempted to pacify the K'iche' through both missionary and military activity. Another factor in the pacification of the K'iche' was the deaths of large portions of the population from European diseases.
During the nineteenth century, there was increasing pressure from hacendados , owners of the large haciendas or plantations, who wanted to usurp communal lands. The Guatemalan government supported private landownership and stripped many K'iche' of their lands, reducing the K'iche' to peasants and migrant laborers.
Since World War II, the K'iche' have become more and more dissatisfied with their treatment by the government and have turned toward left-wing revolutionary causes. Because of reprisals by the government against resistance fighters, many K'iche' have migrated to Mexico or the United States.