Guatemala City, Guatemala
The largest city in Central America, Guatemala City, is affectionately called by the locals simply Guate, and its full name sounds solemnly: “New Guatemala of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.” This modern city is not very safe, but very exciting. Bright, colorful Guatemala has absorbed the trends of the new time, mixing them with traditional Latin American flavor. Gwata’s slums are lined with posh mansions, skyscrapers block ancient temples, and the buzzing streets are best described by the word chaos.
How to get to Guatemala City
International flights from many countries around the world arrive at La Aurora International Airport, 6 km south of the historic center. There is no direct connection between Moscow and Guatemala, you will have to travel with a change in Europe (Madrid, Frankfurt am Main), in Miami, in Panama or in one of the cities of North America. Travel time is 16-17 hours, excluding the time spent at the transfer airport.
You can take a taxi from the airport to the city. The official airport taxi has a fixed fare (for example, a trip to the 10th zone will cost 70 GTQ), but this is 2-3 times higher than ordinary taxi drivers charge for the same distance. Usually hotels located in the 10th zone provide a free shuttle service. You can get to the 10th zone by regular bus and from there transfer to the bus going to the city center.
By intercity bus to Guatemala can be reached from nearby countries: Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. There are also buses to the capital from almost any city in the country.
A bit of history
The Spanish conquistadors founded a city on this site in 1524 and named it Santiago. Less than 20 years later, a volcanic eruption destroyed the city, covering it with ashes. After an earthquake wiped out the new capital of Antigua in 1773, the Spanish king Charles III decided to build a city on the site of Santiago covered with ashes. The official proclamation of Guatemala as the capital of the independent Republic of Guatemala took place in 1839, and to this day the city remains the main cultural and administrative center of the country. In 1918, the city was again destroyed by a major earthquake. Another happened in 1976. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are practically no ancient monuments in Guatemala City.
Weather in Guatemala City
According to wholevehicles, Guatemala City is located in the spacious mountain valley de la Ermita at an altitude of 1500 m above sea level. By its location, the city belongs to the tropics, but the actual climate in the capital ranges from subtropical maritime to similar to the climate in the savannah, depending on the height of the location of individual areas. The average annual temperature is +21 °C, cold winds lower it to + 14 °C. May to October is the rainy season.
You can travel around the city on city buses. Hiking may seem strange (although this is unlikely to bother a real traveler who is used to comprehending the area “with his feet”). Buses run until 20.00, the fare costs 1.75 GTQ, on weekends and holidays it is more expensive – sometimes 4 times. Usually the bus is packed to capacity with locals, some of whom prey on the wallets of careless tourists. It is not recommended to use buses at night, as they are often subjected to armed attacks.
Taxis, as is often the case, charge either by the meter (from 5 GTQ per kilometer) or a fixed amount by agreement before boarding. Taxis Amarillo has the best reputation for safety with yellow cars, call 1766 for a taxi. White taxis are a bit cheaper if you can bargain, of course, but these cars are often unlicensed.
How to navigate in the city
All the old cities of Latin America were built according to a single Spanish plan: the streets intersect at right angles, and in the center is the main square. Guatemala is no exception – the city is divided into blocks of avenida (avenue), stretching from north to south, and cayes (streets), running from west to east. Greater Guatemala is divided into 25 zones, but zones 20, 22 and 23 do not exist.
The block adjacent to Sixth Avenue is the business center of the capital. Banks and company offices are concentrated here.
Zone 1 is the center of the city, the most amazing part of it. Shabby houses, winding sidewalks, small shops side by side with new buildings and beautifully preserved old mansions. The heart of the city is Park Central Square, open to all winds. Here is the zero kilometer of Guatemala. At the flagpole with the national flag of Guatemala, an eternal flame burns, dedicated to unknown heroes around the world. On Sundays, a market unfolds in the square – a favorite place for Guatemalans for shopping, meeting with neighbors, idle chatter and just leisurely walks. Being in the thick of the crowd on the square, surrounded by musicians and artists, is an unforgettable experience. On other days, you will hardly meet anyone on Central Park – peace and quiet.
The 10th zone has the most upscale hotels, restaurants, shopping centers. A small part of it has its own name – Zona Viva, here the nightlife is in full swing.
Shopping and stores
Guatemala is known for its high quality textiles. In the capital, you can buy cotton and wool products made in different parts of the country.
Those who speak Spanish and are interested in Mayan history will find rare books on the subject in Guatemala City.
People who know a lot about alcoholic beverages will appreciate a bottle of excellent Ron Zacapa Centenario rum as a gift from Guatemala. The cheapest you can buy at the airport in the second duty-free zone, located at the end of the terminal behind gate No. 11, is about 40 USD per liter.
Entertainment and attractions in Guatemala
The main attractions of the capital are, firstly, its historical center, and secondly, churches and cathedrals: Cathedral of St. James (Catedral Primada Metropolitana de Santiago), the oldest Cerrito del Carmen in Guatemala – the church in the name of the Virgin Mary of Carmel, the Church of Iglesia de Santo Domingo, and thirdly, museums: the Miraflores Museum, the Museum of National Fabrics and Clothing of the Maya Indians (35 GTQ), the National Museum of Modern Art and others.
You can take a break from the heat and admire the lush vegetation in one of the Guatemalan parks. And in the park “Morasana” there is also a monument to Christopher Columbus.
A must to visit the National Palace – every 15 minutes there is an excursion (40 GTQ). The city has a zoo, and bullfights are often held at the hippodrome. In honor of the declaration of independence of Central America, an obelisk rises in the 10th zone.
Attractions of the New City (southern Guatemala): Reformer’s Tower (Torre del Reformador – Guatemalan version of the Eiffel Tower) 75 m high, the neo-Gothic Yurrita Church, the botanical garden, the University of San Carlos and the wonderful Popol Vuh Museum (35 GTQ), which stores archaeological finds collected throughout the country.
Tourist Center of Guatemala (INGUAT) is located at 7 avenida 1-17, zone 4, tel.: 331-13-33 or (801) 464-82-81 (24 hours and free of charge). Here you can buy a beautiful poster or CD with national music.
A huge relief map of Guatemala has been installed in Minerva Park, allowing you to appreciate the steepness of the city’s hills. Surprisingly, it was created in 1904 – long before the appearance of satellite images of the Earth. Not far from the city are the ruins of the ancient city of Kaminalguyu, one of the first centers of the Maya. It was here that the tradition of erecting pyramids and sculptures was born.
Cultural life of the capital
Most of all the museums in the country are located in the capital, photographs, paintings and sculptures by Guatemalan artists are on sale in more than 30 galleries. In theaters, plays by national authors are staged with great success. There is a conservatory, a school of arts, an academy of sciences. 4 universities are responsible for higher education in Guate, the University of San Carlos is one of the oldest in Central America (founded in 1676). The Metropolitan Library is the largest book depository in the country, and historical documents (almost 200 thousand of various papers) are stored in the oldest national archive.