Population: 2 110 000 (metro 4 500 000)
Capital of Guatemala
Department: Guatemala City
Tallest building: Torre Premier Club (102m)
Area: 692 km² (metro 2 126 km²)
Elevation: 1 500 m
Year visited: August 2016
Centro Cultural Miguel Ángel Asturias, National Theatre 42
, on Flickr
Guatemala City is the capital of Guatemala and the largest city in the country, and the whole Central America. It is situated in the inland, surrouded by green mountains in the valley Valle de la Ermita, 1.5km above the sea, not far from the border to the El Salvador.
Guatemala City, or Ciudad de Guatemala in Spanish, was founded in 1776. During the Spanish colonial times it was a small city, though it was temporarily the capital of Central America, since Antigua was destroyed in an earthquake in 1775. The current city was built around and above the 9000 year old maya city, Kaminaljuyu. Not much of it is preserved today, but its ceremonial core can be found in a park with the same name. There are today no less then 10 universities in the city. There is an active volcano, Pacaya, only 30km southwest of the city. Its latest eruption was in 1965.
The city is huge, and consist of 21 different zones that are very different in character; Zona 1, that is the city centre, mainly consists of historical heritage buildings from the Spanish colonial times. The Plaza Mayor de la Constritucion is the most important square in the country. It is very large and consists of two parts; Parque del Centenario and Plaza de las Armas; here you find the neo-classic Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana, built 1815), the National Palace (Palacio Nacional, the government building in baroque/renaissance/fascist in style that formerly also was the presidential residence, built in 1943), a huge Guatemalean flag and the National Library (Biblioteca Nacional). You also find a part of 6A Avenida that is a long pedestrian street, nice with expensive brand stores and malls like the colourful Plaza Vivar. It passes the Parque Concordia and the monumental Ministerio de Gobernación (Ministry of Interior) building. Zona Viva is a very modern business district with highrise buildings in glass and steel, luxury hotels, office buildings and shopping malls. It is the safest district in the city, and has good roads and pavements. To the southeast of Zona Viva is Zona Pradera, that features the city's largest mall, Pradera Concepción and even more modern office buildings and highrises. While there are suburbs for the rich and upper middle class with large private residences, many high in the mountains, and shantytowns, some of them huge, surrounded by good roads, malls and supermarkets, there are large shantytowns were you don't evern find basic supplies and the simple houses seem to fall apart anytime, all around the city.
In Centro Civico (Civic Center), just south of the historical city centre, you find large and tall monumental government buildings, most of them white and grey in modernist style, wide avenues, and large plazas with impressive fountains and sculptures. There are also many beautiful old churches in the central parts of the city. Plaza Municipal and Plaza Espana are mayor squares in the modern part of the central city. Between Zona Viva and the city centre you find Torre del Reformador, a tower that looks a bit like a simplified and much lower Eiffel Tower. The tower is built right above 6A Avenida, Guatemala City's main boulevard. In this area, where you also find fastfood restaurants and car repair shops, but the most interesting sight is probably the beautiful church Iglesia Yurrita, and the mansion next to it, Casa Yurrita. Both these buildings are light red and resembles Gaudi's amazing architecture.
As you know have learned, Guatemala City, is an extremely diverse city. There are definately more rich and middle class people then in El Salvador, but the poor areas are also bigger. Students from the middle class go to modern universities with the latest computres, and their parents drive expensive European cars, while the houses in shantytowns, that are filled with criminal gangs, barely hold together, and it is not obvious there are even tap water. So the contrasts are huge! In general, Guatamela, at least in the captial, is more developed then El Salvador with roads, modern buildings, expensive cars etc.
There are also lots of markets many of them old fashioned and a bit rundown, but charming. Near Plaza Mayor you find the most wellknown one, Mercat Central (the Central Market), a bohemic underground market, underneath a plaza. You will find a lot of modern roads and malls in the city. The largest mall is Pradera Concepion in Zona Pradera, and the newest mall is Oakland Mall in Zona 10. Plaza Fontabella in Zona Viva resembles a small Italian city. Paseo Cayala is the most impressive one, since it is an outdoor shopping center and residential area that is built like a Spanish town, complete with stores, restaurants, cafés, roads, upper floor apartments and a church, all in heritage style! Paseo Cayala is situated a bit away from the city centre, it is very classy, safe and all buildings are white there.
We visited Guatamala City as a two day trip at the end of our two and a half week long trip to El Salvador. We stayed at the comfy 4.5 star highrise hotel Holiday Inn in the safe and modern Zona Viva district. Right opposite the hotel was the brand new Hard Rock Café, that we visited twice. It's large neon guitar sign adds even more international atmosphere to this modern district. There are also other districts with skyscrapers and modern hotels. There are many tall buildings, but the tallest ones are only just over 100m tall.
MY EXPERIENCE, SAFETY AND TRANSPORTATION:
We had the opportunity to visit Guatemala City as a 2.5 day long trip fro El Salvador. It took about 7 hours by the cheap luxury bus Pullmantur to get there from San Salvador, from where we flew back to Europe.We were only two persons that went there, without any guide or locals to guide us, so I had to make a lot of planning before we arrived, in the last minute since the trip to Guatemala wasn't planned from the beginning. With only 2 days to spend, we chosed between visiting the popular historical city Antigua (situated just a few km from GC) and the capital, but as usual we ended up in the big city.
Guatemala is dangerous, only slightly less dangerous then El Salvador. We travelled by the very modern and luxurious, yet cheap, Pullmantur buses that took about 5 hours from San Salvador. The large double decked bus featured black leather seats, air condition, two bus maids, meals, toilet, headphones, TV displays that showed movies, and toned windows. It stopped right in front of our hotel, the Holiday Inn, so we didn't have to worry about walking around in this dangerous city with our bags looking for the hotel, or be fooled by a taxi driver (that likely wouldn't happen but we didn't know that at that point). It is very advisable to stay at this hotel if you go by Pullmantur (that we highly recommend), and to make plans for everything before entering the city. Only use the green buses, and taxis. The green buses,are modern, new and safe, drive on special lanes and stops at gated bus station, guarded by policemen that also help elderly and disabled people. The system is called Transmetro and works as a metro system, but for buses above ground. Just mind that rush hours can be really hard at times! Absolutely avoid the red buses! These are used American school buses, owned by private companies and transformed into local buses, just like in ES, but that is not the problem. The problem is the very high crime rate, the many robbings and killings on these buses that often are used by poor people and drive to shady areas. It is also a bit dangerous since people ride on the outside of the buses. The green and the red buses are like day and night.
But it felt safe enough to go without any guide, we got there by bus and were not walking around at dark, except for in Zona Viva where we stayed, that is the most modern and safe area in the city. During our walk in the old town we took special precaution. We saw some heavy armed policemen outside a Burger King restaurant we visited, and then noticed there are outside most large stores and restaurants, just like in ES.
We also walked around in the area around Torre del Reformador and Plaza Espana. Some locals tried to talk to us at the main square, Plaza Mayor, may be they were just curious but we didn't want to get into trouble so we pretended to not knowing any English or Spanish.
Taxis are small but they drive civilized. The drivers were pollite, the trips were extremely cheap and the cars are really small. There are 3 big companies, white, yellow (drive on taxameter but a bit more expensive) and blue. We didn't get fooled by the price as in many cities in Europe for example.
The international airport, La Aurora, is situated close to Zona Viva in the south part of the city.
Between 1960 and 1996 there was a violent internal armed conflict in Guatemala, that might be the source to much of the chaos in the country. Except for crime there are also threats from the nearby volcano, Pacaya (last eruption 1965), earthquakes, corruption heavy traffic, bad roads and pollution. Several blocks were torn down in a huge sinkhole in 2007, that got much attention in media. With that said, we didn't experience any trouble during our visit.
We stayed at a first class hotel, and mostly went to modern restaurants and cafés so we couldn't say if they had the same problem with water and toilets as in El Salvador, but we got the impression it was better, at least in the capital. We had no problems with the zika virus during our visit.
We visited in August. The air is also a lot better then in ES, since it is 1.5km high up in the sky it is much less humid. It was warm and sunny, but not unbearably warm. The first day, we arrived in the afternoon, it was grey and rained a bit. The rest of the trip it was sunny.
The food in Guatemala is generally very good. The food is quite similar to ES. Pupusas is the local food, and brown beans. They have special restaurants for pupusas, pupuserias. Guatemala has local fastfood brands, as Pollo Campello, a chicken chain that you also find a lot in El Salvador, as well as most of the international ones represented, as Burger King, Mc Donald's, Pizza Hut, Subway and Starbucks.'
The currency is qetzal. Keep in mind to change back to your local currency before you leave the country, because most countries refuse to switch qetzal, since it is such a weak currency, something we unfortunately had to experience! Most hotels, stores, restaurants and taxi drivers accept US dollars, as it is about to replace the quetzal, just like in ES. So it might be wise to just use US$ in Guatemala City!
Since it is a developing country, eveyrthing is very cheap in Guatemala.
The trip to Guatemala City was very exciting, interesting and highly recommended!
Let’s start with Zona Viva, a safe and modern business district in this south part, as this was our first impressions of GC, and where our hotel was: