The most modern city in the country, Guatemala City is Central America’s largest metropolis, comprising 21 zones, which are home to over 2 million people. Founded as the country’s capital in 1776, it was once the site of the preclassic Maya city Kaminaljuyú before the Spanish arrived.
Street crime is a problem, and so it is not the safest city. It also boasts none of the architectural beauty and charm of other destinations. In fact, it’s quite a polluted city, where skyscrapers shadow slums and extreme poverty is immediately visible. All of these might contribute to the fact that “Guate,” as the locals affectionately call it, is not high on the must-visit list. The city is more often than not avoided altogether, despite the fact that it is where most flights arrive. Many travelers opt to make Antigua their base instead.
But despite its ills, the financial, cultural, and transportation hub of the country, which is seeing rapid reinvention, still has much to offer. Guatemala City’s largest airport and bus station make Guate the perfect base for exploration, while its principal commercial tourist zones have the country’s best offering of hotels, restaurants, museums, cinemas, art galleries, North American–style shopping malls, and, especially in Zona Viva and Cuatro Grados Norte, nightlife.
Once a long-avoided crime hotspot, Guate’s more chaotic, rising downtown Zona 1 district attracts with the bars, cafés, and restaurants found along its 6a Calle. Known as the historic center of the city, there are some 18th century colonial structures to admire, although most have been destroyed by earthquakes. Today, many landmark buildings are being renovated.
At the heart of Zona 1 is the Central Plaza. Here you will find the Catedral Metropolitana and the National Palace. Sundays find the area a fairground with an assortment of textile vendors, local foods, and more. Several worthwhile museums can also be visited in Zona 1, including the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena, which shows off the impressive textiles of Guatemala City’s indigenous community, some dating back to the 19th century. And at the small hill Cerrito del Carmen, the country’s oldest church remains, with a beautiful gold-plated altar.
Guatemala City Essential Information
Reasons to Visit
- Arts & Culture
- Culinary & Wine
- 2 nights
When to Visit
- Good: May–October
- Better: April / November
- Best: December–March