Because I had read more bad than good about Guatemala City, I loosely considered skipping it. However, I would come to realize that la capital is a positively different entity compared to the rest of the land.
Like many travelers, upon arriving in Guatemala City, I took a shuttle straight to Antigua and got to know that colonial city for a week or so, which in hindsight may have been more than I needed. I would eventually find Guatemala’s capital and business center to be more dynamic and interesting. And it was far less touristy than Antigua, thus more authentic.
After Antigua, the unbound plan was to head towards mammoth Mexico, eventually cross the border, and leave Guatemala behind. But when reading about experiences crossing the border and the fact that the time they give is from seven to 180 days, which is at the full discretion of the agent at the land border or airport. They want a return ticket and proof of paid accommodation, at least for your first destination. All those new stipulations and the uncertainty turned me off, so I decided to stay in Guatemala longer and later fly out of Guatemala City.
Instead of going back to ultra-touristy and overrated Antigua, I was ready to spend a couple of days in Central America’s biggest city before flying out. . . and I am glad I did.
World Class Museums
There are around 50 museums in Guatemala City. I managed to visit two: the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena and the Museo Popol Vuh. Before visiting these world-class establishments, all I had read were positive things, which I found to be fully true.
Both museums are located on the UFM Universidad de Francisco Maroquín campus. I was able to walk there two mornings in a row in about 35 minutes from Zona 4. I had to show a copy of my passport to get past university security at the entrance. The cost was 45 Quetzles ($5.71) for each museum. The Museo de Popol Vuh had an option to pay 15 Q extra to take photos.
Both museums are open from nine to five Monday to Friday and 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays. I arrived early both days, weekdays and had each museum completely to myself. I walked into the Popol Vuh museum at 8.45 am. The security man insisted that I wait a second while he found the museum attendant. She came, charged me, then opened the doors and turned on the lights so I could enter these renowned halls of Mayan archaeology about 15 minutes early.
I casually spent around an hour in each museum. For me, a one-hour slow, gazing stroll in galleries and exhibition halls is perfect and enough.
I wholeheartedly recommend both of these museums.
World Class Coffee Brewers in Zona 4
I can only speak for Zona 4 as that is where I stayed and was fortunate to come across a couple of phenomenal cafés and their exceptional baristas.
‘Atte for Coffee’ was the most impressive café I have ever been to. The local owner/barista is passionate and talks to you about coffee in either clear, native Guatemalan Spanish or good English. It is his life. He is an OB Original Barista at the forefront of an evolving world coffee culture. I made it a point to go three days in a row. I had V60s each day, he had three different kinds, from freshly roasted local beans and ground on the spot of course. The most memorable was the fermented coffee with tiny hints of cacao, and hazelnut since the coffee grew near these plants.
This place is a gem. It you desire to sip ultra-smooth coffee in a welcoming and comfy setting, Atte for Coffee is a must.
Atte for Coffee is on via 6 3-30 across the street from Moonrise Comida Vegana. He is open from 10 am until 8 pm.
When I inquired with the Atte barista about where to purchase Guatemalan coffee to bring back with me, he wholeheartedly recommended another coffee shop in Zona 4, Rojo Cerezo Coffee Culture. I had a hand-crafted Chemex there from another ultra-passionate local Guate barista.
At Rojo Cerezo I was able to purchase 10 oz. bags of same-day roasted and packed local coffee beans. This is the best coffee I have purchased anywhere. The light color and smoothness, with hints of flower, cacao and other fruity flavors are a super delight for anyone who is even a remote coffee connoisseur.
This is the first time I have had a barista write varied information about each coffee on the bags. There are multiple coffee regions in Guatemala. The tropical altitudes produce some of the best coffee on earth.
The local barista at Rojo Cerezo also speaks Spanish and English. A bag of freshly roasted local Guatemalan coffee typically costs 90 Q ($11.49). This is for the upper middle class and above; which it seems Zona 4 does not have a shortage of.
Guatamala City was generally a culture shock from the rest of Guatemala as the majority of the well-to-do of the country reside in the capital. This is of course the commerce center of this emerging nation.
Prerevolutionary Zona 1
I visited Zona 1 twice. It is the historic part of the city and home to the nice Mercado Central which is a great place to purchase fun local nick knacks to bring home. Like most Latin markets there are fresh meals to eat there and food to take home.
It took me about 45 minutes to walk to Zona 1 from my spot in Zona 4, where there is some eye-appeasing architecture to feast your gaze on.
Otherwise, I visited the Zona Viva in Zona 10. I had quickly read a good review somewhere. What I noticed there were mostly worldwide chain restaurants. And it was too posh and cookie-cutter generic for my tastes. In hindsight, I would have chosen not to visit the Zona Viva.
I was glad that I stayed in Zona 4. There are other worthy zones to stay in too like 13 and 14. Apparently Zone 1 is one of the most inexpensive.
Estancia’s address is Via 7, 3-54, Zona 4. There is no name outside, just the numbers. I recommend Estancia for its overall pleasant and comfortable feel, and the location was right.
I did more walking than anything. There were a couple of times when a form of city transportation stopped and took me part of the way.
I took one taxi only because it was dark. I was in the Zona Viva at about 9 pm. I probably could have walked but with valuables on me so I shelled out 40 Q haggled down from 50 Q for a cab ride back to Zona 4. It took about eight minutes sans traffic in a comfy, modern taxi. That was all I could come across in the upscale Zona Viva, a part of Zona 10. Later, I realized that an Uber would have been more cost-effective.
I used Uber twice. It was inexpensive, $2.88 from Zona 4 to the Parque Central and $4.68 from Zona 4 to the airport. Using the credit card gave me the best possible exchange rate, very close to the published one.
if you are drifting through Central America or flying in or out of this intriguing municipality, I believe that giving Guatemala City a go is a no brainer, if not a must.
Have you been to Guatemala City? How did you like the visit? Feel free to comment below.