La Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion
Heading south to the capital of Guatemala, just one hour flight from Flores where we got to enjoy the roots of the Maya civilization at the most powerful of their capital cities, Tikal; this would be our next base along our Central America trip. Yes, we decided to rather be based in the capital in order to make day trips the following days to the major tourist spots the country has to offer around rather than having to sleep each night at a different place and having to pull the luggage on and on.
A key point before I continue, is that you should not be scared of being in Guatemala City. It is sad to read such articles and comments over the internet, questioning the safety as it would be the worst place on earth. Let me tell you it is not as you think after what you have read around. During the day time it is perfectly fine to be in the centre doing your sightseeing, camera in hand. Chances of bag snatching and pick-pocketing are the same as in any European city. Other than that, there is nothing you should fear about. People is nice and very helpful, they will not hesitate in helping you with anything.
On the other hand is the night time. This is when you should take precaution and not being in the street. As you will notice, after 19.00pm there is almost no one in the streets. Policeman and guards with guns are at the doors of restaurants, even at the fast food chains, banks and so on. Insecurity feeling is in the air, but as said, there is no reason for you to be walking the streets at night.
The second surprising point is that the city indeed has more to see than what you hear and read about. It was hard for myself to check pictures over the internet prior to my visit when I was on preparation stage planning the trip. Now that I am back, I can at least show you some of my pictures which at least are more varied that the usual ones of three buildings you see on the net. There is still a big work to do to improve the city centre but you can really see how more and more historical buildings are being restored continuously. In few years time it will definitely look much nicer.
Do not plan any longer than a day for visiting the city. In fact half a day is all you will need. The best sights are not far, like Antigua or Panajachel. These and Tikal in northern Guatemala will be in fact your main reasons why to visit Guatemala.
Food in Guatemala is similar to that in Mexico. Base ingredients are the same, but among the most common dishes you should try are: Chiles rellenos (bell peppers stuffed with meat and vegetables, covered in whipped egg and fried), Güicoyitos rellenos, (stuffed zucchini), Pollo a la cerveza (chicken in beer sauce) or Tapado (seafood soup with green plantain slices). One of the best restaurants serving real Guatemalan food is Hacienda Real, in Zona 10, 5a Avenida 10-67. Totally recommended. And if your hotel is near the airport, Zona 10, the restaurant offers free shuttle service, just get the receptionist to phone Hacienda Real for you and they will come to pick you.
For more information about the city visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Guatemala’s currency is the Quetzal (GTQ). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Guatemala City
- Zona 1 Centro. This is the oldest part of the city, built as the new capital of Guatemala after Antigua got so badly destroyed by earthquakes, volcano eruptions and fires.
-Parque Central/Plaza de la Constitucion The main square. It follows the very same Spanish street pattern and grid as any other city in Latin America where the main streets lead to a central square where the City Hall and Cathedral are located.
-Metropolitan Cathedral Dating from 1815, relatively new as it has to be built right upon Guatemala City was founded as the new capital.
-Palacio Nacional de Cultura Can be seen via guided tours of around 30 minutes at the cost of 40 Quetzals if you’re not a Guatemalan citizen, otherwise free. The Km 0 plaque is inside.
-Central Market Just Behind the Cathedral.
-Palace of the Ministry of the Interior One of many grand neo-classical structures in this part of the city.
-Metropolitan Cultural Centre House in the Old National Post Office Building.
-Teatro Abril The main space for the scenic arts in the city.
- Zona 2
-Raised Relief Map Located at Minerva Park, at the end of Avenida Simon Cañas. Entrance Q16. Open from 09.00am until 17.00pm. It is over 100 years old and it’s a large relief map of the country of Guatemala.
- Zona 9
-Avenida de la Reforma Is the main avenue running north to south, full of the major hotels and restaurant chains, shopping centres and plenty of nightlife.
-Torre del Reformador Dating from 1935 commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of president Justo Rufino Barrios.
-Plaza del Obelisco Where to find the Monument to the Independence.
- View of Guatemala City With the Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes in the background. If you are lucky to have a hotel room on a higher floor, then chances that you see the volcanoes are high (as luckily we had). You can also see the volcanoes while landing or taking off for example, and many other points while walking the streets.
La Aurora International Airport is located in Zone 10. It is brand new and not big, very easy to navigate. Buses and taxis are waiting by the arrivals exit. The best way into the city is by taxi unless you are in a hotel around Zone 10 in which case, it is highly likely they will offer you a free shuttle service from/to the airport.
Within the city you can easily take the Transmetro buses. These run on dedicated special lanes therefore acting like if a light rail would be, very fast and reliable, following a north to south route and circle in the historic centre. The cost is Q1.00 and they stop running at 20.00pm. The only downside is that you need coins for the turnstiles, and there are no changing machines anywhere. You can ask the people waiting in the platform for change, they will be kind if they have spare coins and will change you, or as in our case, they will let you in for free.
Out of question try to get a hotel in Zone 10, this is near the airport, and it is basically the hotel zone where you will find every worldwide chain. Apart of being the safest area, it is also the most convenient since you are next door to the airport and also next door to the main Transmetro bus line with direct access to the city centre. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We can highly recommend Hotel Barcelo. 7a Avenida 15-45, next to Plaza del Obelisco – Avenida de la Reforma, Transmetro stop Plaza de Espana. A very large property with great comfort, great buffet breakfast, and an amazingly big heated outdoor pool! As you can imagine with the cold in the city at nights, it was a pleasure to enter such a heated pool and jacuzzi. Next door to the hotel you have a good bunch of fast food restaurants where you can go without any trouble on your own. This will save you lots of money than having to order at the hotel or at their expensive restaurants.