Despite having resided in Honduras for half a decade, I had somehow never crossed the border into Guatemala before. Friends and aquaintances raved about the neighboring nation, with almost everyone who spoke of it stating what a wonderful place it was. Destinations such as Antigua were highly regarded as was the capital city, which a Scotsman described to me as “very modern and quite unexpected”.
I found myself in need of yet another visa extension, which meant a trip outside of the C4 Zone (El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala) to the southern Mexican border. Allow my frankness when I say that the frontier with Tapachulas is an utter hole and a den of thieves. Both the Guatemalan and Mexican migration authorities are cut-throats actively encouraging/instigating situations which demand bribes and extortion from all travellers trying to cross the border zone.
I do not for a split second recommend paying this fifth circle of hell a visit.
This is a positive post, however. I merely mention the above as a precautionary warning, nothing more, nothing less.
Now, my trip from the Honduran border near Copan Ruins (https://lempiratimes.com/2020/10/27/copan-home-of-the-maya/) over to the capital of Guatemala and my subsequent stay in the city were both equally wonderful.
Guatemala City (la Ciudad de Guatemala), reffered to locally as Guatemala or Guate, is indeed the capital and largest city of Guatemala, as well as the most populous urban area within all of Central America. It is estimated that the total population stands at about 1 million.
Guatemala City is the site of the ancient Mayan city of Kaminaljuyu, founded around 1500 BC. Following the Spanish conquest, a new town was established, and in 1776 it was made the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. In the year 1821, Guatemala City became the scene of the declaration of independence of Central America from Spain, after which it became the capital of the newly established United Provinces of Central America (later the Federal Republic of Central America). Then in 1847, Guatemala declared itself an independent republic, with Guatemala City as its capital. The city was originally located in what is now Antigua Guatemala, and was moved to its current location in 1777. Guatemala City and the original location in Antigua Guatemala were almost completely destroyed by the earthquakes of 1917/1918. Reconstructions following the earthquakes have resulted in a more modern architectural landscape.
Today, Guatemala City is the political, cultural, and economic center of Guatemala.
I spent a couple of days gently taking my time in getting to know a central zone of the city; I shall mention in fact – that yes, the city is divided into zones. If my memory serves me (and it ought to for I only went about a month ago) I was staying in the Zone 2 area… or was it Zone 12?
Either way, I found myself in the historic part of the capital, which one explored on foot. Guatemala City is a place where old Spanish churches and cathedrals abound absolutely everywhere. Bohemian vibes are to be sensed… The colonial buildings transformed into plush coffee shops and restaurants, cobbled streets with carefully planted trees along them, artists and musicians here and there, all characterise a stroll through the antiguated part of the capital.
People ride bicycles, some jog, others walk their dogs and a few just sit within the grand squares and small parks encountered every so often. One notices how there are more upmarket shops and businesses operating in Guatemala; Starbucks for instance. These are companies and chains which have not yet been established in Honduras – intriguingly. Ironically though, I did find Guate to be remarkably more ‘economical’ than my beloved Honduras. As a close friend pointed out, perhaps this was delusion on my part as I wasn’t used to the Guatemalan currency – Quetzales.
However, he did admit later on that Guate is indeed noticeably more economic.
Many residents of Copan Ruins for instance, buy cars in Guatemala and drive them back across the border into Honduras. They have informed me that it is decidedly cheaper to import a Guatemalan vehicle than it is to purchase one in Honduras.
I stayed in a peculiar, little hostel – frequented by all nationalities. Spaniards, French, Africans, Chileans, Mexicans etc. It was very cheap and cheerful with plenty of characters about to entertain conversation with. I got on well with the one-legged old womaniser who resided there; we both enjoyed our discussions of women and booze… One is a man, not a saint, dear readers.
The food was to my approval as well. Especially breakfast options. As was the exquisite coffee used to wash la comida down. One enjoyed a stroll through the lively streets during the morning before popping into a large ‘bakery-cafe’ for some coffee and nourishment.
There were noticeably more police as well around the city, which of course instills a safe feeling amongst travellers – another positive – no doubt.
All in all, I do most certainly ‘rate’ La Ciudad de Guatemala and challenge anyone who states it to be a ‘missable’ or ‘unworthy’ destination for those who encounter themselves within Central America. Road trips (be them conducted by car or bus) outside of the capital to other regions are also extremely pleasant on account of Guatemala’s fine countryside and natural scenery.
The people too, are extremely polite, respectable and friendly.
As such, is the Latin American. En lo general pues…