10 Things to Know Before Visiting Guatemala City

Catedral Metropolitano, Guatemala City
Catedral Metropolitano, Guatemala City | © Francisco Anzola / flickr
Jack Guy

Despite its historically bad reputation, the Guatemala City is a great place to spend a few days. Here’s what you should know before you travel.

Mayan culture is still very visible

The indigenous Maya are still strongly represented. You will notice them in their brightly-coloured traditional dress wherever you go, and many people speak one of the 23 Mayan dialects from around the country.

Traditional Mayan dress is a common sight in Guatemala City

Zones 1 and 4 are the trendiest

For fashionable boutiques, coffee shops and bars, these two areas are your best bet. Zone 4 has been developing over the past ten years or so, while the centre of the city in Zone 1 has recently undergone something of a regeneration.

Beautiful art deco buildings remain standing

The main shopping street, 6th Avenue in Zone 1, is lined with some great examples of art deco architecture. Check out Edificio Engel and the LUX cinema among others.

Visit the markets

Guatemala City is home to 23 public markets selling produce from across the country. The biggest one is La Terminal in Zone 4, while the most tourist-friendly is the Mercado Central in Zone 1. Here you can pick up souvenirs and see the huge piles of produce, flowers and other goods for sale.

There are some great museums and galleries

Check out the indigenous Mayan textiles at the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena, or learn about Mayan beliefs at the Museo Popol Vuh. Take a look at the National Museum of Modern Art, or visit galleries such as the 9.99 or Proyectos Ultravioleta. Make sure to visit the National Palace of Culture too.

Music is a forte

There are many emerging artists in Guatemala City, from 8-bit duo Dinosaur 88 to punk group Gamezan. Check the listings at bars such as SOMA and venues like La Erre and Proyecto Poporopo to catch the next big thing.

The traffic is terrible

Always set aside extra time if you have an appointment to keep because Guatemala City is famous for its traffic. In fact the city was found to be the 5th-worst in the world for drivers by navigation app Waze.

Traffic is a common sight in Guatemala

Public transport is an issue

While the Transmetro bus system is fairly fast and safe, its routes are sorely limited. There are other red buses that you’ll see flying around, but they’re a magnet for crime and difficult to navigate unless you speak Spanish. Using Uber is the safest option.

Red bus in Guatemala City

There is no public transport to the airport

You can get off your plane and negotiate with a taxi if you feel like it, but you’re better off arranging a transfer before you arrive. There are shuttle companies that make the journey to Antigua, or you can book a taxi for a fixed price before you arrive.

Keep your wits about you

While things aren’t as dangerous as they used to be, it’s still not wise to enter certain districts or walk around by yourself at night. Use Uber to get around rather than local taxis, and stick to the tourist friendly Zones 1, 2, 4, 10 and 14.

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