As Guatemala‘s capital, Guatemala City can often be overlooked by tourists in favour of colonial Antigua, beautiful Lake Atitlan, or pretty Flores, the gateway to Tikal. However, there’s more to this city than first meets the eye – whether you’re in town for a few days or more, here are 14 must-visit attractions to add to your list.
La Aurora Zoo
The Guatemala City zoo is well maintained and organised, and if you’re an animal lover it’s a great way to spend a couple of hours. The zoo has several exhibit areas, including the African savanna, the Asian subcontinent, the Mesoamerican tropics, and a farm. The zoo’s proximity to the nearby Children’s Museum makes this a convenient day out if you’re travelling with kids.
Museo Popol Vuh
Located within the Fransisco Marroquin University, this stylish and modern museum documents the different stages of indigenous Guatemalan culture and history. Named after the ancient Mayan sacred book, Museo Popol Vuh showcases intricate pre-Hispanic figurines and statues, carved wooden masks, burial urns, traditional textiles, and many other Mayan artefacts, and also displays colonial paintings and gilded wood upon its walls.
Cervecería Centroamericana has brewed the large mainstay of Guatemalan beer since 1886, and most visitors to the country will have tried Gallo, its flagship beer. This brewery manufactures beverages that include Gallo Light, Victoria lager, the dark bock beer Moza, and Malta Gallo malt liquor, and offers fun, informative tours in both Spanish and English. You’ll need to make a reservation (at least a week in advance) but the tour itself is free – and ends with some free samples!
Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena
Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena offers visitors the chance to learn about Guatemala’s iconic Mayan textiles. The museum has excellent exhibitions showcasing indigenous dress and arts and crafts, and documents the history of these garments as well as the Mayan influence on the country’s history. It also has an art gallery downstairs, a children’s section, a café, library, and an ethical shop that sells textiles made by local weavers.
La Bodeguita del Centro
To discover the bohemian beating heart of Guatemala City, head to La Bodeguita del Centro. This creative hangout has live music from Tuesdays to Saturdays including everything from rock to jazz to classical, and there’s plenty of poetry readings, discussions and forums going on here too. The walls are adorned with prints of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Vincent Van Gogh, and entrance is free every night apart from Fridays and Saturdays.
Bookworms will be in their element at the sleek Biblioteca Nacional, which casts an impressively modern shadow in a plaza packed with colonial architecture. Built by famous local muralist, sculptor, engineer and architect Efrain Recion (who also built Guatemala’s National Theatre), this library is home to over 150,000 books and newspapers, and also houses abstract concrete reliefs and façade work.
Iglesia La Merced
This pretty yellow church is based on the original church in Antigua, Guatemala, and even contains gold-plated Baroque altars from the original building. Built in 1918 in a neoclassical style, this church bizarrely became the headquarters of the Guatemalan police force, but is now a museum packed with elaborate paintings, religious statues and sculptures from the 17th and 19th centuries. A must for architecture fans.
It may be small, but Guatemala City’s Botanical Garden is very, very pretty. Located at the northern end of Zona 10, the gardens contain an impressively extensive collection of plants that are managed by the Universidad de San Carlos. Your ticket price also includes admission to an adjoining natural-history museum.
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