As the chaotic capital, Guatemala City definitely isn’t short of interesting things to do. Guide books often advise first-time visitors to stay in the ‘safest’ part of town; this is Zone 10, and it’s also the most expensive area. But if you’re on a budget, what’s the best way to explore? You don’t need to stay in a five-star hotel to enjoy Guatemala City, as it’s also packed full of comfy hostels, cheap eats and inexpensive bars that don’t compromise on safety. Here’s the budget traveler’s guide to Guatemala City.
For a cheap but cosy place to lay your head at night, stay at Hostel Estacion Gerona Bed & Breakfast. Run by a lovely, warm family and located close to the historical center of Guatemala City, it’s easily one of the best hostels in town. The rooms are clean and comfortable, you can enjoy volcano vistas from the rooftop deck. Breakfast is decent, and the friendly staff go out of their way to ensure your stay is a happy one.
If you’re partial to a beer or four, Guatemala City has a treat in store for you. Cervecería Centroamericana produces Gallo, Guatemala’s flagship beer, and the brewery in the capital offers visitors the chance to take a fun tour of the main HQ. The surprise factor is that the tour is totally free – although you do need to book about a week in advance. You’ll learn about beverages like Gallo Light, Victoria lager, the dark bock beer Moza, and Malta Gallo malt liquor, and best of all, the tour concludes with some free samples.
Guatemala is known for its iconic chicken buses, and these colorful vehicles are the main mode of transport for most locals. Because of the low literacy rate in Guatemala, the buses are color-coded in accordance to their destinations, and these arresting vehicles make incredibly photogenic subjects. It costs next to nothing to catch a ride on a chicken bus in Guatemala City and it’s a great way to get a feel for the country. Bring a camera, because some of the most fascinating Guatemala photos are snapped on these buses!
Guatemala City’s markets are bursting with beautiful handicrafts and unique woven garments, but if you’re on a budget you should skip the souvenir shopping, tempting as it is. Instead, head to the lively Mercado Central in search of food. You can spend hours wandering around this bustling maze of underground passages, and unlike some of the other markets, Mercadao Central truly is a ‘local market’. There are dozens of foods stalls serving up authentic Guatemalan cuisine, and you can enjoy a delicious and filling sit-down meal for around sixty cents. If your hostel has a kitchen, this is also the place to stock up on fresh produce.
One of the best things about being on a budget in Guatemala is discovering the wealth of street food that exists here. The capital is home to countless food stalls, and you won’t go five minutes without the smell of fresh food drawing you in. Pupusas are everywhere in Guatemala City and are an excellent way to fill up on a budget; thick tortillas are stuffed with refried beans, cheese and sometimes meat, fried until crisp and then served with salad. Empanadas are buttery pastries ideal for lunch on the move; usually filled with potato/vegetables or meat, they’re smothered in guacamole, tomatoes and onion and are totally delicious. For under $1 you can buy enough to fill up – and have some left over for a snack later, too.
La Bodeguita del Centro is arguably the bohemian hub of the capital. Part bar, part cultural centre, it has live music from Tuesday to Saturday, and entrance is free Tuesday to Thursday. Even on the weekends there’s only a small charge to enter, and it makes for an inexpensive, fascinating and very cool night out. In the day there are poetry readings, debates, exhibitions and films, and in the evening you can enjoy an ecletic range of live music – from rock to jazz to classical. Drinks are cheap, the nights often go on ’til very late, and it’s a great chance to discover a whole other side of this gritty city.
12a Calle 3-55, Zona 1, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2230 2976