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Guatemala’s beauty and culture have long made it a popular destination, and touristy places like Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Flores are common stop-offs for solo travelers. Guatemala City is a different matter altogether. Its sheer size and much-debated crime rate deter many independent travelers from visiting, but with the right know-how there’s no reason to skip the capital. Here’s the solo traveler’s guide to Guatemala City.
As such a big, diverse city, it’s essential to do your research before you arrive in Guatemala (check out our guide of key things to know). The important thing to be aware of is that while Guatemala City is the biggest city in Central America, many parts of it remain off-limits for tourists. The capital is split into zones, and you are strongly advised against visiting Zones 3, 6, 18 and 21, where crime remains high. Zones 1, 4, 9, 10, 12 and 16 are tourist-friendly. Have a read of our article on the coolest neighborhoods in the city to find out more.
If you’re traveling solo in Guatemala City then you should look for accommodation that’s safe as well as social. Hostal Las Volcanes delivers on both fronts. The friendly staff are more than happy to chat and give you advice and tips for navigating the city, and the friendly ambience means meeting other travelers is easy. Located near the airport and with a free shuttle service provided, it’s ideal for when you first arrive in the often-chaotic capital. Rooms are clean, cosy and comfortable (private rooms are available) and the pretty veranda is a great spot to chill out and chat to other guests.
16 Street 8-00 Zone 13 Aurora 1, Guatemala City, Guatemala +502 2261 3040
Guatemalan food is extremely underrated, and the best way to discover just how good it is is by taking a food tour. With Mayan culture mixing with Spanish traditions, Guatemala City is one of the most authentic places to learn about this country’s gastronomy, and a food tour will allow you to explore places you wouldn’t know about otherwise – as well as introducing you to other travelers with the same mindset.
First-time visitors to Guatemala City should make their way to the Parque Central, the beating heart of the city. It’s a great way to get a feel for the capital, and there’s always plenty going on here. Be sure to visit the grand Presidential Palace: built between 1936 and 1943 by prisoners forced to work by infamous dictator General Jorge Ubico, today this building is a museum and cultural center. It’s an excellent place to learn about the history of the city, so take a few hours to explore it thoroughly.
6A Calle, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2239 5000
Café Despierto is a cool, plant-filled cafe that serves up classic dishes with an innovative new twist. Thanks to its relaxed ethos, great coffee and cosy seats it’s become a firm favorite for travelers, and most lunchtimes you’ll find it packed with tourists and locals alike. The burgers, sandwiches, omelettes and pizzas here are extremely good, but Nutella fans will be in heaven; be sure to try the Nutella pancake tower dessert, then wash it down with a Nutella Coffee Granita.
Guatemala City, Guatemala +502 2508 0396
Every solo traveler needs a relaxing spot to catch up with communications or do some travel research, and Watson Books And Coffee in Zone 16 is ideal. Part cafe, part book store, it’s a great place to bring your laptop if you need to work or catch up with family, and with dozens of board games lying around, is an ideal spot for making new friends! The staff are friendly and chatty, so if you have any Guatemala questions, don’t hesitate to ask. The coffee selection is excellent, and the bagels and smoothies are also delicious.
One bar that’s regularly frequented by solo travelers and open-minded visitors is El Portal near the Plaza Constitutional, which is famous in the city for being Che Guevara’s favorite bar. Guevara lived here in the ’50s and was a regular at El Portal, and the bar doesn’t seem to have changed much from its glory days: with its antique decor and long wooden bar it feels like a Hemingway novel come to life. The cocktails here are great, as are the cervezas mixtas (tap beers mixed in a glass).