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Long notorious for its criminal gangs and drug violence, these days Guatemala City is experiencing somewhat of a rejuvenation. However, Guatemala’s capital is split into zones, and these zones are so different they may as well be separate towns. Many of these zones (specifically 3, 6, 18, and 21) remain off-limits for tourists, but flooded with a new generation of hopeful young people, other areas of Guatemala City are positively thriving. Here are the coolest neighbourhoods to visit.
Zone 1 is the heart of the city, the most central district that’s home to many notable old buildings. Plaza Mayor, the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Theatre are all located here – to name just a few – and there are other buildings that date back to the city’s founding in 1775. There are many cheap hotels, bars, shops and restaurants here, so it’s popular with backpackers on a budget.
Zone 1 is also home to the nearly-always-chaotic shopping street of 6th Avenue, which runs south from Parque Central to the market stalls beside Plaza Barrios, so if you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs, this is the place to come. Part of Zone 1’s appeal is its chaos: the hum of traffic and honk of horns is ever-present here, but it remains one of the most interesting (and photogenic) areas of the city.
Just south of Zone 1, Zone 4 is packed with street art, trendy coffee shops, cool bars, and communal working spaces for digital nomads. If we were to draw parallels, Zone 4 could be seen as the Brooklyn of Guatemala City, and it’s fast becoming the bustling bohemian hub of the capital. The centre of this neighbourhood was inspired by the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, and today a touch of Paris remains in the form of the Torre del Reformador, a mini version of the Eiffel Tower that was built in 1935 to honour the progressive administration of President Justo Rufino Barrios.
Also in Zone 4 are the central INGUAT offices, the Supreme Court, and several other government buildings, but most visitors find themselves drawn to the pedestrian-friendly Cuatro Grados Norte (Four Degrees North) district. This area is now considered the cultural and gastronomic centre of the city, and its vibrant streets are packed with bars, restaurants, shops and clubs, and the walls are adorned with colourful art. If you only have a day in the city, be sure to head here.
Zones 9 and 10 are considered the ‘fancy’ zones. Avenida La Reforma, just south of the city centre, separates the two zones, with Zone 9 to the west and Zone 10 to the east. These tree-lined avenues are home to Guatemala’s wealthiest residents, as well as the city’s most expensive hotels. The streets are lined with embassies, designer shops, posh restaurants, and ritzy bars, and the buzzing nightlife in this neighbourhood has led to it becoming nicknamed ‘Zona Viva’ (lively zone).
Most of the city’s best museums are found here, too, including the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena, the botanical gardens, and Popol Vuh Museo, with its extensive collection of Mayan pottery. Zone 10 is the safest area of the city.