On the north side of Parque Central is the magnificent Presidential Palace. Once the home of the infamous dictator General Jorge Ubico, today this palatial building is a museum, and visits are by guided tour (available in English). Take a few hours to explore the quirks of the Palacio Nacional; the grand banquet hall, with its ornate stained-glass panels, ironically represents the virtues of good government. Make sure to step onto the presidential balcony, where you can pretend you’re a maniacal dictator surveying your troops.
6A Calle, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2239 5000
Museo Popol Vuh
Located within the Fransisco Marroquin University, this sleek, modern museum documents the different stages of Mayan 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 other Mayan artifacts. With an abundance of colonial paintings and gilded wood upon its walls, as well as colorful Mayan paintings of animals, art lovers will be suitably entertained too.
Universidad Francisco Marroquín, 6A Calle, Guatemala +502 2338 7896
At Museo Ixchel – or Museo Ixchel de Traje Indigena, to use its full name – you can learn about Guatemala’s iconic Mayan textiles. Named after the Maya goddess of the moon, the museum’s exhibitions showcase the incredible richness of indigenous dress, folk dances, arts and crafts in Guatemala’s highlands. The museum also has an art gallery downstairs, a children’s section, a café, library and a shop selling textiles made by locals weavers.
6A Calle 6, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2331 3622
This outstanding museum is sandwiched between two shopping malls a couple of miles from the town centre, but it can be easily reached by any bus going to Centro Comercial Tikal Futura. Downstairs displays objects found at the Mayan site Kaminaljuyú, and upstairs there are textiles and indigenous clothing exhibitions. Outside is a pretty grassy area with paths and benches, a nice place to rest your legs after exploring.
7 Calle 21-55, Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala +502 2208 0550
Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología
The good news is that Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología houses Guatemala’s largest collection of ancient Maya artifacts; the bad news is that explanatory information is pretty sparse. Still, its impressive stone sculptures (many of which are from the classic period of Tikal), jade jewelry, traditional masks and large-scale model of Tikal make it well worth a visit.
7ta. Avenida 6a, Guatemala +502 2475 4010
Iglesia de La Merced
This lovely 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.
Museo de los Niños
If you’re travelling with kids, a visit to the children’s museum is a must – and as it’s located directly opposite the city zoo, it’s perfectly situated for a fun day out. This hands-on museum has displays including a giant jigsaw-map of Guatemala, an earthquake simulator and a very popular room of uniquely entertaining ball games.
5a. Calle 10-00, Guatemala +502 2475 5076