The Capital of Guatemala
Guatemala City became the capital in the late 1700’s after the devastating Santa Maria earthquake forced the nation’s capital to move from the city of Antigua to its present-day location. This turbulent hub has managed to preserve its colonial heritage, and with a large airport and cheap tickets, it is usually the first stop for foreign explorers seeking to discover the many treasures Guatemala has to offer. And while Guatemala City may not be your first or best choice for an extended stay, there are plenty of destinations that every traveler should see before embarking on the rest of your journey.
Explore Ancient Mayan Ruins
If you’re searching for glimpses of what life was life before the conquistadors arrived, you’ll probably want to set out of Sitio Arqueologico Kaminal Juyu – Guatemala City’s ancient Mayan ruins. Located on a fertile plain 1500 meters above sea level, this site once served as the commercial center for the jade and obsidian trade. There are over 200 different excavations, each showing ancient Mayan ceramics, sculpture and architecture. However, if you wish to view the excavations, you’ll need to arrange for a special permit from the Instituto Guatemalteco de Antropologia e Historia. The site is open for tours Monday through Friday from 8:00a-4:00p.
Dance in Zona Viva
For those of you who prefer a more modern, cosmopolitan setting, head on over to Zona Viva. Of course, be warned, you might not find it all that much different from the city you left behind. Like most modern areas, Zona Viva by day is quite different than Zona Viva by night. While the daytime crowd is mostly made up of business executives, at night the neighborhood comes to life. Then you’ll find people spilling out of open doors and diners dotting tables and chairs haphazardly set up on narrow sidewalks. Whether you’re there to eat, shop or club-hop – be sure to bring your dancing shoes. As the sunlight fades and darkness takes over, the thumping, pulsing beat of rhythmic music escapes the local discos and can have even the most level headed visitors out dancing in the streets.
A Glimpse into the Past
Or, if you’d prefer historic colonial over modern cosmopolitan, you should head over to Zona 1, the old historic center. This is where the ancient lifeblood flows, connecting present and past with a nearly surreal beauty. Tucked away in Zona 1, you’ll find many fascinating historical treasures like the national palace, the presidential palace, the Holy Cathedral and the main plaza. While you’re in the plaza, you’ll have ample opportunities to pick up a few mementos. Consider heading over to Lin-Canola. Hot only do they have a staggering selection of amazing fabrics, but you’ll also find wood, clothing, leather, ceramics, souvenirs and even traditional costumes.
A Day at the Zoo
If you’re traveling to Guatemala with your family and are looking for a kid-friendly outing, consider stopping by the Zoologica La Aurora to discover Guatemala’s rich and exciting wildlife diversity. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00a to 5:00p, this recently renovated zoo offers features local fauna from across the country housed in settings very similar to their natural habitats. You’ll also find plenty of places to eat, play areas for the kids to run off some steam, as well as souvenirs and photo opportunities.
A taste of Guatemala City
These are just a few of the exhilarating wonders that Guatemala City has to offer. You can also find historical cemeteries, botanical gardens, palatial estates, luxurious hotels and breathtaking cathedrals to keep you busy. Whoever you are, and whatever you’re looking for, you can probably get a taste of it in Guatemala City.