Guatemala’s Metropolis

by Veronica Reyes, Jan 30, 2019

Central America is the ‘slim’ portion of land that connects the North with the South of the American continent. It can be seen as a cultural bridge of big importance for humanity and also for the animal species that for centuries have been migrating from one region to the other. Central America is composed by seven different countries which are, in a way, connected with traditions and ways of living. Nicaragua is the largest country, though Guatemala hosts the biggest metropolis of the region with 3 million inhabitants.

However this hasn’t been always the case… Here is a quick summary of how the Capital of Guatemala (also referred to as Guate by locals) has developed to what it is nowadays.

During the pre-hispanic times, the country was divided into different city-states ruled by the diverse group of Mayan peoples. Each of them had their own administrative and political system. Based on this fact, we know that the Maya Civilization was never united as an empire. However, upon the arrival from the Spanish conquerors, it all changed.

In 1524 Guatemala’s first colonial Capital was built on the shores of Volcan de Agua (3,700m/12,140). Today the small village is known as Ciudad Vieja. This first settlement only lasted 15 years since a terrible landslide flooded that conquered land.

Seeking for a safer place, the remaining inhabitants found another valley not far away from Ciudad Vieja, which today is known as Antigua Guatemala. In 1541 an imposing city started flourishing and it got recognized as one of the most beautiful cities at that time. The political power and the church influence in Antigua were ruling the entire population of Central Guatemala. Big cathedrals and extensive cobblestone streets were built to adorn the new Capital. The Mayan people that lived in the surroundings of Antigua were in charge of all the physical labor required to build the majestic monuments that today are still standing. This second city lasted over 200 years; until 1773, when a terrible earthquake destroyed almost the entire city and the inhabitants did not feel safe anymore. Three years later everyone was forced to leave Antigua behind and they moved to another part of the country – the current valley where Guatemala City is today.

The new city was built based on the looks and feel of Antigua Guatemala. One can recognize the same structure and new buildings were adapted to fit the original style. As time went by, new ways of thinking converted Guatemala City into a different place. Nowadays, the city offers a little bit of everything. From the Historical Center where you can appreciate diverse architectonic styles, to hip zones with an alternative atmosphere where you can visit, relax and enjoy a good Guatemalan cup of coffee.

Insider Tips And Things To Know

Guatemala City is constantly growing and it has become the most trending city in Central America. As every other big city in the world, security is a theme hard to ignore. For this reason, I want to share a few things that you need to know before visiting Guate:

Cabs – It is essential that you use only the yellow taxis. These are official cabs registered by a formal company and are being monitored in case of any unforeseen situation. The white taxis waiting outside the airport are also safe since they are approved by the International Airport La Aurora (expect to pay more than the normal fee).

Public buses – In 2007 Guatemala City implemented a new and fast bus system: Transmetro. These are green buses that have their own roadway within the city’s main destinations; therefore, the transfer time from one place to another is faster.

Please take note of the following:

  • If you happen to catch one of these buses during rush hour, please make sure you have all your belongings in front of you. Pick pockets like to take advantage of the overcrowded Transmetro.
  • Avoid the red buses! These buses have different routes and normally will drive you on the outside of the city (very local places).
  • Uber is also offering rides in Guatemala. It is a safe way to travel in the city and will save you a couple of Quetzales (national currency).

Money exchange – your best option to exchange foreign currency is at the banks. They usually offer the best exchange rate. Money withdraw is possible everywhere in Guatemala City. ATM’s are at every gas station, malls and food courts.

Walking in the streets – as in every metropolis, Guatemala City also has red zones. Because of the complex distribution of the zones in the city (spiral form), the dangerous zones are not easy to reach. You are okay walking in zone 13, 10, 9, 4, & 1 which is the more centrally located. Nevertheless, walking at night is not recommendable and try to always keep your phone in a safe place.

Bear these tips in mind and you will be ready to enjoy Guatemala’s capital during your next visit! You will be amazed with its people, the foodie scene, bars, cultural centers and even the abundant nature between the buildings that make this vibrant city breath.

It is worth to mention that in Guatemala City you will find everything you can think of regarding food. The local gastronomy is a must-try during your stay! You will find from very traditional local dishes, to a contemporary mix of gourmet and local recipes that will inspire your senses! Guatemala City also hosts pretty good Steak Houses where you get quality meat accompanied by traditional sides like guacamole, salsa and tortillas. All type of international food, craft beers, handmade and confectionery can be found in the multicultural capital of Guatemala.