Exploring Guatemala City
Most people who have traveled to Guatemala will most likely say they only stayed one night in Guatemala City (Guate as its known to locals) due to flight arrival or departure times, or, more likely, they skipped the city entirely. However, I had the pleasure of staying over a week in the city to get to know it and its various neighborhoods. Although Lonely Planet opens its chapter on Guate by describing it as "big, dirty, dangerous and utterly forgettable or big, dirty, dangerous and fascinating", the city has a lot to offer, from its variety of neighborhoods to the country's best museums. It is also the most populated Central American city, with 3.3 million inhabitants in the urban zone as of 2017. Lastly, the interesting mix of indigenous, colonial and immigrant cultures make the 250 year-old city a study of contrasts between old and new.
Points of interest worth a visit to anyone coming into Guate would include the historic district of Zone 1 which has a variety of museums, pedestrian friendly Sexta Boulevard, the central market, and the beautiful Parque Central, framed by the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana, which dates back to 1782.
Zone 10 is called the "Zona Viva" due to the fact it is largely a business district with an upper-middle class population. Here is where you will find the international hotel chains, fancy shopping malls, and expensive restaurants.
The local tourist office, INGUAT, is located in Zone 4, which is an area full of cafes, street art, and shared workspaces.
Zone 4 is also home to the judicial buildings and the National Bank, which has a free museum that details the history of Guatemalan currency, but really can be used to explain the culture and colonialism of the country. (READ ABOUT IT IN ENGLISH HERE - http://www.banguat.gob.gt/en_museo/index.htm). I took a lovely bike tour which included a stop here and our amazing guide, Marcos (the owner of Quetzalroo Hostel in Zone 10), explained important time periods of the history of the country. He made sure to include a visit to the Casa de la Memoria (in Zone 1 - http://casadelamemoriagt.blogspot.com/) where he explained the impact that the thirty-six years of civil war had on the country’s inhabitants. The 45,000 people who are still missing are known as “Los Desaparecidos”, and another 200,000 were confirmed killed. You will see their faces and names papered on walls on city streets, or engraved in the stone surrounding the catedral. It is an important, but difficult era in Guatemalan history that many people still do not speak about.
Overall, I would suggest at least two days spent exploring the city and its museums on foot or bicycle. There are a number of other museums that I didn't mention that will keep you busy (covering cultural history, anthropology, and Mayan archaeology among other things), and the value in the time spent in Guate learning about the country’s history will be immense when continuing your travels through other parts of the country.