Guatemala City: Travel/Tourist Information Guide
Guatemala City is the capital and largest city of Guatemala. It is also the most populous city in Central America, with an estimated 4.5 million residents. The city is located in Valle de la Ermita, a mountain valley in the southern-central part of the country, which is a part of the Guatemala Department. The full name of Guatemala City is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción. Guatemalans refer to the capital as "Guate".
Guatemala City has been the capital of the country since La Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala), the colonial Spanish capital, was devastated by an earthquake in 1773. The city is divided into 21 Zonas (zones), each with its own labeled avenues and streets. Guatemala City currently serves as the cultural, economic, and governmental center of Guatemala. It is also the country’s transportation hub, the origin and end points of all major highways in the country. The country’s main airport, the La Aurora International Airport, is located in Zona 13. The primary means of transportation in the city is the bus rapid transit (BRT), a bus-based mass transit system called the Transmetro. Taxis are also readily available.
Guatemala City has a poor reputation in terms of crime and is not considered to be safe. For this reason most tourist tend to avoid staying. Many tourist mini buses will not stop here but continue on to Antigua.
The city has a variety of restaurants, hotels, and shops. Guatemala City is also home to many art galleries, theaters, sports venues and museums and provides a growing number of cultural offerings. Guatemala City not only possesses a history and culture unique to the Central American region, it also furnishes all the modern amenities of a world class city, ranging from an IMAX Theater to the Ícaro film festival, where independent films produced in Guatemala and Central America are debuted.
Guatemala City boasts some impressive institutions, including the National Archaeology and Ethnology Museum, the Ixchel Museum of Indigenous Dress, and the Popol Vuh Museum.
The capital has the country's highest concentration of fine restaurants, with an emphasis on international and fusion cuisine. There are also enough bars and clubs to keep the most ardent night owl busy for weeks. If you're interested only in handicrafts, by all means head to Chichi; but if your tastes run toward fine art antiques, and designer shops, Guatemala is the place to be.
The capital has distinct rainy (May to October) and dry seasons (November to April). Being the centre of business and politics, Guatemala City hosts more visitors during the week than on weekends. It's the obvious choice for the beginning or end of your Guatemala visit, since, the country's major airport sits inside the city limits. The city has the richest economy within Guatemala, and is the largest market for goods and services. It is the headquarters of Guatemala’s central bank. Guatemala City is also home to the country’s best restaurants, cafés, hotels, museums, galleries, theaters, shopping malls, entertainment and sports venues, as well as major tourist and traveler services.
Because of its relatively high altitude in a location within the tropics, Guatemala City has a subtropical highland climate. This results in a generally mild, spring-like climate throughout the year, with dry winters and warm summers. It does not get as hot and humid during the summer as in the cities located at sea level. The best time to visit Guatemala City is during December to January when the rainy season has ended, everything is green and vibrant, and the skies are clear.
Guatemala City is located within the Ring of Fire, which makes it susceptible to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The last devastating earthquake to hit the capital was in 1976, with a 7.5 magnitude. There are four volcanoes surrounding the city, with two of them currently active. The most active and nearest to the city is Pacaya volcano.
The modern Guatemala City people know today was once known as Kaminaljuyu—an ancient Mayan city that lasted from 1200 BC to 600 AD. During the Spanish colonial era, Guatamela City started out as a small town until a series of earthquakes destroyed the old capital in 1773. In 1776, then King of Spain, Charles III, had the capital officially moved to this small town, which prompted expansion and development into a Nueva Guatemala (New Guatemala).
Majority of the population living in Guatemala City are of Spanish and mestizo descent. The city is also home to a significant population of indigenous origins divided into different Mayan groups. Spanish is the official language spoken in the city. Various Mayan languages are also spoken, making the city a linguistically diverse area. With the densest urban population in Central America and mass migrations continuing to rise, Guatemala City is racked with problems like chronic traffic congestion, increasing crime rates, shortage of safe potable water in some areas, and slow physical infrastructure development. Despite these issues, the city is gradually re-inventing itself as a people-friendly city.
Guatemala City is known for hosting Festival Ícaro—a film festival that promotes and debuts independent films produced in Guatemala and all over Central America.