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Quetzaltenango

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Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela (pronounced SHAY-la) or Xelaju, is the second largest city in Guatemala. Situated at the southwest of the country, the surrounding department has a variety of landscapes extending from the cold High Lands to the warm Pacific Coast. There are numerous volcanos, hot springs, valleys, mountains, rivers. The region provides a harvest of numerous products such as coffee, wheat, fruits and vegetables, as well as sheep and cattle breeding.

These qualities make Quetzaltenango an interesting place to visit.

Get in

Use the Panamerican Highway (CA-1) which crosses the High Lands or the International (CA-2), parallel to the Pacific Coast.

You can take a bus from many cities, including Guatemala City or Antigua, into Xela. While the local buses (called Chicken Buses), which are actually brightly painted school buses, take these routes, they are long, bumpy, noisy and crowded and much better suited for shorter trips around the city or to nearby locales, however they are cheaper (Oct 2007 Guate-Xela $3.30), more enterntaining and give you close-up access to normal Guatemalans, for better or for worse! For a few dollars more ($7.50 US in the Summer of 2006 to travel from Guatemala City to Xela), ride one of the private bus companies, such as Galgos (Greyhound style), which offers luggage storage, nice seats and quicker routes.

Get around

An able bodied person can walk from the center to any point in Xela in about thirty minutes. Minibus routes thread through all parts of the city and, although cramped, cost only 1 Quetzal flat fare. The bus costs less but is slower and less frequent.

For travel around the countryside the local buses are very reasonable. They can be entertaining, and at times, quite crowded. Do not plan on carrying much luggage with you on these: some buses have backpack storage above the seats, however, most of the time you must store bags that do not fit on your lap on the top of the bus. While they are generally safe up there, they are at risk for weather.

Taxis are relatively common around the city, especially around night-life hot spots. At night, it is not safe to walk around so taxis are highly recommended, especially if you are by yourself. Catch a taxi on a public square rather than on one of the side streets and note it's number. Negotiate the cost of the ride before you leave.

Understand

The city of Quetzaltenango, the Department's principal town is situated on an extensive plain and surrounded by hills and volcanoes. The city of Quetzaltenango conserves the Maya-Quiche's old traditions and the colonial past, while maintaining the dynamism of modern life.

The Mam authority, called Kulahá, reached its most important expansion. Later Quiches's Lords conquered the area and founded Xelajú previously situated at the base of the volcano Santa Maria.

Then, it was transfered to the north, and the Nahuas who went with the Spaniards gave it the name of Quetzaltenango (Place of walls).

The center of the magistrate's authority during the Hispanic period and during certain time the capital of the so-called "Sixth State of the Central American Confederation ".

See

Historical Center

The town conserves traces of the colonial period in its streets and avenues. The classical, neoclassical and Italian renaissance styles are evident in the buildings and the houses which have been built during the past century and the beginning of the 20th, with volcanic stones by artistic "Quetzalteco" masons. Some examples of architectural styles:

  • Espiritu Santo Cathedral : Consist of two structures. The "Espiritu Santo" parish's ancient facade (1535/1896) and to the back the "Diócesis de los Altos" (1899).
  • The Municipal Theatre is a very important Neoclassical work.
  • The Central America park (known as "Parque Central): Situated in the centre of the town is also centre of cultural activities and amusements.
  • The Enrique Passage : Near the central park.
  • Gobernacion : one block from the central park.
  • Also visit the Cerro del Baúl, where one can have a beautiful view of Quetzaltenango's valley, day or night (accessible by foot, car or taxi).

Quetzaltenango has important cultural activities. There, you'll find the Occidental Cultural Centre (La Casa de la Cultura de Occidente), and Alliance Française de Quetzalteango, numerous activities are scheduled all year.

The first Sunday of each month, the "Quetzaltecos" install the artisans' market in the central park where handcrafts from Quetzaltenago and surrounding villages are displayed. In September, the annual fair and festival is offered from the 12th to the 18th.

Do

Xela is an excellent place to take language lessons (both Spanish and some of the Mayan languages specific to the area). There are various schools and NGOs in the city most offer rates based on one week of instruction (approx. 5 hours per day). Some schools offer volunteer opportunities for an additional cost while others offer it for free. Most also offer home stay options, which is an excellent way to make sure you keep practicing at all times. One of the best reasons to learn in Xela is the price. You can expect to pay about US$140 per week including home stay. This often includes internet access. Arrangements can be made ahead of time or upon arrival (most schools have multilingual administrators who can help make arrangements via email or phone - some even offer airport pick up from Guatemala City).

The salsa scene is also very active in Xela. Lessons are very cheap and there are lots of clubs.

Xela is also well-known for its abundance of volcanoes, mountains, and hot springs.

  • Quetzaltrekkers offers trips to local natural wonders at reasonable prices, as well as extended treks to Lago de Atitlan and the Cuchumatanes. All guides are either foreign volunteers or local Guatemalans. All profits go towards La Escuela de la Calle, a school in the poorest neighborhood of Xela.

Buy

There are many opportunities to buy goods in Xela. Mayans will approach you, especially in parks, about selling purses, bags and blankets in the local styles. Markets occur regularly in and around Xela. Remember to negotiate prices-walking away is often a good way to get the price down a bit.

Eat

  • El Alquemista A very nice vegetarian restaurant overlooking the city of Xela from the hills to the north.
  • Comida Taiwanesa Their specialty is the Taiwanese empenada which is entirely vegetarian. They're Q2.50 a piece and two will make a decent size snack. They also sell soy milk and snow cones with all kinds of toppings. Located south of the Parque Central on 8a calle between 8a avenida and 9a avenida.

Drink

Only drink purified water (agua pura). Cabro, which some call one of the best beers in the world, is made locally in Quetzaltenango

Sleep

  • Hostal Posada La Estacion, 2a Calle, Callejon 15 2-34, 7761-9957 (), [2]. Between 15 Avenida "A" and 16 Avenida, Zona 1. Further off the beaten path than Casa Argentina, but closer to parque central. Run by a very nice woman with years of experience hosting backpackers (Dona Blanca). It has a kitchen, 24 hr. hot water, free bicyles that guests can borrow and a family atmosphere. 30 Q for a Dorm room, 40 Q for a single room.
  • Itzamna Xela Homestay, (), [3]. is a service placing travelers with a family for a homestay. They can accommodate stays of a few days to months.
  • Casa Xelajú, 612 253-4347 (), [4]. Offers two-story house for rent. It is completely furnished including central heated water, washing machine, two bathrooms, a dining room, living room, a kitchen and three bedrooms and den on the second floor. Another apartment by the same management is rented until October 2007. USD35/day.

Get out

It may be possible to arrange a tour of the Gallo brewery by calling ahead.

You can spend hours in and around the Mercado de la Democracia in the commercial center of Xela. It is where the locals shop for most of their needs.

Any concert is worth attending in the Municipal Theater. It is beautiful inside.

Evening marimba concerts are often given on the steps of the Municipalidad on the west side of Parque Centro America.

Walk around town. In the side streets, you'll often come upon a master giving guitar lessons or a group of men practicing Marimba.

Go to a football game: Xelaju M. C. vs anyone. The crowd is animated and the fireworks alone can be worth the price of admission. Don't pay extra for the high priced seats, they remove you from much of the fun. Try to sit in the corner near the band. A "Xelaju M. C." flag to wave costs Q10. Grilled sausages are less. No alcohol permitted in the stadium.

Fireworks! If it's your birthday, or you just feel like it, spend a couple of Quetzals for a big string of firecrackers. You'll normally hear them any evening or early morning.

Weekend nights are also an option, you will find night clubs in all the center, from the Central Park, to the Theatre, for 30 quetzales you can get in anywhere and drink something. Also in some seasons the "14A" is closed to the traffic because of some music festival, concerts, street art exhibitions etc.

Must See

  • Zunil is 9 km from Quetzaltenango. Monday is market day. Located on the Samala river and on the main highway leading down the coast, Zunil's people wear attractive clothes made by hand using traditional techniques featuring intricate designs and bright colors. This picturesque town is the center for the worship of "Maximon" or "San Simon" a life-sized mannequin endowed with occult power: Just 8 Kms. from town on the slopes of the inactive Zunil volcano you'll find the beautiful "Las Georginas" thermal springs, equipped with restaurant and bungalows. They are newly open for business and restored since the hurricane.

Destinations

The "Quetzaltecos" villages of Quiche and Mam origins, have small places with impressive colonial style churches where the tourist will see the regional handcrafts displayed on market days.

  • Salcajá: 9 km from Quetzaltenango. Market day: Tuesday. local festival the 25th of August. Here was constructed the church of San Jacinto, the first of the religious constructions of the region and a beautiful example of colonial architecture. Also famous for its hand-woven "jaspe " materials and unique alcoholic beverages known as "caldo de fruta" " and "rompopo" .
  • San Juan Ostuncalco 12 kms. from Quetzaltenango. Situated in a valley of the mountainous region, it is the commercial centre for the Mam-speaking villages which border the departament. Here you may acquire musicals instruments, wicker furniture as well as lovely hand woven materials.
  • Almolonga 5 km from Quetzaltenango. Market on Wednesday and Saturday. Annual festival the 26th-29th of June. Known for its variety of vegetables which are cultivated on the smell farms which surround the village. You will also enjoy thermal springs such as "Las aguas amargas" and "El rosario" .
  • Cantel 10 km from Quetzaltenango. Visit the interesting cooperative for handmade blown glass.
  • Olintepeque : 7 Km from Quetzaltenango. The place where according to legend, the famous Maya-Quiche prince Tecún Uman died in battle against Pedro de Alvarado in 1524.
  • San Andres Xecul : 7 kms from Quetzaltenango, in the direction of the "Cuatro Caminos" highway junction, with a colonial-style whose facade is both colorful and picturesque.
  • Volcán Santa Maria, 12,256 feet & Santiaguito. The summit of the Santa Maria Volcano lies at the end of the steep 3-4 hours climb from the village of Llanos del Pinal (located 6Kms. above Quetzaltenango). You'll best enjoy the truly awesome view during the clearer weather of the early morning hours. The whole coastal plain lies at your feet, along with the cities of Quetzaltenago and Tapachula, Mexico. You can look down into the very active Santiaguito crater which erupts at least once every hour. You can still enjoy the view minus the ragged hike by driving to the top of the adjacent Siete Orejas Volcano. (10,384 feet above sea level).
  • La laguna de Chicabal, 3 hours by foot from the village of San Martin Sacatepequez (also known as Chile Verde) (14 Kms from Quetzaltenango). At this very picturesque lagoon, the sorcerers of the whole region meet on the 3rd of may.

The High Country

  • Totonicapan Near Quetzaltenango, you have to visit the principal town Totonicapan (in the departament of the same name). Known for its hand woven textiles and his potteries.
  • San Francisco El Alto Friday this is the site of the Central America's largest market. If you can buy it in Guatemala, you can buy it here, although there is very little aimed specifically at tourists. If you can, drop by the cathedral and see if someone will take you up on the roof for a bird's-eye view of what's going on.
  • Momostenango: Wednesday & Sunday: Market. This curious "Riscos de Oro", rock formation produced by erosion.

Toward the Coast

  • El Palmar Town destroyed by Santiaguito Volcano. Lagoons and tropical vegetation.

Pacific Beach


This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!



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