Guatemala City: First Impressions

Hello again! We apologize for the lengthy delay since our last post. Believe us, no one is more sorry about that than we are because it means that we have been back in Chicago working instead of elsewhere hiking, photographing, exploring and satisfying our severe case of wanderlust. Unfortunately, until we win the lottery, that is how our life goes: work, travel, work, travel… sigh

Fortunately, the opportunity for adventure popped up this Christmas, and we decided that we couldn’t pass it up. So despite the protests of our families, we bought tickets to Guatemala and spent two delightful weeks exploring a small portion of that beautiful country. Since this trip was going to be a whirlwind, we decided to pack light and leave our computer at home, meaning that we wouldn’t be able to post while we were on the road. Instead, we documented our trip the best we could and promised ourselves that we would be timely about posting once we returned home. Two solid weeks have already passed, and now we are finally going to make good on our word. So, over the next few days, we will be posting entries about our trip. It feels a little phony to be doing it from Chicago instead of from some cute café in Guatemala, but such is life. So here goes…

A lot of people have asked us how we decide where we are going to travel next and “Why Guatemala?” in particular for this trip. The truth is we really hadn’t planned on going to Guatemala at all, at least not at first. We were really hoping to go some place further afield like Burma or New Zealand, but the airfare costs an arm and a leg and both destinations involved days of travel just to get there. We decided we had better look closer to home and remembered all of the good things travelers we’ve met on the road had told us about Guatemala. With Mayan ruins, cute colonial towns, and indigenous culture, it seemed like a good choice. Besides, we had never traveled to Central America together, and we found a pretty reasonable airfare, so: ¡Vamos a Guatemala!

We arrived in Guatemala City after a pleasant 1-stop flight through Houston. It was nice to arrive in terra nova in only a half-day’s travel, in the same time zone. Translation: no jet lag! Perhaps the only downside was the landing: fairly windy as the pilot maneuvered a 180-degree turn while dropping altitude rapidly. Before we knew it we were bouncing on the tarmac with a “¡Bienvenidos a Guatemala!” Another bonus for all of you passport sluts out there (not us, of course!), Guatemala has a rather prominent passport stamp with no visa entry fee required. This makes us smile.

Check it out!
Check it out!

Since it was the Sunday before Christmas, we were concerned about banks being open. The rate at the currency exchange counters was atrocious, but we were fortunate to find a bank at the airport (3rd floor, just ask for directions) that changed money at an excellent rate for no commission.  We took a taxi to the bus terminal where we stored our bags for the few hours we had to explore before catching an overnight bus to Flores. As luck would have it, the bus station was a short walk to Avenida La Sexta, the heart of Guatemala City. This multi-block pedestrian zone was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with families from Guate (the nickname of the city), strolling the avenue, enjoying the variety of street performers, eating elotes (corn on the cob smothered in mayo and chili) and looking forward to the holiday. Apparently, strolling the avenue is a time-honored tradition in Guate called sexteando, and we enjoyed participating, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Avenida La Sexta.

At the northern end of La Sexta there was a Festival Navideño, complete with an ice-skating rink and “snow-tubing” hill. It seemed strange to us to see folks enjoying these cold-weather activities in a tropical climate, but they were clearly popular; long lines of people waiting patiently to get in stretched for a city block. We wandered into a few churches and strolled the markets before grabbing a bite to eat.

Checking out the Christmas decorations at the market.
Some Christmas decorations in the market looked familiar.
While others were new to us.
While others were new to us.
Guate's cathedral is impressive from the outside...
Guate’s cathedral is impressive from the outside…
...and on the inside.
…and on the inside.
This monument to executed victims reminded us of Guatemala's turbulent past.
This monument to executed victims reminded us of Guatemala’s turbulent history.
While this grand doorway reminded us of its colonial past.
While this grand doorway reminded us of its colonial heritage.

The weather was very pleasant, especially compared to Chicago, but it started to turn cool after dark. To combat the chilly temperatures, it seemed that the number one accessory of choice was a  bufanda. We couldn’t help giggling as the tune “Billy La Bufanda” came into our heads. Check out this YouTube video for a translation and a good laugh:

Satisfied with our brief time in Guate, we headed to the bus station to catch the overnight luxury bus north to Flores and the land of the Maya. The bus was reasonably comfortable except for the air-conditioning that seemed to be set to Arctic temperatures. If you take an overnight bus in Guatemala, be sure to bring a blanket and your bufanda.

Sporting a bufanda of my own on La Sexta!
Sporting a bufanda of my own on La Sexta!

8 thoughts on “Guatemala City: First Impressions

  1. Hi there! This is Melissa from the Quetzaltrekkers’ trip–so excited that you guys are going to be posting Guatemala pix. Total coincidence, but I just posted my photos of the Xela to Atitlan hike today, too–you guys are in one of them : ) I hope the rest of your trip was slendid! A belated Happy New Year to you both! (You can see my photos here: notquiteroughingit.com.)

  2. Sounds amazing, can’t wait to hear more… what a great way to keep us all updated on your exotic adventures! Love and hugs.

      1. So long in fact that we are moving back to India soon! You’ll have to come visit there – or maybe we can all meet in Burma or some such…

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