Guatemala City – worth a visit?

Like most, or perhaps all, Central American capitals, Guatemala City has a reputation for guns, drugs, violence and danger.

And it’s true, Guatemala City is a little on the dangerous side, but it’s also a Spanish colonial settlement that dates back to 1628 CE, and it was the capital of the Captaincy General of Guatemala (a Spanish state that included most of Central America and part of Mexico) after the old capital, Antigua, was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 1773.

Surely that means it’s worth a visit?

Parque Central, Guatemala City

Cathedral, Guatemala City

Cathedral of Guatemala City. Photo credit: Benjamin White

At the heart of Guatemala City you’ll find the big, empty, oddly-quiet, and somewhat-grimy Parque Central, also known as Plaza de la Constitución. It’s full of pigeons, and there is a man here with his own flock of goats selling goat’s milk. He milks the goats on the spot, a little paper cup with steaming hot goat’s milk your reward should you make a purchase.

Parque Central, Guatemala City

Photo credit: Benjamin White

The Cathedral of Guatemala, on the eastern boundary of Parque Central, dates back to 1782. It’s had to be extensively repaired on various occasions due to damage from earthquakes.

National Palace, Guatemala City

National Palace, Guatemala City

National Palace. Photo credit: Benjamin White

The National Palace, completed in 1943, contains the office of the President of Guatemala. It’s seen its share of action, including, in 1980, bearing the brunt of a car bomb during a terrorist attack staged by the Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (Guerrilla Army of the Poor), which ended up claiming seven lives.

Nowadays the Palace mostly serves as a museum, offering tourists a glimpse into the day-to-day life of dictator General Jorge Ubico.

Downtown Guatemala City

Downtown, Guatemala City

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Downtown Guatemala City is full of grand colonial buildings and bustling shopping streets. There are malls, taco stands, and even one or two hipster cafes. Be careful using the ATMs though, as credit card fraud is rife in Central America.

Is it safe?

Parque Central, Guatemala City

Photo credit: Benjamin White

Downtown Guatemala City is safe enough to wander around by yourself during the day. There are plenty of people and police around, and I never felt troubled.

At night much of the city goes into lockdown mode, and it’s best to ask locals for advice before venturing out.

Is Guatemala City worth a visit?

Post Office Building, Guatemala City

Guatemala Post Office Building. Photo credit: Benjamin White

Most tourists skip Guatemala City and head straight to Antigua, the former capital. While GC might not be as cute and comfortable as Antigua, it is still full of colonial charm, and receives just a fraction of the tourists. It’s the most stately of the Central American capitals, and you could certainly do worse than spending a day or two here.

More on Guatemala:

Semuc Champey

Lago de Atitlan – sun, rain, and beautiful views obscured by fog

Tikal – a must for Star Wars fans

More on Central America:

Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica – postcard perfect beaches

Lago de Yojoa, Honduras – sleepy, serene, and safe

Granada, Nicaragua – longstanding rival of León 

Portobelo, Panama – pirates, pirates, and more pirates

Joya de Ceren, El Salvador – the Pompeii of Central America

Posts on Central American capitals:

San Salvador, El Salvador

Panama City, Panama

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