Guatemala is exploding onto the travel scene, slowly attracting more and more visitors each year.
It’s easy to see why. You can hike active volcanoes, visit ancient Mayan ruins like Tikal, do yoga whilst staying on a lake and explore natural wonders such as Semuc Champey.
However, to get to all of these incredible experiences, you’re probably going to have to travel through Guatemala City first. It’s home to the only international airport in Guatemala.
Ask most people and they will tell you to get out of Guatemala City straight away. Most travellers opt to hop straight over to the colonial town of Antigua or to Lake Atitlan.
Is Guatemala City safe for tourists?
Guatemala City is the largest capital city in Central America, yet, most people recommend skipping it due to it being dangerous.
A range of crimes occurs in Guatemala City: from pickpocketing and robbery to murder and sexual assault. That being said, more serious crimes occur between the local gangs rather than involving tourists. Pickpocketing, armed robbery and scams are the most common crimes against visitors.
With that in mind, there are some things that you can do in Guatemala City that make it worth staying for a night or two.
We’ve written this guide to help you decide whether, for you, it’s worth staying in Guatemala City.
Is it worth staying in Guatemala City?
Guatemala City isn’t all bad. Of course, like all places that have a bad reputation, it’s the small minority that ruins it for everyone else.
Guatemala City is still full of kind and friendly people that will go out of their way to help you.
The city also has a number of churches, cathedrals and museums that you can visit. Plus, the Palacio Nacional is a beautiful piece of architecture where the changing of the guard is a sight to see.
There are areas, such as the Paseo Cayala complex in Zone 16, which are great places to visit. Paseo Cayala is a shopping area that offers boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops, apartments and cultural activities. There is a high level of security here which instantly makes you feel safe!
Safe zones to visit in Guatemala City
If you decide to stay in Guatemala City, knowing which areas (called zones here) are and aren’t safe is important.
The whole city is broken down into zones, which makes it easier to know where you shouldn’t go.
Zone 1 is home to the historic centre. In most cities, this is where tourists stay. But in Guatemala City, it’s actually a pretty sketchy area.
Visiting the historical sites during the day should be fine, but definitely don’t walk around Zone 1 at night.
Zones to avoid in Guatemala City:
- Zone 2-3
- Zone 5-8
- Zone 12
- Zone 17-25
Zones 9 and 10 are the best areas to stay in and visit in Guatemala City.
How to get around Guatemala City
For those deciding to stick around in Guatemala City, it might be useful to know a bit about how to get around the city.
By Uber or Taxi
We recommend getting an Uber to where you need to go. Uber is much more convenient than normal taxis, and you know that you’re paying a fair price.
It’s also the safest way to travel around Guatemala City.
Traditional taxis are also available in Guatemala City, but not all of them have metres. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to use a taxi, most single-zone rides cost between Q20-25. If you’re going between zones, expect to pay between Q30-50.
If you don’t want to use Uber, you can always ask your accommodation to arrange a taxi for you.
Guatemala City does have a bus service that covers a lot of the city. Throughout the city, the buses have dedicated lanes to avoid traffic, so they can be a fast way to get around.
Fares only cost Q1 per ride. You’ll need to buy a Citizen Card for Q20 from a station or convenience store to ride the bus.
Ask your accommodation which bus line you need to take to get to where you want to go. Watch your bag and keep an eye out for pickpockets.
Where should you stay after landing in Guatemala?
If you still don’t think that Guatemala City is right for you, then you can move on straight away.
Most people decide to go straight to Antigua after landing in Guatemala.
Antigua is a colourful colonial town with cobblestone streets and volcanoes on all sides. It’s home to some incredible hikes, ruined churches, a Hobbit town and a number of markets.
It couldn’t be any more different to Guatemala City!
Check out our tips for visiting Antigua to find out everything you need to know.
How to get from Guatemala City to Antigua
The easiest way to get from Guatemala City airport to Antigua is to pre-book a minivan.
This way when you arrive, your transport will be there and waiting for you. For $19 per person, it’s a stress-free way to get to Antigua.
The next best alternative is to order an Uber. You can use the Wi-Fi from the airport to order it when you’re ready. Uber costs between $25-30, so it may be cheaper than a minivan if you’re travelling in a larger group.
The journey between Guatemala City airport and Antigua takes around 1.5-2 hours.
Top things to do in Guatemala City
If you do decide to stick around and give Guatemala City a chance, there are a number of things to do in this capital city.
#1 Join a walking tour of Guatemala City
If you still want to explore Guatemala City, but the thought of doing it alone puts you on edge, why not join a walking tour?
That way you still get to see the city and learn about it, whilst being accompanied by a knowledgeable local guide. It’s one of the largest cities in Central America, so there’s plenty to see.
On this 4-5 hour walking tour, you’ll get to see colonial homes, theatres, churches, grand plazas and the Mercado Central.
#2 National Palace of Culture
By skipping Guatemala City, you miss out on some of the country’s best museums. In other popular destinations in Guatemala, you won’t find museums like those found in the capital city.
One museum to visit is the National Palace of Culture. This incredible building used to be in the presidential palace in the 1940s but is now a museum and cultural centre. Inside you’ll find historical and cultural exhibits which can be explained to you on a guided tour.
Check out the pre-Colombian artefacts and traditional Mayan clothing. It really gives you a good base level of knowledge to explore the rest of Guatemala.
#3 Head to the botanical garden
Many people picture Guatemala City as a place that is full of danger and void of nature. That’s not true! In Zona 4, one of the safer zones you’ll find a natural jungle inside of the urban one.
It’s a nice place to come to experience a different side of Guatemala City and escape the busy streets.
#4 Explore Ciudad Cayala
Discover a city within a city. Ciudad Cayala is a modern urban development located in Guatemala City. When you step foot in this area, it feels like you’ve left the city completely.
The developed with created to provide unique and high-quality living experiences for its residents, taking into consideration the architecture, amenities and safety. It’s safe for both tourists and residents.
Here you’ll find stylish apartments, luxury homes, green spaces, shops, restaurants and plenty of cafes. It’s probably not something you’d expect to find within the city, and that’s exactly why you should visit.
#5 Enjoy some fun nightlife at Majadas Once
Nightlife is probably not something you expected to be able to enjoy, with most people warning you not to be out at night. Majadas Once is a huge and modern shopping centre packed with shops, both international and local boutiques, restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs.
We recommend checking out the rooftop bars and jazz club.
Rounding it up
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you should be ready for your adventure in Guatemala City. Want to continue your trip in Guatemala? Antigua is a great destination to visit after Guatemala City.
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