Guatemala’s capital has a not-so-positive reputation among travelers, who generally opt to skip it altogether in favor of the small size and amenities of Antigua. It has earned a few unfair nicknames for its high crime, even to tourists and in “safe” neighborhoods, and urban sprawl. But the same can be said for my home city of Atlanta. It has one of the nation’s highest crime rates and the public transportation is useless. But that’s not the whole story. I wanted to find out what else one could experience in Guatemala City.
I arrived on the Linea Dorada overnight bus from Flores before the sun had risen and decided to stay in the bus station until a more reasonable hour. A man was standing guard at the door, which I wasn’t sure if made me feel safer or less safe. But at 6:30 am, I decided to risk it. Without a reservation and most travelers still asleep, I arrived at Theatre International Hostel, a place in Zona 1 that a fellow backpacker had recommended. It was in the perfect location, only 5 minutes from the bus, 10 minutes from the pedestrian street, and 20 minutes from the arts district.
Thanks to a tip from Alex in Wanderland, I made my way to Zona 4, the hip, young neighborhood of Guatemala City. The comparisons with Brooklyn were fair. On every corner, you’d see a bike shop, coworking space, and coffee shop. The area is on a grid but at an angle, made up of X’s of rutas and vias. I started off at Paradigma Cafe, home to one of the world’s best baristas. I got a nitro coffee for now and a bag of beans for later that I’m still nursing a month later. If only I’d bought more.
It was still too early for lunch, despite my early rising, so I walked around to find street art, of which there was plenty. It was all so colorful and some even incorporated Maya motifs. I loved how colorful the streets were, only a few blocks from the modern structures of the government complex. It’s one of my favorite things to do in a destination.
With my stomach growling, I went to the impeccably-designed La Esquina and picked a booth on the sunny patio. I killed time until the food hall started serving lunch. Each booth had something unique, from doughnuts the size of your head to pizzas and pasta to smoothies. You can grab a margarita while you swing in a chair overlooking the street. A large group of girlfriends enjoyed a birthday brunch next to me. I, on the other hand, had to go for the tacos, two pescado and two al pastor, on blue corn tortillas.
I could have spent a lot more time here if it weren’t for my flight home. I could have eaten at Café Caminito, Shasta, or Café Despierto or grabbed a drink at El Príncipe Gris – Cervecería (craft beer in Central America!). I might have browsed the Imaginatorio Cooperative. But instead, it was time to head back to my own underrated city.
- In Guatemala City’s Zone 4, a new effort at urban renewal, The Tico Times
If You Go
Zona 4 is a short walk from public transportation estacions Plaza de la Republica, Exposicion, and Banco de Guatemala. This area is generally considered to be safe, but take caution with valuables (I carried my iPhone instead of my DSLR) and take taxis at night instead of walking. If you want to stay in this neighborhood, there aren’t many hotel properties, but the hostel I mentioned above is an easy walk. Airbnb is another great option.