See wild animals in the city.
No really this might sound crazy, but the La Aurora Zoo near the airport in Guatemala City is one of the best zoos I have ever been to. It costs a mere $2.50 to get in and it is quite beautiful. Granted yes, the enclosures are small, which is very unfortunate, but the zoo has gone to great lengths to make the habitats aesthetically pleasing to the visitors AND accurate to the particular animals habitat. Plus, the zoo is filled with beautiful trees and other plants that make it one of the most beautiful places I have been to in this city. Truly stop there if you are in the city and don't know what to do.
Avenidas las Americas
In zona 13 and 14, in the southern part of the centre of Guatemala City, you will find the impressive Avenida las Americas. This wide boulevard is a tribute to every country in Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina and Chile. It runs from Calle 1 to Calle 20, through what is called the cultural area of the city.
Along this boulevard you will see squares every few hundred metres, representing one specific country at a time. I drove along the Avenida by car at night, and so I could only see the squares quickly, but I'm sure it must be a nice walk at daytime. Because I did this at night, I couldn't take any pictures. The one you see here is taken from the internet and shows the square of Argentina.
It is said that during the weekends, the Avenida las Americas is the place to be for young Guatemalean families. There are food- and sweetstalls everywhere as well as attractions for the kids like donkey- and horserides.
Guatemala City, Guatemala
"Central America's Largest City"
Guatemala City, which residents usually refer to simply as "Guate," is a sprawling metropolis of more than 3 million people. It is the largest city in all of Central America and reflects the diversity of the entire region: old and new, rich and poor, colorful and drab.
During my three day visit to Guatemala City in April, 2008, I found it to be vibrant, loud, dirty, dangerous and utterly fascinating.
Semana Santa en la ciudad
Massive "andas" wooden platforms bear the statues of Jesus of Nazarethe and the Virgin Mary. The bearers walk in a ponderous synchronically as they proudly take the figure on its route. The floats are decorated with colorful flowers and richly textured fabrics; the regal statues are immaculately dressed and adorned. The bearers of the floats are called "cucuruchos" and are often the same ones that carry a particular float year after year. But hearing shifts are open to all weeks in advance in preparation for a procession. Many times the bearers are doing penance and seek atonement by carrying the heavy platform for blocks. All bearers pay a small fee to the church to the privilege and the money is used to decorate the saint and the float. Each church organizes its procession and its departs with much pomp and circumstance on its own route. Often the procession trundle for hours through the streets with bearers trading places at the end of every block.
Purple bows are tied onto window ironwork and often signify that is in on a processional route. Carefully designed, hand -made carpets cover the cobblestone streets. Made from dyed sawdust and sand, flowers and fruits, the carpets, or "alfombras", are veritable works of art that are brief in their beauty. Templates are made from wood or thick cardboard and the painstaking process of carefully designing the carpets begins hours before the procession.
Residents and parishioners alike share coffee and conversation, as the temporary artists lay on low-slung boards that allow them access to their ground canvas. The atmosphere is truly unique. Not only is the air charged with anticipation, but also it is redolent with the fragance of flowers and copal incense.
Some churches' processions feature Roman centurions in rich blue velvet cloaks and helmets topped with plumage. Small floats follow, and then the figures of Pontius Pilate and the thieves with their wrists chained.
All, so far, avoid the carpets. Now comes the object of everyone's gaze, heralded again by a drumbeat, the whistle of a single flute, and the incense-swingers, suffusing the air with musty grey wisps.
You know the procession approaches as you hear the band that follows the procession getting louder... and the beats and drums of such solemn music rumbles in your heart.
The crowd's murmur reaches a crescendo as the procession rounds the corner.
Suddenly there is the striking sight of Christ, cloaked in the most luxurious robes...
The spectacular "alfombras" (carpets) with bands of yellow, magenta and purple will soon disappear under the shuffling feet of the "cargadores" (beareres). Then people will stoop to gather the mangled flowers, which they believe to be blessed or miraculous.
"Cargadores" dressed in the traditional purple outfit are known as "cucuruchos", and they're those that wear a penitent's hood or pointed hat (most times purple from Monday to Thursday processions, and black on Good Friday)
"Cargadores" await their turn kneeling and praying and/or doing offers to a higher power. Signs of the cross and genuflectes flow through the spectators like waves on a pond.
"Turn for the women...."
The last figure to be seen in the procession is "La Dolorosa/ Virgin Mary" always carried by the women.
These processions are celebrated throughout the country in even the smallest town or village. Allthough all celebrations are beautiful, Antigua Guatemala rises high above the others, not only for the way they elaborate processions, but also for the spectacular surroundings. The ruins of ancient churches, monasteries and convents, provide the most stunning backdrop to these passionate pageants... Check out my Antigua Guatemala travelogue on processions and Holy Week in Antigua.