Santa Semana- Parque Central
Although most Guatemalans use this holiday as an excuse to visit the beach, there are still some major Santa Semana festivals in the city. Pretty much the whole city shuts down for 5 days and for those who do not leave, this is the only entertainment.
I think just walking the...
I think just walking the streets is the best way to enjoy Guatemala City. Street markets are very lively and more established inside ones, too. Also, there are some parks and monuments that you don't want to miss. Especially, the museum, cathedral, and the city hall, clustered together are must.
La Merced Church.
Built in 1813 this Neo classical style church and convent houses most of the Baroque altars brought from the original church in Antigua Guatemala. During the governement of Justo Rufino Barrios some church properties (like this one) were nationalized, and the convent became the headquarters of the National Police. In 1999 the property was returned to the church and restored. It´s now home to the Museum de la Merced, a four room museum with paintings and sculptures dated from the 17th to the 19th century. The organ has been called the most beautiful in the whole country (was played in the 1813 church inaguration). A must see in the city.
"Why visit this city?" many people ask. Most visitors to Guatemala simply leave the city for Antigua, the fascinating old colonial capital of Guatemala, a few hours away. But I decided to stay for a while in my desire to get to know more about the reasons why so many Guatemalans prefer to live here. I walked around the various "zonas" or zones in the city, rich and poor areas, and realised that Guatemala City does have some attraction for the locals, and even for outsiders. Yes, Guatemala City appears functional or utilitarian, devoid of ornate baroque buildings or fantastic sceneries that tourists crave for, but I like the idea that Guatemala City is the place to see modern-day Guatemalans, indigenous or Hispanic. Tourists go to Tikal to see pre-Columbian Guatemala, Antigua to see colonial Guatemala, but show no interest in seeing where Guatemala is now. Despite the lack of tourist sites, I still enjoyed what the city has to offer.
Guatemala City's street names use a very practical numerical system, which was decreed back in the 1870's. In numerical order, avenidas go north to south and the Calles go east to west, subdivided by 8 Calle and 6 Avenida with their respective parts north, south, west and east. The names of the suburbs, called zonas, also use the numerical system. Guatemalans know what your social standing is just by telling them the zone number of your address. And the differences can be staggering. The most prestigious ones are zona 9 and zona 10, where one can observe the pleasant lifestyle of their affluent residents. It's just to the south of wide Avenida de la Reforma, Guatemala City's pale imitation of Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma, and its main drag.
The city does have its share of old structures. Founded in 1775 as a result of having to reluctantly move the capital of Guatemala colony (then covering the entire Central America) from quake-prone Antigua, the city was centred at the Plaza de Armas which is bounded by the town hall (north), the green Palacio Real (west), the market (south), and the Cathedral (east). A few blocks from the grand plaza are houses built in a uniform "mudejar"style around smaller plazas. Zona 1 and zona 2 are the places to see the historical centre of the city. As the capital city, many civic buildings were built around zona 1.
By the turn of the century, Guatemala City became so Eurocentric that European immigration was encouraged and the city expanded westward by building the Avenida de la Reforma, taking an example from Champs Elysee. A cheap imitation of the Eiffel Tower was even built and it still stands today. Many of the affluent residents moved to the new fashionable suburbs and the Centro lost its glory days. Many modern buidlings were built around the Reforma and this is now the city's fashionable district for Guatemalans of Spanish descent.
The city has now grown to become Central America's largest city. Guatemala had its fair share of a history of political violence during the 20th century, and refugees from the countryside, mainly indigenous people, have flooded the city creating terrible socio-economic problems. In the outskirts of the city, lie some of the worst slums, worlds away from the trendy bars and restaurants in zona 9. And this is very much a reality for many Third World cities. Yet for some reason, Guatemala City has given these people a palce to stay albeit in squalor.