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It is a green city in a green country. The trees embellishing its streets, such as the matilisguate or the jacaranda, are protected in 95 square kilometers of natural areas. In Guatemala you can truly breathe. After all, it is the capital of one of the most mega diverse countries in the world according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
And when you look up, you see volcanoes.
A little higher, there’s the sky that the Mayas consulted at night. Here, the Spanish legacy (little by little, 96 Catholic churches were built) and the Mayan civilization (the oldest of its settlements, called Kaminaljuyú, is located here) are brought together.
When leaving the city, valleys, rivers and lakes appear... and, of course, great archaeological remains.
Today, Guatemala City, with an area of 692 square kilometers and close to 4 million inhabitants, is the largest city in Central America.
It’s also a place where theater, cinema and painting come to the suburbs. In 2015, it was chosen as the Ibero-American Capital of Culture for its project 'Cultura en tu barrio' ('Culture in your neighborhood'). In 2006, the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art of New York recognized Guatemala City as an innovative urban center for its urban plan as well as for its pedestrian passages, squares and gardens.
Guatemala is a country where trees abound: its capital has about 300 parks and 22 square meters of green space per inhabitant, much more than what is recommended by the World Health Organization (between 10 and 15 square meters). It comes as no surprise then that the name Guatemala comes from Nahuatl 'Quauhtlemallan', which means 'place of many trees'.
For the past 20 years this private park, located in zone 11, has allowed the citizens of the capital to get in touch with nature amidst an urban setting. The park has 500 square meters of pine forests where you can find flowers such as orchids and chrysanthemums, an artificial lake for canoeing and climbing walls.
It also has a farm where visitors can observe the traditional processes of collecting eggs, milking cows and raising animals such as ducks and goats. Somewhere between its gardens, the Blue Tree coffee house is a good place to have the traditional corn tortilla with beef or to drink cashew and mango smoothies.
This place is not only famous for its 900 animals; its 16 blocks of wooded land make it one of the largest gardens in the city.
Founded in 1924, the zoo was part of an urban plan to turn the south of the capital into a leisure zone with parks, museums and a racetrack. Today, this project is the only one standing and is a conservation site for species such as the ceiba (Guatemala's national tree).
Here you can also visit Casa del Té, a construction of the early 20th century inspired by the Renaissance period and surrounded by nine marble sculptures representing deities of America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
The philosophy behind this initiative is: "Let's write a new Guatemala." At the Eco Park, this dream has come true through the integration of the 'barrancos': areas of the city located on the hills that represent 42% of the entire territory of the capital.
Architects such as Hans Schwarz, Jorge Villatoro and Julián Castillo, along with artists and academics, created public spaces in the barrancos at zone 15 so people could walk along green paths and exercise in nature. In 2017, this initiative received an award at the Bienale Spazio Público in Rome.
Throughout its 17,600 square meters, about 1,300 plants provide air to Guatemala City. Since its foundation in 1922, this space, the first of its kind in Central America, has been a sanctuary for the preservation of the country's flora (considered mega diverse).
Each year, walking along its paths, ten thousand visitors observe trees such as the palo lagarto, the conacaste and the sapotaceae. In addition, during the tour you can see the curious sculpture of 'La Chata' (or 'The Snub-Nosed'), whose name was given after the earthquake of 1918, when she lost her nose.
Since its foundation in 1995 as a protected green area within the city, this Eco Park is a meeting point for bird watchers. Its forests are the habitat of 108 species of birds, including the mockingbird, the rattle and the black-headed jumper.
Its 32 hectares are the refuge of butterflies, squirrels, rabbits, weasels, small amphibians and reptiles. In addition to protecting the fauna and flora, the park's mission is to protect the sources of water that cross it, such as the Contreras River. Here you can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Birds, which teaches about endemic and migratory species.
In the 18th century, the Spanish friar Francisco Ximénez discovered a Mayan text written around the year 1550 in the Quiché language: the Popol Vuh (which can be translated as Book of Counsel). This museum, with six thousand archaeological pieces, was founded in 1977 and displays the origin, ascent and consolidation of the Mayan people.
Its eight rooms are dedicated to ceramic, carved stone, obsidian and alabaster artifacts that this civilization perfected during 18 centuries. Here you can also visit the largest collection of funeral urns in Guatemala and the colonial art room that exhibits pieces of Christian imagery, baroque painting and silverware.
Out of the approximately 16 million people living in Guatemala, between 41% and 50% are indigenous. That is why this museum, founded in 1973, wants to preserve, investigate and display its history through clothing.
The 7,801 fabrics are organized chronologically from 1532 to mid-20th century in order to understand how the contact with Europeans gradually modified designs, materials and symbols. Its permanent exhibition, donated mostly by private collectors, has costumes that represent the country's 186 indigenous ethnic groups.
Most of the art exhibited in this place is anonymous. The hands behind the details in the wood, the silver, the fabrics and the paintings worked with a single mission: to worship. However, among the eighty pieces exhibited (of a total of about 200 collected and preserved between the archdioceses of Antigua Guatemala and Guatemala City), there are names like the one of the Dominican friar Juan Chaves or the artisan silversmith Miguel Guerra.
The museum, founded in 2005, has the largest collection of ecclesiastical art of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries in the city.
According to the National Geographic Institute, in Guatemala there are three active volcanoes and 29 more at rest. Of course, obsidian—a rock produced from volcanic lava—was a valued mineral for the Mayans.
This archaeological zone was discovered in 1936 and, since its original name is unknown, it was named Kaminaljuyu: Colina del Muerto (The Hill of the Dead). Today, in this site you can visit the vestiges of its pyramids, an exhibition of obsidian artifacts (weapons, masks and ritual objects) and an artisanal ceramic, alabaster and jade sample.
Built in 1939, its original name was National Museum of History and Fine Arts; however, in 1990 the government decided to rename it to honor one of the country's most representative artists, Carlos Mérida, who rubbed shoulders in Paris with Picasso and Diego Rivera. Mérida developed the art of muralism; his work can be found in Mexico at UNAM and in Guatemala at the Civic Center.
The museum's permanent collection, consisting of approximately 500 pieces, establishes a chronological tour through Guatemalan art since the 1900’s through the lives of people such as Agustín Iriarte, Carlos Valenti or Roberto González Goyri. And, of course, Carlos Mérida, whose room comprises approximately 400 pieces between photographs, lithographs and sculptures.
The Guatemalan artisans inherited the Mayan culture, the Spanish colony and the Caribbean influences. In 2017, Guatemala exported 80 million tons of handicrafts, equivalent to 63 million dollars. Multicolored sculptures, native stone jewelry and typical costumes are sought in the US and European markets. This is a route through the main markets were you can buy handicrafts.
Its proximity to the city's airport, the National Museum of Modern Art and the zoo has turned this place into a popular stop. For 44 years, in this market you can find huipiles (typical indigenous costumes), clay pots and vases, woven beads, blankets and masks that represent Mayan rituals.
During the entire year, this market displays the color of its flowers. Its construction, carried out in 1971, was part of the plan to modernize the capital. In its 185 stands you can find roses, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, gladioli and the monja blanca, an orchid variety that is Guatemala’s national flower.
There are 1,600 square meters that adjoin the Cemetery of Guatemala City, so it is possible to observe the funeral arrangements made by Guatemalan artisans.
What began on February 15th, 1871 as merely a group of 60 outdoor stores, today is a 9,334 square meter complex with three floors.
The first floor, dedicated to handicrafts, comprises 310 stalls that sell objects like the 'muñecas quitapenas' (cloth dolls believed to make anguish disappear), backpacks made with traditional fabrics, sandals, wristbands and handmade wicker baskets.
On the second floor, dedicated to gastronomy, you can try one of the country’s most typical dishes: the pepián: a chicken stew with chili sauce and seeds, which in 2007 was considered a cultural heritage of the nation.
400 stores selling products as varied as typical costumes, crafts, fruits, vegetables, shoes and typical food.
The real allure of this place is its piñata shops: in its outdoor stalls you can buy these figures made of wire, paper, glue and paint that represent superheroes, Guatemalan myths, politicians, cartoon characters, animals and many more.
Specialty: authentic Guatemalan cuisine.
Chef Diego Telles travelled to Spain and Denmark to study cooking. For 16 years he has turned each dish into a small story or a trip. That is the philosophy of Flor de Lis, a restaurant that has positioned itself in only five years as a place to try outstanding signature cuisine. "With our food we recreate the Popol Vuh, a Mayan book that we all read as children," he says.
This story comes to live on the sweet and steaming corn croquettes with quesillo. However, the dishes change according to the season: herbs, spices and mushrooms are grown in pots or collected in a vegetable garden in the city. Without a doubt, the tomato confit, the only permanent dish on the menu, is a must: a nixtamalized, fermented and pickled sweet "that takes you back to your childhood," according to Diego.
Specialty: guatemalan cuisine.
Twenty-five years ago, a Greek man opened a Guatemalan restaurant: Demetrio Moliviatis traveled through the 22 departments of the country to taste their seasoning, learn about its ingredients and fall in love with food. He is the father of the current chef, Mirciny Moliviatis, who explains how typical Guatemalan dishes are prepared by a Greek family: "My father is more Guatemalan than anyone, because he decided to be one." She grew up surrounded by pots and pans, bubbling soups and aromatic spices. To perfect her vocation, she traveled to Spain and trained with chef stars such as Karlos Arguiñano and Juan Mari Arzak.
Siete Caldos rescues the country's culinary wealth. Its ingredients come from market squares, orchards and regions that offer chili peppers, tomatoes, spices, beans and other products that will turn into a kak'ik (a slightly spicy soup with turkey) or a suban'ik (a tamale served in mazán leaves).
Specialty: guatemalan cuisine.
As an anthropologist and a member of the indigenous community of Santa María de Chiquimula, a town 164 kilometers from Guatemala City, Rosa Pu Tzunux felt the need to recover traditional Mayan food. This recovery did not only intend to explore flavors, "but also the centennial processes, from the very essence of the craft", as Rosa says. Thus, the cooking, the pickled vegetables, the seasoning and the service seek to emulate Mayan traditions.
The restaurant is a meeting point where you can try communal dining, with meals prepared in sight and by the fire. The ingredients are all Guatemalan and include corn, different types of chills, spices and cocoa, a special ingredient for Rosa given its historical Mayan importance. Some of the most representative dishes on the menu are the Mayan barbecue, shrimp to King Kiq'ab's taste and ' pato al tukan'.
It means 'red' or 'very spicy': a soup prepared with chili, achiote, cilantro and a turkey drumstick on the side.
It is made with different types of chili peppers, garlic, pepitoria seeds, sesame and chicken. Along with kak'ik, it is considered an intangible heritage of Guatemala.
Known as 'Misha', Mirciny is head chef at Siete Caldos family restaurant. A chef with 25 years of experience in typical Guatemalan dishes such as kak'ik, suban'ik and shrimp casseroles. Trained by internationally renowned chefs such as Karlos Arguiñano and Juan Mari Arzak, Mirciny travels her country with her show Desafío Culinario to explore Guatemalan tradition. She is also an award-winning author: her book Vivir la receta was recognized in 2016 as the second-best recipe book at the Gourmand Awards in China.
This dessert contains two of the most basic ingredients of Guatemalan cuisine: plantain and beans.
For 4 servings:
From january 18 to february 23.
Teatro Manuel Galich de la Universidad Popular.
January 12 and 13.
Explanada Cardales Cayalá.
From march 1 to march 3.
Parque de la Industria.
La Aurora International Airport, located in zone 13, within the city.
23 °C (73 °F)
Buses (Tansmetro): from 4:30 to 22:00. * The system has 6 lines. Upon arrival in Guatemala City, check the schedules, which may vary according to the day and the line. Price: 1.00 GTQ (0.13 USD) per ticket. Taxis: minimum rate: 25.00 GTQ (3.24 USD).
3-star hotel: 563.45 GTQ (73.27 USD) per person. 5-star hotel: 733.72 GTQ (95.41 USD) per person.