Guatemala City, or Guate to the locals, isn't what you'd call a pretty city. Nor, for that matter, is it an especially safe one. Your first clue of that will be the guards with pump-action shotguns outside every store, followed closely by the prodigious amounts of razor wire strewn over everything.1 It's a big, sprawling metropolis where population growth has outpaced the city's ability to deal with it.
Security is a major problem, and poverty is rampant. The city has an official census population of almost 2.5 million, but the actual population is almost certainly millions more--in recent years there has been a flood of people that haven't been counted.
So it doesn't come as much surprise that Guatemala City has an uphill battle ahead of it to attract tourism. Most tourists use the airport--and it's a surprisingly modern and efficient one at that--and then head straight for the much more inviting Antigua about 45 minutes away. That said, in the center of Guatemala City, in Zona 1, radiating from the Parque Central (Plaza de la Constitucion), there are some impressive churches, markets, and museums worth seeing.
Photos of Zone 1 in Guatemala City
What to Know Before you Go
- If you need more evidence, check out David Grann, "A Murder Foretold: Unravelling the Ultimate Political Conspiracy," New Yorker, 4 April 2011. ↩
Travel Advice for Guatemala
You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Guatemala (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.
Health & Vaccinations
The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Guatemala here.