Last week, I booked a quick trip to Guatemala City on a whim. I briefly read up about visiting other places in Guatemala like Antigua and Lake Atitlan. I really only had two full days, so I decided to spend both days in Guatemala City. It was my first time to Guatemala City and I did not know what to expect because there was not much written about it online.
Airport Arrival – The arrivals hall is pretty non-threatening. There aren’t any taxi hawkers and it was pretty opposite of what I experienced in Lima International Airport. Be aware that there aren’t any ATM’s at GUA airport in the arrivals hall. Apparently taxi drivers take US Dollars at La Aurora Airport (GUA), so don’t worry. It’s best to exchange money at the hotel, bank, or pull money out of the ATM in the city. I read online that there were shared shuttle vans to Antigua that left every 30 minutes, but I did not see any of that. I did not even see people holding signs that said “Antigua” and I thought that was strange. I guess the only other option is a $35 USD taxi or more for a private car. Anyways, I would suggest getting in touch with tour companies beforehand to set up a shared shuttle service. I really don’t think they exist in GUA airport anymore. I read online that you should make friends with people in the arrivals hall and split a taxi fare to Antigua as an alternative.
Hotels – I stayed at the Westin Camino Real and the Radisson Guatemala City, which are one of the very few chain hotels in Zona 10 (Zona Viva). I booked those two hotels because I read it was in the safest zones of Guatemala City. I had a fantastic stay at both hotels, barring a hiccup at the Radisson which I tweeted about a few days ago. Zona 10 is indeed very safe, but it is really far from all the points of interests, especially Zona 1 (Centro). There is no authentic Guatemala City experience in Zona 10 where most of the luxury hotels are. It’s fully Americanized with familiar US chain restaurants like Applebees, Chili’s, and Hard Rock Café. There’s even a mall that’s a 10 minute walk that looks exactly like a mall you would find in the US with familiar names like Guess, Calvin Klein, etc.
Public Transportation – I really wanted to avoid taxis and I learned about the Transmetro system in Guatemala City. It’s basically a bus rapid transit system with its own dedicated lanes. There was a stop close to the hotel within a 5 minute walking distance. I showed the transit officer a 1 Quetzel bill and she refused to let me on because the system only accepted coins. I saw the “bill” portion of system all taped up so I thought it was out of order. I walked up further to the next bus stop to try and see if it accepted bills. Unfortunately it did not, but the nice transit officer let me on any way. Eventually, I found that the BRT (bus rapid transit) system only accepts coins. Major stations have a place to change bills to coins. In the less busy stations, there is no one to make change for coins.
The City – Guatemala City is pretty large and is comprised of 22 subdivided zones. I mostly hanged out in Zona 1 (Historico Centro) and Zona 10 (Zona Viva), where my hotels were located. I did visit several other zones, but will detail them in a future full trip report. The Guatemalan people are very friendly and approachable. I was pretty much a gringo and got stared at from everyone in every zone other than Zona 10 (where the gringos hang out). Tourism is very low in Guatemala City and I can see why because the infrastructure is lacking. There is no fast subway or light rail people mover system. The streets are in disrepair and graffiti is everywhere. Each shop (no matter how small) has its own security guard and the guards carry large shotguns, pistols, and automatic weapons.
Again, I will have a full trip report of my Guatemala City experience in the future.