Top Five Things to Do In: Quetzeltenango, Guatemala

IMG_9623Once the main hub for the Mayan Civilization, Guatemala is now the most-visited country in Central America. Quetzaltenango, which is often shortened to Xela (shell-ah), is a clean, and safe city that often attracts a more serious type of traveler who wants to improve their Spanish, explore the mountainous terrain, and get involved in the community and culture.

Geography
One of Guatemala’s biggest attractions is its geography. Guatemala is home to 33 volcanoes both dormant and active. Volcán Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes and with its frequent eruptions, it has become a popular tourist attraction. Visitors climb the steep terrain to the top where if you’re not already out of breath from the hike, the stunning views of mountainous landscape will be sure to take your breath away. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to see flowing lava or spewing fountains. Make sure you bring plenty of water and some marshmallows to roast at the top!

Learn
There are various language schools in Xela to help you sharpen you Spanish skills. In addition to Spanish lessons, many of the schools offer opportunities for you to immerse yourself in the Guatemalan culture through home stays, cultural activities such as salsa classes, and volunteer opportunities like helping at a hospital or teaching English to elementary students.

Parque Central Quetzaltenango
Xela is considered Guatemala’s cultural capital. Parque Central is the heart of Quetzaltenango, making it a great place to experience Guatemalan culture. Located between three volcanoes, this major culture hub serves as a great hang out for locals and tourists and is home to beautiful architectural structures and a Catholic cathedral circa 1900, which has delicately carved stone work and colorful art. Also, if you’re feeling a little ambitious you can walk up to the Templo La Transfiguracion and marvel at the spectacular panorama of the city and surrounding mountains. Parque Central Quetzaltenango is also a fantastic spot to spend the afternoon with a book or people watching.

Coffee
Coffee is Guatemala’s largest export. Guatemala has a very suitable temperature, climate, and geography for healthy growth and abundant production of coffee. Guatemala has eight different coffee growing regions: each provides a unique bean for refreshing differences in your cup. If you think the Guatemalan Antigua coffee at Starbucks is good, wait till you try it fresh in its home country! For the real coffee enthusiasts, you can visit the Finca coffee farm just outside Quetzaltenango and learn about the growing and roasting process.

Chocolateria of Dona Pancha
Similar to coffee, chocolate is very popular in Guatemala. Visit this local family owned chocolate shop and learn how they make chocolate and about the culture and history behind chocolate-making. Try any or all of their 18 different chocolate flavors or make your own chocolate from raw cacao beans.

In conclusion
Quetzaltenango is a great place for the active traveler who also enjoys the simple things in life. Energize for a day of hiking on any of the surrounding mountains with a cup of the locally grown coffee, relax with some of Dona Pancha’s chocolate in Parque Central, or sharpen your Spanish skills and get involved in the community. Immerse yourself in Xela’s rich culture and history and you will most certainly not be disappointed!

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