With a strong Mayan heritage, colonial architecture and huge volcanoes rising in the distance, this archetypal Guatemalan town enthralls and educates.
Quetzaltenango (or Xela) is a charming town in the heart of the Sierra Madres mountains in Guatemala’s Western Highlands. First inhabited by Mayan people, the city fell under both Spanish and German influence before becoming an important coffee-trading center. Today, Quetzaltenango’s attractive center presents an interesting insight into its colorful past. Use the town as a starting point for hiking adventures to active volcanoes.
Xela’s focal point is its pretty main square, Parque Centro América (aka Quetzaltenango Central Park). Admire the collection of colonial buildings, including the Iglesia Catedral del Espíritu Santo (Quetzaltenango Cathedral), originally built in 1534. See items from Mayan artifacts to a taxidermy display at the Museum of Natural History. Take a break at one of the cafés lining the elegant Pasaje Enríquez.
Get an in-depth insight into the weaving industry of the Western Highlands at Trama Textiles. Shop for fresh produce, clothing and textiles at La Democracia Market. Watch a concert or play at the Municipal Theater. Enjoy sweeping city views and have fun on a 4-lane slide at Cerro El Baúl park atop a lava dome.
Find museums, dance studios and art galleries at the Centro Intercultural de Quetzaltenango. Learn about Mayan weaving traditions and see examples of regional costumes at the Ixkik Museum. Browse work by leading national artists at the Museo de Arte. Los Altos Railroad Museum documents the short-lived train service that ran between the city and Guatemala’s Pacific coast.
Experience the spectacular landscapes of the Western Highlands on hiking trips to Santa María Volcano and Tajumulco Volcano, which is Central America’s tallest point. Marvel at the tranquility of Chicabal Lake, a site considered sacred by the Mayas, and embark on a 3-day trek to Lake Atitlán. Revitalize your body at Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs.
Reach Quetzaltenango by flying to La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and catching a bus from there. Buses stop at Terminal Minerva, near Quetzaltenango’s city center. Find accommodations at the hotels and guesthouses located a short walk from the main square.