The city of Quetzaltenango – also known as Xela – is rarely included in travel routes for Guatemala. And we think that’s a shame. Of course we understand that in the event of a lack of time you put the big highlights Antigua, Lago di Atitlan and Tikal first. But if you have enough time, then travel a little further to Xela. Here a seven reasons why!
# 1 It is a paradise for hikers
More than Antigua and Atitlan, where many travelers do cool hikes, Xela is a hikers’ paradise. Around Quetzaltenango are some of the most impressive volcanoes in Guatemala. Did you know that the highest volcano is the Tujimal? From Xela you can undertake a multi-day trip to this summit of Central America. But even more nearby you can undertake a multi-day hike to the Santa Maria volcano or a half-day trip to the active Santiaguito.
And those are just the volcanoes. How about a multi-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan? Or to spend several days in the Xela area to visit local villages and authentic Mayan tribes? We do understand why many active travelers stay in this city for weeks.
# 2 Experience the real Guatemalan city life
Xela is also called the most typical Guatemalan city in the country. It is the largest city in Guatemala after Guatemala City, but there is less crime so this is a safe alternative to the capital. It is also nice that there are not as many tourists in Xela as in Antigua, for example. This makes the city less focused on foreigners and allows you to become more absorbed in the real Guatemala.
# 3 Breakfast at Xelapan is a must-do
Everyone in Guatemala knows the Xelapan chain, but the bakeries can only be found in Xela. Breakfast, coffee, sandwiches and sweets are all very cheap here. And all equally tasty! We are real breakfast people and in Quetzaltenango, Xelapan was definitely our favorite spot.
# 4 Find your home away from home at Mucha Arte Hostal
Our favorite place to sleep in Guatemala was with Patricia and Juan Carlos in Mucha Arte Hostal. The rooms are very spacious, the hotel is beautifully stylishly decorated and the owners are the best hosts. It might sound like an expensive boutique hotel, but the price will surprise you. For a room you pay (converted) only 15 to 20 euros! That is indeed so cheap that Mucha Arte is a popular base for travelers who stay in Xela longer. A visit to Xela alone is a must-do because of Mucha Arte Hostal.
# 5 Learn about local history and customs at the cemetery
In Latin America, cemeteries are true attractions and certainly also in Xela. The grave monuments are beautifully imposing and all different. From the size of the graves you can immediately see the social background of the family: the larger, the more important. In any case, visit the grave of Vanushka, who died of love sorrow according to legends and now revered and worshiped by singles (and the local beer of the same name). The graves of the two former presidents are also a must-visit. Presidents of Quetzaltenango to be precise. Did you know that this region has been independent of Guatemala for a short time?
Tip : Night tours of the cemeteries are also given. Maybe a bit spooky, but that is also fitting.
# 6 A perfect place to stay for a longer period of time
Because Xela is much less unsafe and touristy than the other larger places in Guatemala, it is a popular place for digital nomads or world travelers to stay longer. There are all kinds of possibilities for doing volunteer work and taking Spanish (private) lessons.
# 7 Visit the interesting local highlights in the area
Quetzaltenango has a nice atmosphere, but there are no real highlights besides the cemetery. You have it find it in the hilly surroundings. For example, visit the natural hot springs to float with dozens of locals in hot water. Or go to Zunil to see how the locals worship a cigar-smoking ‘saint’ and ask for health, love or just an X-box. You also have in the area of Quetzaltenango authentic villages where Mayan tribes live. With a guide you can also visit here.