With some delay, I’m finally writing my first blog post from Guatemala. I’ve arrived safely and am so glad to have escaped our stupid European weather. Not to make you jealous: But while writing this, I’m sitting on my hostel’s rooftop terrace with a view on three volcanoes and 24°C plus sunshine and a blue sky.
Zona 1 en la Ciudad de Guatemala
After visiting friends in Tampa whom I’ve met during my exchange in Bangkok, my friend from Guatemala City picked me up at the airport which I was so grateful for. I was being approached by so many men offering me taxi rides, usage of their phone, etc. and the first phrase I’ve found to be most useful is “No, gracias!”. I was happy not having to find my around to a trustworthy taxi. The next day, I first accompanied my friend to some of his retail shops (clothes made in Guatemala) before he showed me around the city. We walked through the scenic Centro Histórico in Zona 1, where you find the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura. Take a tour, the building is impressive. Kilómetro 0 is here, meaning that all of Guatemala’s highways start there.
Palacio Nacional de la Cultura
|Kilómetro 0 inside the National Palace|
In front of the Palace is the Parque Central and the Catedral Metropolitana is just next to it as well. It’s a nice place to hang out and enjoy some afternoon sun. Just walk a little further and you’ll get to Mercado Central serving cheap and delicious local food. There are also quite a few shops selling almost anything, including fruits and vegetables, clothes, souvenirs, and so on. It’s worth a visit.
For some afternoon drinks, we were moving up a hill to Paseo Cayala which is said to have been build as private city for the rich to escape crime. And it is indeed nothing like the rest of the city. Fine dining is available here and it is apparently also a good place to party.
Let me tell you a bit about my impressions of Guatemala City where I have spent my first two days after arriving from Florida. To be honest, my expectations weren’t too great after having read the Lonely Planet and several other Internet sources. I expected a very dangerous place where I would not enjoy walking through the streets. I have felt just as safe as in other “Third World” countries, and to be honest, safer than in India. BUT: Guatemala City is still one of the most dangerous cities in the world and it does frequently occur that people rob you while pointing a gun at you (this has happened to my Guatemalan friend while he was in his car). My Spanish teacher told me she went to a hospital in the city using a public bus and three guys came in, took out their guns and robbed everyone on the bus. You can, however, get by without anything happening to you and I think unlike in other countries I’ve been to (e.g. India or Thailand), thieves don’t go specifically after tourists but anyone. You should know which places to avoid and be attentive (which you should always be in any touristy place). And in case something should happen to you, it is always good not to have all your belongings with you. Take just as much money as you need at the moment, don’t take your passport and other papers if you don’t have to (but if you would like to pay with credit card, you will (or should) always be asked for some kind of ID). I also wasn’t sure about taking my SLR camera but even that wasn’t a problem, just hold on to it tightly. I’m blonde, so I automatically draw the locals attention. You should adapt your outfits to the local style if you don’t wanna stand out all too much which could also help you avoid getting robbed. Long pants aren’t really a must, I saw quite a lot of shorter pants and skirts/dresses but it is really up to you. Generally, the more “upscale” the place, the more people’s styles resemble that of Europe/the USA.
Overall, the city is very clean, especially when compared to other developing countries – I’ve heard the mayor loves his city clean. A real treat for me, particularly after my experience in India. There does exist a huge gap between rich and poor. The middle class is small and growing only slowly. Just as I expected, luxurious skyscrapers exist next to shabby shacks and poverty is (almost) everywhere.
My El Tunco (El Salvador) adventure will follow soon and I’ll also keep you posted on my current stay in Antigua where I’m studying Spanish five hours of Spanish per day, five days a week.