We survived four days and nights in Guatemala City! It may be one of the more dangerous cities we’ve been in as we start to approach three years on the road, so surviving without getting robbed or mugged or anything feels like an accomplishment. As Lonely Planet describes the city, depending on who you talk to it’s “either big, dirty, dangerous, and utterly forgettable or big, dirty, dangerous, and fascinating.” Either way, dangerous is a key part of the description. And while my impression was closer to forgettable than fascinating, there were pieces of it we really liked.
First, the basics. The capital of Guatemala, it has an official population of just over a million people, but the metropolitan area as a whole is home to about 4.5 million people; either way, it is the largest city in Central America. And pretty much anything you read about the city says to be careful, that street crime is present and seems to be increasing. So we were careful. We’d leave our iPads in the hotel along with extra cash and credit cards, sometimes even Mark’s AppleWatch. When we were out and about he’d have me stand guard as he’d study a map on his iPhone. And of course the most basic: we stayed in heavily trafficked areas and were careful to pretty much never find ourselves on a street alone. It did occur to me at one point, though, as I was scanning the street in front to make sure someone else was around, that the person I saw could be the person who would mug us.
But nothing bad happened. We stayed in Zone 10, the nicest part of town with pretty good and pretty obvious security (i.e., armed guards all over). We walked one day from our neighborhood into the heart of the city, but did it all on very heavily trafficked streets. And there was a very pleasant thin stretch of green parkway along Avenue of the Americas, right near our hotel that provided all the running, walking, sitting, and reading space we needed. That area was sort of like a poor man’s Commonwealth Ave. in Boston, with periodic statues of famous men (I think they were all men, too) from Spanish colonial history. Christopher Columbus, Josè Marti of Cuba, Chilean independence leader Bernardo O’Higgins, Simón Bolivár, San Martín – they were all there. (Question: what the hell was a guy named O’Higgins doing leading the Chilean independence movement?)Why Guatemala City? Because we could. Mostly we were just hanging out waiting for Mark’s parents, who are joining us for a two-week trip around Guatemala. Mark & I were in Guatemala four years ago and we loved parts of the country, but during that trip we avoided Guatemala City. This time, with time to spare, we figured we’d give it a shot. Along with the parkway that I loved, there were some very good restaurants down in our Zone 10 neighborhood (also known as Zona Viva), and even a bar in the Intercontinental Hotel that made good martinis for less than $6.00 USD each. Not bad – until we went there on our last evening, a Sunday, and found it closed. Tragic. Weird, too, to find the bar at a major international hotel closed. We did survive, however.
I should add that we spent one night in a little city called Huehuetenango (pronounced just as it’s spelled) en route from Mexico down to Guatemala City. Nothing much to report; it was just a stop to break up the long trip, get Guatemalan SIM cards for our iPhones, and experience a little bit of comparatively normal, non-touristy Guatemala.
Next stop after we pick up Mark’s parents at the airport, Antigua, one of the most beautiful Spanish colonial cities in the world.