Quetzaltenango, Guatemala is the country’s second-largest city, and it is most commonly known as Xela. Here you will also find the largest population of K’iche Mayan population. During the past few years, it has become a popular destination for travelers that want to learn some Spanish. It also offers great options for volunteers. Xela, Guatemala is a good region for travelers. A nice fact is that the name has the word Quetzal, which is the national bird of Guatemala!
Its original K’iche’ name is Xelajú, which was immortalized in the traditional song called “Luna de Xelaju” (Xelaju’s Moon). It is set on a valley right in between the near-perfect cone of 3,770-meter Santa María Volcano and the active Santiaguito Volcano.
The city itself is really cute to walk around. It’s easy to walk around. It can get hectic with people. There’s always some sort of a festival or something going on, but it’s fun. That makes it a little bit more fun.
Downtown offers the feel of a European highland city because of its architecture. It is remarkably safe for a city of its size and has a lively cultural scene peppered by the presence of an ever-increasing number of foreign visitors. It is also a place where you will find many great restaurants and some good hotels.
While you tour the city make sure to visit the Theater, the Central Park and the Railroad Museum. But if you prefer to spend some time among nature you can take a tour of the Santa Maria & Santiaguito Volcano.
How to Get to Xela?
There are quite a few ways to get there. Regardless of where you’re coming, from Antigua or the city or even Lake Atitlan, there are plenty of shuttles that go directly into Zone One in Xela, I think the shuttles can cost around $30 to $35 per person.
You could also get a private transfer, which is not that expensive, maybe $125 for up to like six people. You have to check with the different companies, the times that they get there.
Renting a Car
If you are renting a car or if you have your own car, it’s very easy to drive into. The traffic can be quite intense when you get to the actual city itself. But traffic is eternal in all parts of the world at this point, so it’s just something that is a norm.
The Top 5 Things to Do in Xela in Guatemala
1. Spanish Schools – Learn Spanish
The area is filled with Spanish schools offering private classes that will have you speaking Spanish in a short amount of time. The reason why Guatemala is such a good place to learn Spanish is because they have a relatively neutral pronunciation that works well with other Spanish-speaking countries.
Because of its location, Xela in Guatemala is an ideal place for many nonprofits to have their own office. It keeps them close to some of the communities that are most in need in the country, but still close enough to Guatemala city. All of these nonprofits are constantly looking for volunteers to help them out with different tasks. Joining them might help you give a little more meaning to your trip.
3. Volcano Hikes
There are three volcanoes nearby they are Santiguito, Santa María, and Cerro Quemado. Santiaguito is forbidden for hikers, it is too active and dangerous right now, so don’t buy into anyone telling you they can take you there. You don’t want to spend the night at the police station and get a fine. (This information is current as of August 2020)
But Santa Maria, right next to it is open for visitors, and from its summit, you get amazing views of the Santiaguito crater from a safe distance. Cerro Quemado used to be a huge volcano that exploded years ago and not it is just a black sea of cooled lava. But worth a visit.
4. Rock Climbing
These tours usually take place in the Cerro Quemado volcano. It has such a rugged terrain that in some spaces there are a few steep walls of rock that are perfect to practice some amazing rock climbing. These tours take almost all day.
5. Hot Springs
All three volcanoes are still not dormant. Santa Maria and Cerro Quemado aren’t actively erupting, but the magma chambers under them are still alive and working. This allows for nearby rivers and sources of water to heat up. The most well-known hot spring in the area is called Fuentes Feorginas. If you visit on a weekday in the morning, you will have the place almost for yourself. Don’t attempt to get there on a weekend if you want to avoid crowds.
6. Visit Zone One
Zone One is where the majority of the hotels are. Also, a lot of Airbnb are. Even though it is a historic area, you can definitely come there by car. The majority of airbnb and hotels have a place where you could leave a car, or a parking space, but you could pretty much walk all of Zone One very easily. It’s even very recommendable because the traffic can get pretty harsh. The streets are really narrow. So actually parking in a restaurant can be a bit of a pain in the butt, especially if you have a place where to leave your car.
7. Try Sheka Bread
The more popular thing there to try is the Sheka. It’s a bread which is very overrated in our opinion. It’s just bread filled with different fillings.
You could even get it in Xela Pan, which is one of the more popular panaderias or bakeries in the area. It’s located right there in Parque Central.
Quick Advice: This city is located in the highlands of Guatemala, so it gets very cold at night, especially in November so bring a couple of good Jackets.
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