I guess what I don’t really like about Latin America is the expensive airfare. Take Guatemala, for example. For a flight that does not take more than two hours, you end up paying around USD250 for a roundtrip ticket. You can get a Manila – Hong Kong – Manila ticket for just 1/3 of that amount if you book early. Besides, the flight duration is almost the same. At least there are more low cost airlines plying Latin American routes now, even though it is not yet as robust as what we have back in Southeast Asia.
I don’t want to be a jerk, but I’m going to be blunt here. Skip Guate and head straight to either Antigua or Tikal. There isn’t much to see in the capital, a fact made even more obvious by the lack of tourists that you will see here. I ended up staying at Zone 1 which is the city’s historical center. They have around four or five museums, most of which are closed on weekends. And since I just came for a weekend trip, that kind of limited my choices as far as tourist attractions are concerned.
Guate does not have a metro, but rather relies on a BRT system which functions as such. Take advantage of it if ever you find yourself here. At just GTQ1 (~PHP6), it really is an affordable way to see the city. The caveat is that you need the GTQ coin for the turnstile. Guatemala has both coin and bill for GTQ1. Transfers are free because you are not leaving the elevated platform anyway. UBER is non-existent, and the taxis almost never use their meters. You have to negotiate beforehand, and they tend to quote astronomical prices.
Guate has not always been the capital of the country. They just moved the center here because a volcano decided to level Antigua a few centuries ago. The layout of the city is that of a grid, with “calles” north to south and “avenidas” west to east conveniently named in ascending ordinal numbers. Suffice it to say that only a complete idiot will get lost in this city considering its very logical orientation, not to mention its rather small size. A map is still handy if only to highlight the main tourist attractions you want to see.
What did I end up seeing then? The central park. There is this huge park in Zone 1 that has a big fountain as a centerpiece, with the Catedral Metropolitana and Museo Palacio Nacional completing the scenery on adjacent sides. This area comes alive during weekends, with families taking a stroll and just chillaxing. Slushee carts are also common and offer just the right kind of refreshment you need on a hot day. It was raining all the time when I was in Guate, though, which made me want to stay at home even more.
The Museo Palacio Nacional was also closed, but it wasn’t forbidden to loiter and just chill on the steps, which I did. I stayed there for half an hour, people-watching, when a teenager suddenly approached me and handed over a leaflet. He then started talking about God, and I was, like, I’m so not in the mood to talk about anything religion right now, dude. And so I put on my best Gringo accent and told him, “I don’t speak Spanish, bruh.” And then I looked him in the eye and said, “CONVERTO SOMEONE ELSO.”
I tried to hand him back the piece of paper but he told me in Spanish that he was giving it to me as a gift anyway. And so I faked a confused smile. We then exchanged man hugs, became the best of friends, and went on to braid each other’s hair. Nah, he just went ahead and tried to convert the middle-aged man chillaxing on the other side of the steps. As for me, I walked around and tried to get a feel of the city. To be honest, I don’t really like the vintage vibe of Guate. It was a good decision to opt for just a weekend trip.
And that was Guate for me. I planned to visit the Popol Vuh Museum Monday morning before my flight, but I just ended up sleeping longer. So yeah, this trip has been devoid of anything Maya for me. But maybe not for you. You can go to Flores on an overnight bus to see and explore Tikal. You can also use Guate as a transit point for either San Salvador or Copan Ruinas in Honduras. But then again, most tourists just go to Antigua, which is less than an hour away by bus.
[GUATEMALA CITY] Converto Someone Elso