Quetzaltenango, also known by its Mayan name Xela (Shay-la), is the second largest city in Guatemala and one of it’s most rewarding travel destinations. Here are our top 10 things to do in and around the city. Enjoy!
1. Visit El Cementario General
It might sound like a morbid suggestion, but Guatemala approaches their cemeteries with vibrance and beauty and the cemetery near El Calvario is no exception. Take an hour or two to wander through the aisles of brightly colored tombstones and family mausoleums.
2. Dive into a bustling market
Do like the locals do and head to one of Xela’s markets to pick up fresh produce, electronics, toiletries, clothes or just about anything you might want to find. You have plenty of options to stroll through, with La Democracia, Minerva, Las Flores and Municipal all offering glimpses into Guatemalan daily life.
3. Climb a nearby volcano
Guatemala – the land of volcanoes! No visit to Xela is complete without climbing to the highest point in Central America (Volcán Tajumulco) or watching Santiaguito erupt from the top of Volcán Santa María. Quetzaltrekkers offers hikes to both – find out more here.
4. Eat delicious street food
Tostadas (fried corn tortillas topped with mixed vegetables), pupusas (thick corn tortillas usually stuffed with cheese and/or pork skin), elote (corn on the cob), chocobananos (frozen bananas coated in chocolate) and 3 for Q10 tacos (a QT favourite!) – Xela’s range of street food is as diverse as it is delicious. Take your pick from the many vendors set up around Parque Central.
5. Hunt for bargains at MegaPaca
Whether you’ve lost your luggage, didn’t pack enough for the chilly nights or just need some retail therapy, clothing giant MegaPaca has got you covered. Located next to the Minerva bus terminal, you could spend hours here browsing the second-hand goodies that get shipped in from the US.
6. Learn español
One of the main reasons travellers pass through Xela, the city is home to many affordable and high-quality schools where you can brush up your Spanish skills in no time. You can find a list of them here.
7. Volunteer your time
Xela and its surrounds are ripe with worthwhile volunteer opportunities. Check out EntreMundos for a comprehensive list of organisations in need, or learn more about getting involved with EDELAC, Hogar Hovde or Quetzaltrekkers.
8. Witness a Mayan ceremony from up high
La Muela (The Molar), part of Cerro Quemado, is a volcanic dome field where many Guatemalans perform sacred worship rituals. It also offers some of the best rock climbing in the country, and it’s not uncommon to hear gospel singing and chanting echoing off the walls as you scale heights. Quetzaltrekkers offers 1 and 2 day climbing trips here; contact us for more information.
9. Eat delicious baked goods
If you’re here on Tuesday or Friday, a visit to The Bake Shop near Mercado de la Democracia is a must do. The donuts, pumpkin bread and cookies at this Mennonite-owned bakery will satisfy any sweet tooth. And for those other times, there’s always Xelapan.
10. Soak it up at Fuentes Georginas
Just a short chicken bus ride away is the town of Zunil, where you can catch a pickup to the natural thermal baths of Las Fuentes Georginas. Or for the ultimate day out, join us on our combo hike where you’ll climb up Volcán Santa María in the morning and relax your muscles in the hot springs in the afternoon. Bliss!