Sights

The old centre of the city is Zona 1. It is still a busy shopping and commercial area, with some good hotels and restaurants, and many of the cheaper places to stay. However, the main activity of the city has been moving south, first to Zona 4, now to Zonas 9, 10 and 14. With the move have gone commerce, banks, embassies, museums and the best hotels and restaurants. The best residential areas are in the hills to the east, southeast and west.

Around Zona 1

At the city's heart lies the
Parque Central
. It is intersected by the north-to-south-running 6 Avenida, the main shopping street. The eastern half has a floodlit fountain; on the west side is
Parque Centenario
, with an acoustic shell in cement used for open-air concerts and public meetings. The Parque Central is popular on Sunday with many
indígenas
selling textiles.

To the east of the plaza is the cathedral, www.catedral.org.gt. It was begun in 1782 and finished in 1815 in classical style with notable blue cupolas and dome. Inside are paintings and statues from ruined Antigua. Solid silver and sacramental reliquary are in the east side chapel of the Sagrario. Next to the cathedral is the colonial mansion of the Archbishop. Aside from the cathedral, the most notable public buildings constructed between 1920 and 1944, after the 1917 earthquake, are the Palacio Nacional, built of light green stone, the Police Headquarters, the Chamber of Deputies and the Post Office. To the west of the cathedral are the Biblioteca Nacional and the Banco del Ejército. Behind the Palacio Nacional is the Presidential Mansion.

Museums in Zona 1 include the Museo Nacional de Historia, which has historical documents and objects from Independence onward. Museo de la Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala (MUSAC), www.musacenlinea.org, charts the history of the university. The Salón Mayor is where Guatemala signed its independence from Mexico in 1823, and in 1826, the Central American Federation, with Guatemala as the seat of power, abolished slavery in the union. 

Most of the churches worth visiting are in Zona 1. Cerro del Carmen, was built as a copy of a hermitage destroyed in 1917-1918, containing a famous image of the Virgen del Carmen. Situated on a hill with good views of the city, it was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1976 and remains in poor shape. La Merced, has beautiful altars, organ and pulpit from Antigua as well as jewellery, art treasures and fine statues. Santo Domingo, is a striking yellow colour, reconstructed after 1917, with an image of Nuestra Señora del Rosario and sculptures. Sagrado Corazón de Jesús, the colourful, exciting modern architecture was by a young Salvadorian architect who had not qualified when he built it. Part of the complex, built in 1963 (church, school and auditorium) is in the shape of a fish. The entrance is a giant arch of multicoloured stained glass, wonderfully illuminated at night. The walls are lined with glass confessionals. Las Capuchinas, has a very fine St Anthony altarpiece, and other pieces from Antigua. Santa Rosa, was used for 26 years as the cathedral until the present building was ready. The altarpieces are from Antigua (except above the main altar). San Francisco, a large yellow and white church that shows earthquake damage outside (1976), has a sculpture of the Sacred Head, originally from Extremadura, in Spain. Carmen El Bajo, was built in the late 18th century; again the façade was severely damaged in 1976.

North of the centre

Parque Minerva
,
has a huge relief map of the country made in 1905 to a horizontal scale of 1:10,000 and a vertical scale of 1:2,000. The park has basketball and baseball courts, bar and restaurant and a children's playground (unsafe at night). To get there, take bus V21 from 7 Avenida, Zona 4. Just beyond is a popular park, the
Hipódromo
which is packed on Sundays with bumper cars and mechanical games, and a great little train for kids.

South of the centre: Avenida La Reforma

The modern
Centro Cívico
, which links Zona 1 with Zona 4, includes the Municipalidad, the Palacio de Justicia, the Ministerio de Finanzas Públicas, the Banco de Guatemala, the mortgage bank, the social-security commission and the tourist board. The curious
Teatro Nacional
, with its blue and white mosaic, dominates the hilltop of the west side of the Centro Cívico. There is an excellent view of the city and surrounding mountains from the roof. An old Spanish fortress provides a backdrop to the open-air theatre adjoining the Teatro Nacional.

Cuatro Grados Norte, located on Vía 5 between Ruta 1 and Ruta 2, is a pedestrianized area that has grown up around the IGA theatre and bookshop (a cultural centre, which sometimes has interesting concerts and exhibitions). Cafés and bars have tables on the street and it's safe and fun to wander around at night. The Centro Cultural de España is located here with live music, films, exhibitions and conferences, there is also a branch of Sophos, an excellent bookshop. On Saturdays there is a street market with craft and jewellery stalls, often cultural events in the street. On Sundays there are clowns and events for children. It's a strange mix of wealthy Guatemalans strolling with their poodles and alternative street-market types; sit back and enjoy watching the people.

To see the finest residential district go south down 7 Avenida to Ruta 6, which runs diagonally in front of Edificio El Triángulo, past the orange Capilla de Yurrita. Built as a private chapel in 1928 on the lines of a Russian Orthodox church, it has been described as an example of “opulent 19th-century bizarreness and over-ripe extravagance”. There are many woodcarvings, slender white pillars, brown/gold ornamentation and an unusual blue sky window over the altar. Ruta 6 runs into the wide tree-lined Avenida La Reforma.

To the east, in Zona 10, are some excellent museums. Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena,www.museo ixchel.org, has a collection of indigenous dress. In addition to the clothes there are photos from the early 20th century, paintings and very interesting videos. A shop sells beautiful textiles that aren't available on the tourist market, prices are fixed, and quality costs. Museo Popol Vuh de Arqueología, www.populvuh.ufm.edu.gt, has an extensive collection of pre-Columbian and colonial artefacts, as well as a replica of the Dresden Codex, one of the only Maya parchment manuscripts in existence. Museo de Historia Natural de la USAC y Jardín Botánico, has gardens, stuffed animals and live snakes.

In Parque Aurora, Zona 13, in the southern part of the city, are La Aurora International Airport, the Observatory, racetrack and Parque Zoológico La Aurora. The newer areas show greater concern for the animals' well-being. There are also several museums: Museo Nacional de Antropolgía y Etnología. Outstanding Maya pieces including stelae from Piedras Negras and typical Guatemalan dress, as well as good models of Tikal, Quiriguá and Zaculeu. There are sculptures, murals, ceramics, textiles, a collection of masks and an excellent jade collection. Around the corner is the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, which houses a collection of national fauna, including stuffed birds, animals, butterflies, geological specimens, etc. Opposite the archaeology museum, the Museo de Arte Moderno, has a modest but enjoyable collection. Next door is the Museo de los Niños, an interactive museum with a gallery of Maya history and the Gallery of Peace which houses the world's largest single standing artificial tree - a ceiba.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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