Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Region: Quetzaltenango is located in the department of Quetzaltenango

Geographic Coordinates: 14.833300, -91.516700
Temperature Range: 10.0°C to 25.0°C (50°F to 77°F)
Climate: Seasonal.
Population: 225000
Language: Spanish

Quetzaltenango, Also known as Xela, Is a vibrant city located in the western highlands of Guatemala. It is the second-largest city in the country and sits at an altitude of 2, 333 meters above sea level. The name Quetzaltenango means the place of the quetzal bird in Nahuatl and refers to the beautiful bird that inhabits this region. The city has a rich history dating back to pre-Columbian times when it was inhabited by various Mayan groups.

During colonial times, Quetzaltenango became an important center for trade and commerce due to its strategic location on the main route between Mexico City and Guatemala City. Today, It remains an important commercial hub for western Guatemala. One of Quetzaltenango’s most striking features is its stunning architecture. The city boasts numerous colonial-era buildings with intricate facades and ornate details such as wrought-iron balconies and colorful tiles.

Some notable examples include the Municipal Palace, Which houses a small museum showcasing local history and culture; La Iglesia del Espiritu Santo, A beautiful church built-in 1565; and La Casa de la Cultura (The House of Culture), Which hosts art exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year. Another highlight of Quetzaltenango is its lively markets where locals sell everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts. The Mercado Central (Central Market) is one of the largest markets in Guatemala offering goods at affordable prices.

Visitors can sample traditional Guatemalan dishes such as tamales or chuchitos (corn-based snacks) or browse through colorful textiles made by local artisans. For those interested in outdoor activities, There are several options available near Quetzaltenango such as Lake Atitlan located about two hours away from Xela by car or bus which offers hiking kayaking or simply relaxing on shore surrounded by towering volcanoes Another nearby attraction is Fuentes Georginas hot springs, Located in the nearby town of Zunil. These natural hot springs are said to have healing properties and are a great place to unwind after exploring.

Quetzaltenango is home to several educational institutions including Universidad Rafael Landivar and Universidad Mariano Galvez which attract students from all over Guatemala providing opportunities for cultural exchange and language learning. Quetzaltenango is a fascinating city with much to offer visitors. Its rich history, Stunning architecture, Vibrant markets, And proximity to natural attractions make it an ideal destination for those seeking an authentic Guatemalan experience.

Important Landmarks

  1. Santa María Volcano is a popular hiking destination that offers stunning views of Quetzaltenango and the surrounding mountains.
  2. Parque Central is the central park of Quetzaltenango, surrounded by historic buildings and a bustling market.
  3. La Democracia Market is a vibrant market that sells local produce, handicrafts, and traditional clothing.
  4. El Calvario Church is a beautiful church located on a hill overlooking the city.
  5. Los Altos Museum is an excellent museum showcasing the history and culture of Quetzaltenango and its surrounding areas.
  6. Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs are natural hot springs located in the nearby mountains, offering relaxing pools and stunning views.
  7. Cerro el Baúl is a hilltop archaeological site with ancient Mayan ruins and panoramic views of Quetzaltenango.
  8. San Francisco El Alto Market is one of Guatemala’s largest indigenous markets, selling everything from textiles to livestock.
  9. Casa de la Cultura de Quetzaltenango serves as a cultural center hosting art exhibits, concerts, theater performances, workshops, lectures etc
  10. Cerro Siete Orejas is a mountain peak that provides breathtaking panoramic views over Xela (Quetzaltenango) valley

Primary Industries

  1. Agriculture: The region is known for producing coffee, vegetables, fruits, and other agricultural products.
  2. Textile Industry: Quetzaltenango has a thriving textile industry that produces traditional Mayan clothing and other textiles.
  3. Education: The city is home to several universities and educational institutions that attract students from across Guatemala.
  4. Tourism: Quetzaltenango is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty, historic sites, and cultural attractions.
  5. Manufacturing: The city has a growing manufacturing sector that produces goods such as furniture, shoes, paper products, and more.
  6. Health Care: Quetzaltenango has several hospitals and medical clinics that serve the local population as well as patients from surrounding areas.
  7. Retail Trade: There are many small shops selling everything from food to clothing to electronics throughout the city.
  8. Transportation Services: Many transportation companies operate in Quetzaltenango providing services such as taxis, buses/trucks for cargo transport etc.,

Overall these sectors contribute significantly to the economy of Quetzaltenango making it one of the most important cities in Guatemala’s Western Highlands region.

Noteable History

  1. The establishment of the city in 1524 by Spanish conquistadors led by Pedro de Alvarado.
  2. The Mayan rebellion against Spanish rule in 1530, which was led by the indigenous leader Tecún Umán.
  3. The earthquake of 1902, which destroyed much of the city and killed thousands of people.
  4. The presidency of Juan José Arévalo (1945-1951), who was born in Quetzaltenango and implemented significant social reforms during his tenure.
  5. The rise of the guerrilla movement during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), which had a strong presence in Quetzaltenango.
  6. Notable cultural figures from Quetzaltenango include poet Otto René Castillo, musician Gaby Moreno, and writer Miguel Ángel Asturias (who spent some time living in the city).
  7. Quetzaltenango is also known for its traditional indigenous culture, including weaving and other crafts practiced by groups such as the Mam and K’iche’ Maya communities who live there.

Museums and Things To See

  1. Casa de la Cultura: This cultural center offers exhibitions, concerts, and workshops on traditional music and dance.
  2. Museo de Historia Natural: The Natural History Museum has a collection of local flora and fauna, including preserved animals.
  3. Monumento a la Marimba: A statue honoring the marimba, Guatemala’s national musical instrument.
  4. Iglesia del Espíritu Santo: A beautiful colonial-era church with intricate stonework and ornate decorations.
  5. Cerro El Baul: A hill overlooking the city that offers panoramic views of Quetzaltenango and the surrounding mountains.
  6. Teatro Municipal de Quetzaltenango: This historic theater hosts performances by local artists as well as touring acts from around the world.
  7. Casa Modelo del Ferrocarril de Los Altos: A museum dedicated to the history of rail travel in Guatemala’s western highlands.
  8. Mercado Central: The central market is a bustling hub of commerce where visitors can find everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts.
  9. Parque Centro América: A public park in the heart of Quetzaltenango that features fountains, statues, and a playground for children.
  10. Iglesia La Ermita del Calvario: An iconic church located on top of a hill overlooking Quetzaltenango that provides stunning views at sunset or sunrise timeframes especially during Holy Week when it is decorated with colorful carpets made out of sawdust flowers (alfombras).

Sports Teams

  1. Xelajú MC is a renowned soccer team in Quetzaltenango, also known as Los Superchivos (The Super Goats), established in 1928. They have won numerous national championships and enjoy a massive following.
  2. Marquense is another soccer team from Quetzaltenango that was founded in 1950. They are famous for their robust defense and have also won several national championships.
  3. Cobán Imperial, although not based in Quetzaltenango, has a significant fan base in the region due to their rivalry with Xelajú MC. Founded in 1924, this soccer team has won several national championships.
  4. Gallos de Pelea is a basketball team based in Quetzaltenango that started its journey back in 2005. They have had some success at the national level and even clinched a championship win back in 2010.
  5. Jaguar FC is one of the newest soccer teams from Quetzaltenango founded only recently, i.e., back in 2017. Although they play at lower levels of Guatemalan professional soccer, they are gaining popularity among local fans over time.

Cultural Events

  1. Feria de la Independencia: This festival takes place in September and celebrates the independence of Guatemala from Spain. It includes parades, music, dancing and traditional food.
  2. Todos Santos: This festival is celebrated on November 1st and 2nd to honor the dead. People visit cemeteries to clean graves and leave offerings for their loved ones.
  3. Xelafer: This festival takes place in August and celebrates the patron saint of Quetzaltenango, Saint Nicholas. It includes a procession, fireworks, live music and traditional dances.
  4. Festival de los Barriletes Gigantes: This festival is celebrated on November 1st in Sumpango (a town near Quetzaltenango) and features giant kites made by local artisans that are flown high into the sky.
  5. Semana Santa: Holy Week is a significant religious event in Guatemala with processions taking place throughout the week leading up to Easter Sunday.
  6. Festival Internacional de Jazz en el Parque Central: Every year during July or August there’s a jazz festival held at Quetzaltenango’s central park where local bands perform alongside international artists.
  7. Feria del Huipil y el Café: Held annually during October or November this fair showcases indigenous textiles such as huipiles (traditional blouses) as well as coffee from around the region.
  8. Feria Patronal San Andres Xecul : Celebrated every year on November 30th this fair honors San Andrés Xecul’s patron saint with parades, fireworks, food stalls & games.


  • Pepian is a traditional Guatemalan stew that consists of meat, vegetables, and a sauce made from ground pumpkin seeds.
  • Churrasco is a grilled steak that is usually served with rice, beans, and tortillas.
  • Tostadas are fried or baked tortillas topped with various ingredients such as cheese, avocado, salsa, and beans.
  • Pollo encebollado is chicken cooked in a tomato and onion sauce that is typically served with rice and tortillas.
  • Kak’ik is a spicy turkey soup made using herbs and spices that are usually served over rice.

Some popular restaurants in Quetzaltenango include:

  • La Fonda de la Calle Real which serves traditional Guatemalan cuisine such as pepian and churrasco
  • Cafe Red known for their coffee drinks as well as breakfast items like pancakes and omelets
  • Los Cebollines which offers a mix of international dishes along with local favorites like pollo encebollado
  • Taqueria El Mexicano which serves authentic Mexican tacos filled with meats such as al pastor or carne asada
  • Restaurante el Cuartito specializes in grilled meats including churrasco and steak fajitas along with classic sides like black beans and plantains

  • Parks and Recreation

    1. Parque Centro América is a large public park that offers visitors a chance to enjoy beautiful gardens, playgrounds, and sports facilities.
    2. Parque El Calvario is a smaller park that provides visitors with a hilltop viewpoint overlooking the city.
    3. Parque Zona Verde is another great option for those looking to spend time outdoors in Quetzaltenango. This park has walking trails and picnic areas available for use.
    4. Laguna Chicabal is an ideal destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts alike, as it boasts a volcanic lake surrounded by hiking trails and forests.
    5. Fuentes Georginas Hot Springs are natural hot springs located in the mountains outside of Quetzaltenango that offer visitors an opportunity to relax and unwind in beautiful surroundings.
    6. Cerro del Baúl Natural Reserve is a nature reserve that provides hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities for those who love spending time outdoors.
    7. Xetulul Theme Park offers an exciting day out for all ages with its rides, shows, and attractions sure to keep everyone entertained.
    8. Los Altos Golf Club provides golfers with an 18-hole course located on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango where they can enjoy some time on the green while taking in stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
    9. Museo de Historia Natural de Occidente (Western Natural History Museum) showcases Guatemala’s flora and fauna through fascinating exhibits sure to captivate visitors of all ages.

    Note: Before planning your visit make sure you check if any places are closed due to COVID-19 pandemic or any other reason also note that some parks may not be safe during night time so it’s better to avoid visiting them at night especially if you are alone or not familiar with the area.


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