At the moment, Guatemala City isn’t oft spoken of as a tourist destination — almost entirely due to its reputation of widespread, violent crime.
But as it boasts the country’s largest airport and is positioned as the hub of travel from the U.S., you just might find yourself there anyway, if you’re looking to explore the other bounty Guatemala has to offer.
If that’s the case, don’t panic: there are areas within the city that can be accessed without great risk if you exercise basic precautions and don’t wander off the beaten path. And what you find there — cobblestone streets, vine-draped facades and hip bars in the super trendy Zona 4 and vibrant markets and parks in the culture-filled Zona 1 core — just might inspire you to stay a day or two longer. It did, me.
Among the places I loved in Guatemala City…
Guatemala Tasting Room
The top cocktail bar in Guatemala City is hidden below the Casa del Aguila Cultural Center complex (it’s worth strolling through the whole lot), and tucked next to the lauded Flor de Lis restaurant. Saddle up to the small bar and choose from a list of refined drinks, in beautiful glassware in this tiny space that feels light years ahead of the rest of the cocktail scene.
Find the Tasting Room here.
If you’re craving wine or just a seductive aura, head to this European-style gastro bar with giant paned windows, exposed brick walls and warehouse-style ceilings and an alluring singer-songwriter soundtrack at night, when it draws in passersby simply for the vibe it gives off.
Find Karma here.
Zona 4’s only true bakery, you’ll smell the baking sweet and savory pastries before you get to the open window nooks. Tip to the wise: purchase an espresso and a limp biscuit — a donut-biscuit mashup with a sticky, caramel bottom — and snatch up one of the window counters for stellar people watching.
Find Fado here.
El Principe Gris
The area’s brewery boasts a taproom and a small retail store with eclectic goods — and taps — across the street. Give their pink witbier, infused with Rosa de Jamaica, a try.
Find El Principe Gris here.
If you’ve traveled much around Guatemala, where pizza is quite common, you might be surprised at just how close L’Apero gets to the wood-fired Italian-American classic. The crust is pillowy and crispy, the sauce is tangy and the toppings are restrained. The line you’ll likely find outside reflects this mastery.
Find L’Apero here.
A sprawling plaza bordered by the beautiful architecture of el Palacio Nacional de la Cultura and the Catedral Metropolitana, you’ll find everything from stately fountains, watches and cell phones for sale and freshly grilled corn and tamales.
Find Parque Central here.
In the several sections of this mostly underground market, you can find beautiful textiles and other gifts as well as booming food vendors selling all the popular Guatemalan specialties. One common dish to try: a doblada. A fried tortilla encasing meat and chopped veggies and topped, often, with a radish and cabbage slaw, tart cheese, salsa and guacamole.
Find the central market here.
Highly populated on the weekends, this street offers shopping, restaurants and ice cream shops. It’s possible to walk here safely, as well as walk between here, the market and Parque Central. Just beware your cell phone (don’t put it in your back pocket) and hold any purses or backpacks on the front side of your body.
Find La Sexta here.