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Guatemala Guide

Quetzaltenango / Xela

Xela is one of those cities that at first glance has little to impress. It does have a lot of older buildings, a pleasent parque central and some beautiful, large buildings (get inside the Teatro Nacional if you can) but the vast majority have not had maintanance done in years and are in a poor state of repairs. However, once you have spent a few weeks in Xela you will grow to love the city, its cafes, bars and many of its friendly citizens.

The first night we arrived we stayed in the Hotel Occidental. This place looks like it was a purpose built hotel with large, characterless rooms. Q100 will get you a double with bath and cable TV, Q80 without. When we woke up we found Ange had a neat row of bed bug bites. While this hardly signifies the place is infested, it wasn't a good sign.

Guatemala Chichicastenango markets bright colours blankets weaving crafts indigenous rainbow

Spanish Language School

We were recommended Celas Maya and couldn't have been happier. US$135 (payable in US$, Q, or TC - CC incurs additional charge) gets you 5 hours of 1-on-1 tuition 5 days a week, homestay in a local family and food. You can also stay in the hostal that Celas run for US$110 tuition for the week then Q25 per night.

The school is in a lovely, renovated colonial building with fruit trees and flowers in the central area. My spanish was basic when I arrived, while Angela has a linguistics degree double-majoring in Spanish and French. Our teachers tailored our courses specifically for our needs - in my case getting my grammer and vocab sorted and Ange doing translator level work. The school runs trips, films, dance classes, lectures, etc. . . 6 days a week that were optional and usually free. If you are a beginner like I was I would recommend requesting Sheny - she is excellent. For advanced speakers Lucky is superb. The school encourages you to change teachers every week and all teachers are very good, and all of our many student friends were all very happy with their teachers and the school in general.

Their website is www.celasmaya.edu.gt/ and you can book or request more info there. Highly recommended!!!!

Xela Eats & Treats

Xela has a great cafe, restaurant and bar scene. Salon Tecun is a popular Friday night out with big, cold pitchers in beer for Q40 and reasonable pizzas and burgers. Casa Babylon run by a young, French chef does possibly the World's best cheese burger and is in the same building as Tecun but out the back where the buses stop on 13th. He also makes great tacos (this isn't in your guidebook - you are getting GOLD here!! ;-). La Luna does good drinks including wine and cheese (but not beer) with collections of curios lining the walls and is a good place to study. Baviera does good breakfasts around the Q30 mark, has good service, but the cakes are not as good as they look. Qiuseppie's Gourmet Pizza does huge, delicious pizzas that are good value for 2-3 people. Royal Paris has quality French dishes and good service for between Q40-60. Alquimista often does 4-course meal theme nights which are good value. The place is opento the great view so bring a warm jacket! Tickets can be purchased from the opticians one block South of the Familia Dispensar on 13th. The service in Deli Crepe was so poor that we walked before ordering!

The Bake Shop near Democracia has stupendous donuts and other baked goods, granola and yoghurt. This alone should be a reason to go to Xela!

La Frata is a cool dance club with salsa and merengue on Wednesday and other nights in their nicely-renovated colonial building. If you arrive early (before 8pm) you will get a salsa lesson - usually free. They sometimes have salsa competitions with some amazing performances! Las Casas on 14A does salsa classes weekday afternoons and is a better option than the hot-and-cramped classes run next to the Familia Despensar.

Hiper Paiz is a short ride in a mini bus and is the town's mall. Inside are cinemas showing films in English and Spanish, as well as a large department store, shops and fast food chains.

Guatemala Chichicastenango markets bright colours blankets weaving crafts indigenous rainbow girl with child baby young

Around Xela

San Francisco del Alto is a good day trip from Xela. Friday morning is the big market - and this place is BIG! Lots to see from fabrics, to fresh fruit and veg to huge pigs! Pickpockets are rampent here so keep your bags high and in front of you, everything out of your pockets and remain alert! (no, we didn't loose anything, but met many who did).

Zunil is a small town in a valley about 40 minutes from Xela. The main claim to fame is St Simon, the drinking, smoking saint that needs to be seen to be believed! Chickens are sometimes sacrificed in from of the house where St Simon is. Entry is Q5 and each photo is Q10.

Quetzal Trekkers is a volunteer organisation that does treks most weekends to some of the beautiful countryside, volcanoes, lakes, forests and villages in North-West Guatemala. All profits go towards a home for street kids in Xela.