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National capital, Guatemala's largest city, and the most populous city in Central America, Guatemala City is the economic and cultural hub of the country. Although the city has a tumultuous history that spans civil war, earthquakes, authoritarian rule, and ongoing poverty, it's a fascinating urban metropolis with a palpable energy and plenty of things to do and see. Immerse yourself in Guatemala's heritage as you discover colonial architecture and world-class museums, and get a feel for the city's nightlife and shopping possibilities. Outside the city, the mountainous Guatemalan Highlands are known for natural treasures like the still-active Pacaya Volcano and the majestic Lake Atitlán.
Guatemala City is divided into 22 different zonas, or zones, that unfurl in a spiral pattern from the center. Zone 1 designates the oldest section of the city, while Zones 10 and 13 offer museums, restaurants, and nightlife to enjoy beyond the city center.
Zone 1 encompasses the historic area that was constructed in 1775 when the Spanish established Guatemala City as a small town. You're likely to begin your sightseeing in this district, as many of the city's landmarks can be found here, including the Plaza de la Constitución, the Palacio Nacional, and the Mercado Central.
Widely known as the Zona Viva, or "Lively Zone," Zone 10 is an upscale nightlife hub packed with restaurants, bars, and hotels. For a respite from the urban hustle and bustle, discover the leafy splendor of the Jardín Botanico, Guatemala's only botanical garden. Francisco Marroquín University houses the city's most renowned museums—the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena and the Museo Popol Vuh.
Most travelers pass through Zone 13 on their way from La Aurora Airport, but this district is also worth a visit for its attractions. Take the kids to the La Aurora Zoo, or delve into Guatemala's cultural heritage at the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Uncover historical and cultural gems in Guatemala's largest city. Learn about indigenous textiles and clothing at the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena, and then head next door to the Museo Popol Vuh to browse an extensive collection of Maya art. At the center of the city, the expansive Plaza de la Constitución, also known as the Parque Central, is flanked by historic and impressive buildings, including the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral, the grandiose Palacio Nacional, and the National Library of Guatemala. Behind the cathedral is the Mercado Central, the city's sprawling and colorful underground market. The primarily residential Zone 2 is worth a visit for its massive, open-air Relief Map, which lays out Guatemala's topography in incredible detail.
Choose from a variety of excursions to top Guatemalan destinations within a few hours of Guatemala City. Explore the cobblestone streets of Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its Spanish Baroque and colonial architecture. On a day trip in the Guatemalan Highlands, take a breathtaking cruise on the volcanic Lake Atitlán—the deepest lake in Central America—and visit the indigenous village of Santiago Atitlán for a glimpse of authentic Maya culture. To the north, the town of Chichicastenango is famous for its open-air market, where you can browse an array of traditional handicrafts, food, and flowers. For a dose of family-friendly fun, spend the day on the thrilling rides at Xetulul Theme Park, or discover the wave pools and water slides at Xocomil Water Park. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike the steep slopes to the crater of the mighty Pacaya Volcano, which lies just south of Guatemala City. The adventure ends with a rejuvenating dip in the natural thermal pools at the Kawilal Hot Springs.