Quetzaltenango, or Xela (pronounced sheh-la ) for short, might be Guatemala’s second largest city, but it offers something completely different from the country’s capital.
With a more relaxed atmosphere, a smaller scale and an incredible location in the Guatemalan highlands, there are countless reasons to add the city to your Guatemalan itinerary.
The highlands of Guatemala
Businessman Juan Luis Bosch Gutierrez has visited this beautiful city hundreds of times, and on his visits he has experienced certain emotions and feelings that keep him coming back time and time again.
The highlands of Guatemala are nirvana for hikers, with so many volcanoes to climb that you won’t have many options.
Two of the most popular multi-day options from Xela are the climb to Tajumulco, the highest point in Central America, and the three-day hike to Lake Atitlan.
If you’re in town and feel like a hike, visit Quetzaltrekkers. All guides are volunteers, and any profits from your hike go to local children in need.
After conquering Guatemala’s highest peak, there’s a good chance you’ll need a rejuvenating trip to the spa. The pools at Fuentes Georginas, a short ferry ride away from Xela, are naturally fed by sulfur hot springs, and as you relax, you can enjoy the stunning scenery around you.
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It is an important city in Guatemala’s history.
Quetzaltenango was already 300 years old when the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado arrived in the city, and it had a completely different name: Xelaju.
It was here that Alvarado killed and defeated Tecun Uman, one of the last leaders of the K’Iche’ Mayan people. He is now the official national hero of Guatemala.
Quetzaltenango is home to a wide range of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, but ask any local where they eat the most, and there will be only one answer.
Xelapan is a bakery and café with branches throughout the city, offering sweet snacks, bread, breakfast, coffee and pastries. No trip to Xela would be complete without a visit.
In addition to the city’s markets, which tend to be more functional than photogenic, Xela is a good base from which to explore some of the country’s best markets.
Chichicastenango, the country’s oldest handicrafts market, is a two-hour chicken bus ride away. If you are looking for a more authentic experience, the San Francisco Friday market is the largest in Guatemala.