Friday, February 6, 2009

Guatemala City, Guatemala – “Guate,” or “La Ciudad”

Guatemala City is one of those places most locals and even tourists would recommending skipping altogether. Given the extraordinarily high murder rate, most of which is drug-related, this recommendation comes as no surprise. As for safety, the advice I gathered from residents and my teacher includes:

1) Try to avoid city buses. This recommendation comes from the large number of petty crime and the increasing number of bus driver murders (2/day average if one reads the newspapers). I would modify this recommendation to avoiding the far-out city buses, but using popular routes such as 83 Aeropuerto.

2) Avoid Zona 3, 4, 7, and the South of 1. Zona 3 is probably the biggest no-no; largely a slum, it has limited police presence and much gang activity. Along the diagonal separating Zona 3, every fourth or fifth road is blocked off; this is supposedly to limit escape routes in the event of a murder. Zona 4 has the Mercado Terminal, which my teacher says is asking for robbery if a tourist enters its mazes.

3) Avoid walking around at night. Pretty standard advice for the country.

Note: Despite the warnings, the “off-limit” zones also contain quite interesting off-the-beaten-track destinations. The Mercado Terminal in Zona 4 is huge, the Municipal Dump and Graveyard in Zona 3 is a great way to see the socioeconomic disparity of Guatemala, and the Chicken Bus for Antigua picks up in Zona 3 and Zona 7…

Besides the attractions in the danger zones, there is enough to see in Zona 1 around 3-5 Avenida to last a day. The Central Market is worthwhile, as well as seeing the beautiful museum and church surrounding the Parque Central (and the snipers mounted on top). While driving or walking through the city, the contrasts are also quite interesting; McDonalds, Dominos, and various strip malls sit next to Chicken Buses and hawkers selling fruit for 1Q.

Note: Photos courtesy L.Y.

Palacio National facing the Parque Central, Zona 1

The cathedral facing the Parque Central, Zona 1

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