Guatemala – Quetzaltenango

Border crossing – Mexico to Guatemala

Borders are just imaginary lines on maps, right? Wrong! As a South African, I tend to experience a few challenges while crossing a border or boarding a flight.

On the 16th of November 2018, I crossed the border from Mexico into Guatemala. This is when the real Central American adventure began – My first bumpy ride in the chicken bus!

Welcome to Guatemala
The colourful Chicken Buses of Central America
The view of Quetzaltenango from our terrace
Central Park, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Central Park, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Quetzaltenango (Xela)

“Quetzaltenango” – is that not a mouthful? I struggled pronouncing it but soon learnt that locals call it Xela, a much shorter nickname, derived from the old Mayan name for the city, Xelaju.

The city lies at around 2,300 m in altitude, making it one of the highest cities in Central America.


We stayed at Casa I’X, an airbnb owned by Carlos and Ixmucané, the most welcoming a Guatemalans who made me feel at home.  From the moment we stepped in their place they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.

Their place is spacious and is in a great location, very close to Central Park. I spent a lot of time sitting on the terrace admiring volcanoes from afar. Santa Maria looms over the city and can be climbed in a single day.

In the evenings, Xela becomes alive with a lot of festivities. There were a many fireworks decorating the sky and a street parade to officially begin the festive season.

Exploring Quetzaltenango with Carlos and Ixmucané
The view of Quetzaltenango from our Terrace, Volcano Santa Maria in the distance
Celebrating the beginning of the festive season in Quetzaltenango
Celebrating the beginning of the festive season in Quetzaltenango
Celebrating the beginning of the festive season in Quetzaltenango

Spanish Classes

Xela is one of the top study destinations in Guatemala, with thousands of backpackers passing through every year to learn, improve or immerse themselves in the language. I took Spanish classes for a week with Celeste, at a cost of 40 GTQ (R70 / 5USD) per hour. She was very patient with me.

Santa Maria Volcano

Santa Maria is active but hasn’t erupted since 1902. You can take a chicken bus from Xela to hike up the volcano. Although there are tours offered, I hiked up independently so that I can walk at my own pace. I like to stop at my leisure to take photos, which works better without guides or large group.

Santa Maria Volcano
Santa Maria Volcano

The weather was warm for the first part but once we were about half way up, it become really cold. The hike was challenging for me and the worst part of it was that once we reached the top, the clouds had covered the view. Hiking up took 4.5 hours and another 2.5 hours to get down.

First Impression of Guatemala

Safety: A few people have reached out to me on my social media platforms, raising their concerns about the safety of Guatemala. In my opinion travel advisories and guides are often exaggerated. I didn’t feel unsafe in Xela or any of the places I explored.

The people: Not only are the people warm, welcoming, helpful but Guatemalans are very proud of their culture. They boldly wear their traditional attire daily. It’s really beautiful to see.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Fun Fact

Why are foreigners in Central America called Gringos? During the Mexico-American war, the American troops were dressed in green uniforms.  they started chanting “Green Go” as in “you in the green uniform, go back where you came from.” So it became “Gringo.”

Are you planning a trip to Guatemala? Leave a comment below, I’d love to help you plan.

Thank you for reading.

Dineo Zonke.

6 Replies to “Guatemala – Quetzaltenango”

    1. Thank you, it’s been an awesome adventure so far. Honestly, we just wanted to cross the border and stop at the closest big city. I’m so happy we chose Quetzaltenango, it’s a pretty city and not too big.

      You should definitely visit Guatemala, there’s so much to see and do. I think you’d enjoy it 😊


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