Sitting at a relatively high altitude of 2,330 meters (7,640 feet) is the beautiful city of Quetzaltenango. However, nobody calls it that but rather, refer to the city as Xela (pronounced: shay-la). Surrounded by mountains as Xela lies in the valley, the city offers amazing views, amazing culture, hikes, food, markets, etc. The city has a much less touristic feel than many other places you are likely to visit or have visited in Guatemala. You see way more locals out than tourists, the markets are for the locals not the tourists, and you wont find a tour company at every corner, and for this is why we loved our visit to Xela.
What To Do In Quetzaltenango (Xela)
The central park is a popular place where the locals hangout and there are many street vendors selling different local foods, fruits, popcorn, drinks, etc. We even saw a lady selling coffee looking like a ghostbuster as it pours out of a tube that came from a canister on her back. There are many places to sit down and enjoy the vibe.
Las Fuentes Georginas
The natural hot springs near Xela are a great experience where even the locals go. To be honest, we were slightly disappointed by the hot springs themselves, but they were definitely relaxing, and our entire adventure was well worth it! The hot springs are on a mountain in the town of Zunil and cost Q60 to enter for tourists.
There are places to change and lockers to lock up your belongings. In the main area there is one warm pool and two that we would consider to be room temperature. There is another warm pool that was completely empty by the entrance and has its own change rooms. There are also some other pools if you take the staircase down by the entrance but you have to pay an extra Q25 for those. We did not go to those but let us know how they are if you give them a visit!
How To Get To Las Fuentes Georginas
To get there from Xela you will want to hop on the chicken bus to Zunil. Ask your accommodations for the closest stop to you. We got the bus from in front of the Dominos pizza in zone 1. Once in Zunil there are two options. You can begin walking the road to the hot springs and get picked up a truck heading that way as was recommended by the owner of our hostel. This would maybe cost you around Q5. However, with our offline maps not working and our lack of Spanish, we could not find the road and decided to hop in the back of a truck taxi for Q50 that took us all the way. The road from Zunil to the hot springs is 9km through the mountains so you will want transport. The drive is beautiful as you literally get in the clouds!
On the way back we decided since we knew the road now and we would hitch hike back. With no trucks coming by that would pick us for over an hour, it was slightly later in the day (during rainy season) so the clouds were getting thicker and we had a truly enjoyable walk through the clouds before getting a free ride back down to Zunil.
We saw a couple tuktuks go up and back picking people up so you can probably ask someone working at Las Fuentes Georginas to call one for you or arrange a pickup time with the transport that dropped you off.
Want to hike the highest peak in all of Central America? Then Xela is the right place for you. Mount Tajmuluco is a volcano near Xela who’s peak marks the highest point in Central America. A non-profit company called Quetzaltrekkers offers a reasonably price 2D/1N trip to visit the peak. We looked into this and were planning to do the trek, but fell ill in Xela for almost a week and had to pass up on the experience. Let us know how it is because if we are ever back in Guatemala, this will definitely be in our next itinerary.
Cerro El Baul; Lookout
Cerro El Baul is a park that provides a lookout over the city of Xela. Located in Zone 4, you can take a walking trail up to the park, or drive/taxi. This is something we were looking forward to checking out but because we got sick never got to do either.
Local Markets In Quetzaltenango (Xela)
One of the things we loved most about Xela is that there are not that many other tourists and the city does not have a touristic feel at all. When visiting the markets in Xela, you will not find your classic shops carrying all the same souvenirs but rather these are markets for the locals.
Minerva Terminal Market
Located in Zone 3 and has mostly fresh foods for purchase including anything such as fruits, vegetables, meats, cakes, etc. You could also grab a local meal option at the market. There is also what we would consider a food market to go grab a bite to eat just at the south end of Parque Centro.
Mercado La Democracia
Located between Zone’s 1,2, and 3, this market sells anything from food to clothes. It covers multiple streets so you can wander around and enjoy!
Xelapan is the best bakery with so many delicious bread options but more importantly, the most delicious pastries. There biggest most expensive pastry will not cost you more than a dollar (~Q6) and they have breads for as little as 5cents (Q0.33). There is a location right in the Central Park as well as some others in the city. Give this bakery a visit, you will not be disappointed!
Getting To Quetzaltenango (Xela)
Most places offer a shuttle to Xela but you can save a lot of money by taking the chicken bus.
Getting To Quetzaltenango (Xela) From Antiqua
Leaving from Antigua you can bus take the chicken bus for Q5 to Chimaltenango (approx. 1 hour), where you can then grab the bus to Xela for Q25 (approx. 3 hours). However, by doing this you will be skipping right past Lake Atitlan, which we highly recommend a visit and here’s why! Based on our understanding these busses run frequently, however, confirm with your accommodations as this is not the route we took since we stopped in Lake Atitlan.
Getting To Quetzaltenango (Xela) From Lake Atitlan
Leaving from Lake Atitlan there is a direct chicken bus that leaves from Panajachel to Xela at 7am, 7:15am, 7:30am, and 1pm (~Q25). However, we made this trip on a Sunday, and although we confirmed the times beforehand, in our experience, buses are different than expected on Sundays. After speaking to a bus assistant with what little Spanish we knew, only the 1pm bus was coming so we decided to take a route with transfers based on their advise. From Panajachel, take the bus to Solola (~Q3), there you will transfer to the bus for Los Encuentros (~Q5), and then from there you will take the bus to Xela (~Q20). Although there are multiple transfers and it might sound confusing, at each transfer, in our experience, the driver assistant would tell us where to get off and where to go. There are also other bus assistants shouting where their bus is going and generally try to help you out. Although we had not done any research into this route because we planned for the direct bus, we had no problems with the transfers.