Like the rest of Guatemala’s important urban centers, Quetzaltenango is built around a central park. The city’s sprawling Parque Centroamérica is lined with government offices, museums, and a shopping arcade, among other buildings, and is itself splendidly shaded by trees and adorned by neoclassical monuments and flower beds.
It gives the city a decidedly European feel, enhanced by the presence of several Greek columns, and is a fine place for people-watching or enjoying the warm afternoon sun amid the surrounding buzz of activity. An artisans’ market is held here the first Sunday of every month.
At the western end of the park, between 12 and 13 Avenidas, is Pasaje Enríquez, a pedestrian thoroughfare and commercial arcade originally built to house fine shops but now home to several good bars and restaurants. One of these, Salón Tecún, is on the second floor, from which there are wonderful views of the plaza below.
Downhill toward the southern end of the plaza but still on its western borders is the Museo de Arte Xela (7a Calle 12-12 Zona 1, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat., $1), located on the second floor of the Taller de Artes Pláticas, a building dating to 1909. The focus is on modern art exhibited by mostly young local talent.
Also on this side of the park is Centro Cultural Casa de los Altos (6a Calle 12-32 Zona 1, tel. 7765-2226, casalosaltos [at] hotmail [dot] com), where there is a small gift shop, café, and reading room. There are occasional poetry readings and talks by local historical figures; the center also provides information on local attractions.
On the park’s southern end is the Casa de la Cultura, housing the Museo de Historia Natural (Natural History Museum, 8 a.m.–noon and 2–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat., $1). The museum is an odd collection of taxidermy and rooms dedicated to the Liberal Revolution of 1871 which, together with the Museo de la Marimba Jesús Castillo (also housed here), have an antique dealer’s garage sale feel. Unless you have a rainy afternoon with nothing else to do, you’re probably better off skipping this one.
On the eastern end of the park is the original facade of Iglesia Catedral del Espíritu Santo, which dates to 1535 and was constructed by Bishop Francisco Marroquín. The facade is all that remains of the original church, as a new church was erected behind it in 1899 and was very heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1902. The current cathedral building is the latest reconstruction. The neighboring Municipalidad (City Hall) was likewise reconstructed after the 1902 earthquake in grand neoclassical style.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com