Guide to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Icon Share


Advisor - Tracy Cistone
Curated By

Tracy Cistone

  • Guatemala

  • Arts & Culture

  • Active Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • Solo Travel

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • Wellness Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Honeymoons

  • Hiking

  • Hidden Gems

  • Outdoors

ancient building in cloudy sky with a tall straight groomed tree
Curator’s statement

Quetzaltenango ("Xela") is Guatemala's 2nd largest city and a hidden gem surrounded by a variety of landscapes, most notably several volcanoes, which makes it super popular with hikers! Xela is a colorful city rich with Mayan history and culture and a laid back vibe. Travelers sometimes miss this town because it is a bit of drive from Guatemala City (around 3-4 hours) but worth it especially with the beautiful scenery you will encounter on your road travel!

The Fora Difference

Book with Tracy to access exclusive perks and experiences on your trip.

[object Object]
Killer perks

Free upgrades, spa credits and more—we got you

[object Object]
Personalized recs

Customized travel planning for your style

[object Object]
Insider knowledge

Expert advice from people who’ve actually been there

Where to stay in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Unlock perks by contacting Tracy to book your trip.

Things to do in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

city beneath a mountain range
  • Shopping in the open air markets in Parque Central de Xela (the town square) for locally made faires, food and people watching. The first Sunday of the month is a big shopping day! If you're into markets, stop by the Minerva Market as well, it is huge and can get very crowded but so neat to experience.

  • Take a weaving class at Trama Textiles. This co-op supports Mayan women weavers, helping them get paid fairly for their work and they also offer classes where you can make your own traditional Mayan textile.

  • Xela is one of the top places people go for Spanish language learning and immersion because it's super affordable! You can take months long classes and do a homestay with a local family, or go for just an intro class, or a few days long class. There are so many options!

  • Stroll through Pasaje Enriquez, an old shopping arcade built in 1900 that houses restaurants and bars, making it a hot spot for hanging out at night.

  • Visit the many cathedrals in town and relax in cafes in between.

  • Buy some chocolate at the famous Chocolateria Dona Pancha. They sell big blocks to use for hot chocolate, but I usually end up eating it straight, it is amazing! They even offer tours of the facility, teach you some history about chocolate, and taste some of their products.

  • Museo Ixkik' del Traje Maya - This small museum, located in an old train station, is filled with traditional outfits, weavings, and wares of the Mayan people. You can learn about their history through tours (offered in Spanish), or you can walk through on your own.

Day Trips

  • I'm a spa/wellness fanatic so the top one on my list is Fuentes Georginas - natural hot springs surrounded by a rain forest! The heated water comes from sulphur springs from Zunil Volcano. This was one of my favorite things to do. Theres a cute little cafe right on the water, changing rooms (don't forget anti-slip sandals!), and even a hiking trail entrance by the water. We spent a whole day here and it did not disappoint. Another option is Aguas Amargas which is smaller, cheaper, and may be less crowded but just as beautiful with hikes nearby that lead to waterfalls.

  • Popular hikes include one day hikes to Santa Maria Volcano and Tajumulco, and multi-day treks to Lago de Atitlan (a place which requires it's own separate guide!). There are so many options, these are just the popular ones!

  • Chichicastenango - Location of Central America's largest and oldest handicrafts market

  • If you've gotten a Lonely Planet guide to Guatemala, you may recognize the bright yellow facade of San Andres Xecul, a church in this small town about an hour outside of Xela. While you're there, take a hike up the mountain for some great views.

Places to eat & drink in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

A woman wearing a colorful shirt and pink apron at a food stall with cookies
  • Traditional Guatemalan breakfast at Canela Cafe.

  • Food vendors in the town square are fantastic and sell some of the best food I've had!

  • Xelapan - Super popular bakery that the locals enjoy (definitely try some Guatemalan hot chocolate - it is *the* best!).

  • La Flor Maya - A great spot to try typical Guatemalan dishes.

  • Sabor de la India - This is actually a place that serves Indian food, but it's really popular with locals and pretty good.

  • Georgy's Coffee Garden - if you're looking for a spot with a view of the whole town, check this place out! It is near Restaurant y Mirador Panorama, which I would normally recommend but recent reviewers say it is currently closed.

  • As mentioned earlier, Pasaje Enriquez, an old shopping arcade built in 1900 that houses restaurants and bars, is a great spot to hang out and people watch. Salon Tecun is one of the oldest bars there, built in the late 1800s! El Balcon de Enriquez is on the 2nd floor and has a balcony that overlooks the square.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out my guide, What to Do, See & Eat in Antigua, Guatemala.

Advisor - Tracy Cistone

Travel Advisor

Tracy Cistone

Get in touch with Tracy

Did you like this guide? Reach out to customize and book your own experience. Or, just to chat about travel in general.

You can normally expect a response from Tracy within a business day or so. You’ll also be subscribed to our travel newsletter (you can unsubscribe at any time).

This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Guatemala.