I recently took a trip down to Guatemala City with Vance from My Latin Life. Before going, I asked my twitter following what they'd like to know about the city. Overwhelmingly people wanted to know which neighborhoods were safe and walkable. So, that's just what Vance and I set out to find.
Arriving at the Airport
Immediately after arriving at the airport, we found a money exchange and a cellular service store. Normally while traveling, I use my Schwab card at an ATM to get some of the local currency. However, there weren't any ATMs before immigration, so we decided to exchange a few dollars into the local currency, the Quetzal. This ended up being a good call, because as far as we could tell, there weren't any ATMs after immigration either. As usual with money exchange places, it was a complete rip off. The going exchange rate at the time was about 7.75 Quetzales/USD. This place was only giving 6 Quetzales to the dollar. A crime, but we decided to exchange a little so we didn't get into a pinch before finding an ATM.
Then we stepped over to the Tigo cellular shop. The smallest plan they offered was 2.5 GB of data for $25. We figured you could find better and smaller plans outside the airport, however we decided at least one of us should pick up some data to order an Uber. Most Ubers throughout the good parts of the city won't run you much more than 30 Quetzales or about 4 USD.
You'll likely have to pick your poison. You'll either need cash for a Taxi or data for an Uber.
Where to Stay
We decided to stay in Zona 10 as we were informed it was one of the best neighborhoods in the city, safe, and walkable. Zona 10 could be compared to Polanco in Mexico City. It has similar amenities, high end shopping, it's expensive, and safe. Although, Polanco is bit more expensive and a bit more luxurious, this is the closest comparison. A two bed, two bath apartment will run about $50/night on Airbnb, or about $800-1000 per month off Airbnb. Although Zona 10 is walkable during the day, it's recommended to stick with Uber at night.
Zona 4 is another option to check out during your stay. This is the Condesa/Roma of Guatemala City. It's walkable, has a variety of cafes, restaurants, and people riding bikes. Although I was more impressed with Zona 4 than Zona 10, my main gripe about Zona 4 is just that it's a lot smaller than Condesa and Roma in Mexico City. It may get old after a while.
Another area tourists may be looking at staying is Centro or Zona 1. Don't do it. It's definitely not safe at night and even a little bit edgy during the day. It's worth a day trip to check out the historic section of the city, just make sure to keep your eyes peeled and try not to take out your phone if possible. During the day, you're not likely to have any trouble, especially if you stick around the main square and walking streets. The worst that would probably happen is getting pick pocketed.
Looking to rent an apartment or house in Guatemala?
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Cost of Living
Surprisingly, Guatemala City is quite a bit more expensive than Mexico. On average, I'd estimate it's about 20% more expensive that Mexico. Although, that may be due to the fact that you're limited to only the best of the best neighborhoods due to security concerns. Whereas in Mexico there are at least 10 neighborhoods a foreigner could stay, here's there's only two (could argue for a couple others). I'm sure prices are dirt cheap elsewhere, the problem is you can't go there.
While things like food and drinks are more expensive, you won't find a 2 bed/2 bath apartment in Polanco, Mexico City for 1000 USD, so you definitely can save on rent. Zona 4 will be a bit cheaper than 10.
As mentioned above, Ubers run about 30 Quetzales or 4 USD while moving between the nice parts of the city.
Guatemala draws tourists from all over the world, it's a beautiful country. However, next to none of these tourists stay in the city. They go to places like:
During our trip, we took some time to check out Antigua. It's a beautiful Spanish colonial city about an hour from the capital. It's main feature is the enormous Volcano (Volcan del Agua) towering over the city. It's definitely worth a day trip. Walk around the city's stone streets, take pictures of the old buildings, and take a trip up to the nearby lookout to get a great aerial view of the city with the Volcano as the backdrop.
Although Guatemala City exceeded my expectations, it's tough to recommend a long term stay. Mexico beats it in just about every category: price, safety, food, you name it. However, if you're an adventurous one, take a trip down and decide for yourself. It's worth a trip especially to check out some of the world class attractions outside of the city.
If you'd like to hear more about Vance's and my trip to Guatemala City, make sure you subscribe to the LATAM Capitalist Newsletter by clicking here. In the newsletter you'll get the behind scenes look at our trip to Guatemala as well regular emails about living and investing in Latin America.
Also make sure to check out Vance's account of this same trip over on My Latin Life!