Guatemala City and Xela (Part 1/3)

Chris Davidson, Roastmaster writes...

It always feels good to get out of the country for a while, either for business or for pleasure. The majority of my most recent trip to Guatemala was the latter, but I did actually get my hands dirty for a few, working with some coffee friends in the capitol.

Most travelers use Guatemala City solely as a hub of transit between more desirable parts of the county, or other countries in Central America. I’m fortunate to have friends living in the city who are familiar with the parts of Guatemala’s capitol worth experiencing and during my first three days of my trip they showed me a few of the nicest restaurants and clubs the city has to offer. Right, I said I was working in Guatemala City. My first three days were spent training baristas for & Café (Y Café), a small chain of espresso bars that has quickly established itself at the peak of espresso culture in Guatemala City. Exactly one year ago, I visited Guatemala for the first time and spent a week working with the baristas at & Café. Now it’s one of my the highlights of traveling to Guatemala for me, spending time with the managers of the cafes and watching the skills of the baristas advance over time. After three days of training baristas in the capitol, I caught a bus to Guatemala’s second most populated city, Quetzaltenango; more commonly known as Xela (pronounced Shay-la) to the Guatemaltecos. Four hours later, my Galgos bus dropped me a few blocks off of Xela’s Parque Central, the town’s focal point of social activity with a tranquil atmosphere that demands a person slow down and relax. I had made arrangements prior to my arrival in Xela to spend a week studying Spanish in one of the dozens of schools there catering to gringos; and to stay with a host family in a house near the center of town. My week in Xela flew by and through my school and host family I made many friends. Forming fast and meaningful friendships seems to be second nature to travelers, and it still amazes me how in one evening at a bar it’s possible to connect with a group of people who are traveling as well, and in a manner of hours feel like you’ve known them your whole life. Speaking of bars, I was pleased to find that Xela’s nightlife to be more than adequate, and the numerous clubs, lounges, restaurants and bars kept me occupied every evening. I found myself comparing Antigua and Xela often in my mind, and I came to the conclusion that for value and balance of gringos to locals, Xela is more to my taste if I were to be in Guatemala for any length of time. If you’re lucky enough to make it there, there are a few bars that must be checked out. Head east of the Parque Central and find “Bajo la Luna,” a shockingly European (slightly out of place) wine and cheese bar with a cozy cellar-like atmosphere and excellently priced carafes of house vino tinto. As the name suggests, Bajo la Luna is directly under Café la Luna, a well-known coffee and chocolate shop with a museum inside dedicated to the colonial culture of Xela. Another must-visit bar is Salon Tecún. Reputedly the oldest bar in Central America, Tecún is situated directly off of the park in one of the few buildings to have survived several devastating earthquakes in Xela over the past century. I apologize for all the talk about the bars, but honestly they were some of my favorite parts of Xela aside from the friends made and Spanish learned of course. There’s something about the air of the town, perhaps it’s the relative distance from the capitol that seems to draw the more authentic personalities and adventurous travelers.

Stay tuned in the coming days for photos in part 2 and the conclusion in part 3 (I trek from Xela to Lake Atitlan, por las montañas!