Quetzaltenango at a Glance
Quetzaltenango – or Xela for short (sh-ela) – is a city located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, and the second largest city in the country after Guatemala City. Despite its size, Xela offers a radically different experience to the capital and is a chance to get closer to the authentic Guatemalan culture. The pre-Columbian city has a fascinating history and the region is dominated by a myriad of natural wonders including mountains, volcanos and hot springs, making it a must visit for adventure-seeking travellers.
History and Culture
Quetzaltenango existed long before the Spanish arrived, being founded by the Mam Mayan people some 300 years before the conquest when it was known as Xelajú. It’s still affectionately known as Xela, and some locals still refer to it as being the capital of the Mayas. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1524 when Pedro de Alvarado y Contreras invaded the city and killed the Mayan leader Tecun Unman. The city was renamed Quetzaltenango which means ’The Land of the Quetzal Bird’, Guatemala’s national bird. In 1902, the city was almost destroyed when the nearby Santa María volcano erupted. Nowadays, the volcano is dormant.
Where to stay in Quetzaltenango
There is a range of accommodation options in Quetzaltenango to suit all budgets. Guatemala is also a cheap country to travel so you can expect to get a lot more for your money! Here are our top recommendations in the city:
When is the best time to visit Quetzaltenango
Altitude is the biggest factor affecting weather in Quetzaltenango. At 2,330 metres above sea level, the temperature can drop considerably, especially at night. The hottest months are May and June when temperatures average 16C/60F; the coolest month is January which averages 10.5C/51F.
QuetzaltenangoTours: What to Do?
This area is renowned for its hiking trails, with something to suit novices to the most experienced trekkers. There are a variety of hikes which vary in difficulty and length (day hikes to multi-day trips). Three of the most popular are:
Tajumulco – the highest point in Central America
Santiaguito – Guatemala’s most active volcano
Lake Atitlan – a scenic crater lake at the top of the Atitlan volcano (3-day hike)
With all the volcanic activity in the area, there is an abundance of hot springs. The best is Fuentes Georginas which can be easily visited with a tour including transport or by an 8 to 10-hour trek.
Guatemala is renowned as one of the best coffee producers in the world, and Quetzaltenango is one of the principal regions for coffee plantations. Take a tour to learn more about the cultivation and production process, as well as having the chance to visit other rural plantations which produce rubber and macadamia. All of our tours focus on sustainable tourism.
The Keteka difference
Keteka grants access to authentic activities run by local tour operators and guides. You can book and secure your place in advance, and we will take care of everything else. We’ll let you know where to go or where you will be picked up and at what time.
How to get to Quetzaltenango
Buses run regularly from Guatemala City bound for Quetzaltenango. The journey takes around 4 hours and costs between $7 – $12 USD.
From Flores, the bus takes around 13 hours and costs anywhere between $30 – $75 USD. All services connect in Guatemala City.