Meet Guatemala City
As the largest city in Central America, Guatemala City is a financial and cultural hub in the Land of Eternal Spring, and a great destination for digital nomads who want an authentic Guatemalan experience.
The site of Guatemala City has been inhabited by people since the Mayans established the city of Kaminaljuyu there in around 1,500 BC. In more modern history, it was the site of Central America’s declaration of independence from Spain, and has been the capital of Guatemala since it became its own republic in 1847. Despite this long history, the city’s architecture is surprisingly modern, built in the early 1900s after much of the city was destroyed in an earthquake. Guatemala City carried a reputation for being seedy and dangerous in the latter half of the 20th century, and though it’s a much safer place today it’s yet to gain popularity with tourists in the same way as cities like Antigua. Which isn’t to say it’s not crowded. With a population of more than 3 million, this sprawling city is not only the largest in Guatemala but the most populated area in all of Central America. This makes it both an excellent city for those who enjoy the bustling, sometimes chaotic energy of a large city, and for those who want a more authentic immersion into Guatemala’s rich culture.
Where to live in Guatemala City
Guatemala City is just as big in terms of area as it is in population. This sprawling city is divided into 22 numbered zones (or “zonas”), each of which has its own distinct culture and identity. In fact, traveling to some zones can feel like you’ve gone to a completely different town. Most travelers stick to Zone 1 (the city center) or Zone 4 (the trendy arts district). If you don’t speak Spanish, these zones will be the easiest to navigate and have the highest number of English speakers, so they’ll make the safest bet. Conversely, Zones 3, 6, 18, and 21 tend to have the highest crime rates. Until you’ve had time to get to know the city you’ll probably want to avoid these areas, and they’re not the best places for foreigners to live.
Best Neighborhoods in Guatemala City
The most popular (and safest) neighborhoods of Guatemala City are located to the south and east of downtown. Zones 1, 2, 4, 9, 10, and 13-17 are widely regarded as the best areas to live by both locals and expats. These areas are all well-served by the local public transportation, including the transmetro and trans urbano bus lines, so you can get around fairly easily with or without a car whichever zone you live in. Choosing between these zones comes down more to what living environment you want. If you like the bustling energy of the city, Zone 1 or Zone 4 will be most to your liking. Those who prefer a more laid-back, residential setting will be more drawn to Zones 9, 10, 14, or 15.
Amazing Apartments, Coliving Spaces and More
We've been rounded up the best housing options in Guatemala City. All are available on flexible terms, so you can stay one month or as long as you want
Quick Facts About Guatemala CityThe civil war that ravaged Guatemala in the early 1990s is still the first thing many people think about in regards to Guatemala City. The city’s full history is much broader, built on Mayan traditions with Spanish influences, and you’ll see this celebrated in both the architecture and museum. Here are some more facts to help you get to know this beautiful city:
You don’t want to go to Zone 20.And not because of crime--because it doesn’t exist. Guatemala City originally had 25 zones, but 3 (20, 22, and 23) fell outside the city’s limits and were eliminated. Today, Zone 20 has become a slang euphemism for death. If you hear a local saying someone went to “Zone 20”, that’s equivalent to American phrases like “bought the farm”.
The local currency is named for the national bird.In the ancient Mayan empire, the tail feathers of the resplendent quetzal were used as currency. This tradition is honored in the name of the nation’s modern currency, the Guatemalan Quetzal.
Remains of the Mayan city Kaminaljuyu can still be seen in the city.While many of Guatemala City’s historical architecture was destroyed by natural disasters and war, some ruins of its oldest structures have survived despite the odds. Buried under what is today Zone 7, west of downtown, are excavated remains of the first Mayan city to occupy the site, many of which are open to tourists.
Call it Guate to sound like a local.The city’s official name is a mouthful (Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion), so it’s no surprise residents have coined a nickname. Most locals call it either Guatemala or Guate.
There are two types of taxi.You’ll find both metered and unmetered taxis operating in Guatemala City. Metered taxis typically have to be called in advance and are usually yellow. Non-metered taxis (usually white) can be flagged down on the street, but keep in mind you’ll need to negotiate a price before the trip. This is one place speaking fluent Spanish can be helpful, as you’ll almost always be charged more if the driver pegs you as a tourist.
It’s in the Land of Eternal Spring.Speaking of nicknames, the country of Guatemala is known as the Land of Eternal Spring because of its consistently warm weather. In Guatemala City, you can expect highs of 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit and lows around 55-60, no matter the season.
It’s built beside an active volcano.The Fuego volcano is less than 30 miles from Guatemala City and is considered extremely active by geologists. It last erupted in June 2018, raining volcanic ash down on the city and resulting in the closure of local schools for “ash days”.
It’s home to the top two football teams in Guatemala.Football (or soccer, to Americans) is by far the most popular sport in Guatemala City. The two winningest teams in the Liga Nacional de Futbol de Guatemala are based in Guatemala City: CSD Municipal (“Los Rojos”) and Comunicaciones (“Los Cremas”). Between them, they’ve won 61 championships in the league’s 88-year history. Both play at the Estadio Mateo Flores if you want to catch a game.
Work in Guatemala City
Agriculture and the service sectors are the driving industries in Guatemala, together making up roughly 40% of the labor force. While these are important to the economy of Guatemala City, as well, the capital has a more diverse economy than the nation as a whole. Workers in education, city planning and maintenance, manufacturing, and finance are in demand in the city. Expats and travelers looking for traditional employment will find service industry jobs easiest to come by, and the city’s hotels are especially eager to hire native English speakers. Many also get work teaching English, either in one of the local schools or as a tutor. If you may want to go this route, obtaining a TEFL certification can be very helpful.
How good is Guatemala City for Digital Nomads or Remote Work
Remote work is changing how the global workspace operates. In a trend that is showing no signs of slowing down, remote work is rapidly on the increase all around the world—especially in a place like Guatemala City. And about 25% of remote workers describe themselves as digital nomads—those who like to travel or stay in cities around the world while they work. So, how good is Guatemala City for both of these growing movements?
Average Internet SpeedOn the whole, the internet speed in Guatemala tends to be slower than what you may be used to coming from the United States. Both the speed and availability of wireless connections have been improving steadily in the past few years, however, and will be strongest in urban areas like Guatemala City, where the average speed is around 80Mbps, with a download speed around 6.6Mbps.
Work-friendly Coffee ShopsWhile it’s not as well-known as the coffee from Costa Rica or Colombia, Guatemalan coffee is some of the best in the world. You can enjoy it while you’re working in any of these spots: Cafe Despierto: This trendy cafe in Zone 14 is designed to be a comfy spot for nomads and students. Their private room can even be reserved for meetings and phone calls, and you’ll enjoy reliable Wi-Fi and a relaxed atmosphere throughout the cafe. Cafe Leon: In the heart of downtown, this historic cafe has a friendly staff and a food menu as delicious as their coffee. While it can get busy in the morning, this spacious cafe has plenty of tables where you can sit and do your work. Watson Books and Coffee: Located in Zone 16, this coffee shop and book store has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere, strong Wi-Fi, and plenty of seating. Their lunch menu is delicious, too, so it’s a great place to grab a bite while you work.
Coworking SpacesGuatemala City is one of the most important business hubs in Central America, and has been gaining popularity with digital nomads. This has led to a rapid increase in the availability of coworking spaces in the city. The top spots include: Serendipity Lab: In the heart of the city, this coworking spot is specially designed for startups and entrepreneurs, though it’s open to anyone who needs a comfortable space to work. Along with high-speed Wi-Fi, members get access to the podcasting room, onsite cafe, and networking events. Cowork Guatemala: This modern coworking space in Zone 10 has reservable meeting rooms as well as open desk space for members. Its convenient location and affordable daily or monthly rates make it a great option for freelancers and digital nomads. Seed Community: Creative nomads will love the collaborative atmosphere in this space. Members get 24/7 access to the workspace, as well as entry into workshops and community events and access to amenities like recording equipment and an outdoor terrace. One great thing about the coworking options in Guatemala City is that they’re not limited to Zone 1 and the downtown area. Many of the same neighborhoods that are the best places to live also have coworking spaces in them, so you’ll be able to work close to where you live.
Suitable Level for Digital NomadsThe idyllic weather and low cost of living are the main appeals for digital nomads. A single person can live well on less than $1,000 USD a month, which is especially appealing to freelancers and other nomads whose income can be inconsistent. Along with that, the city has a rich culture, a fantastic restaurant scene, and a thriving nightlife to enjoy. The people are by and large friendly, too, and welcoming to travelers. This has given the city a growing population of English-speaking expats, and makes it a relatively easy city to find friends and a community as a single traveler.
Visa RequirementsVisitors from the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and nations of the EU can obtain either a tourist or business visa with a valid passport. There is a fee of $25-$50 USD, depending on which visa you get. A tourist visa is valid for 90 days, while business visas stay valid for 180 days. For longer stays, you can apply for a temporary residency visa that lasts up to 2 years. Obtaining a temporary residency visa can take up to a year and involves a lot of paperwork, including notarized copies of travel documents, a Guatemalan guarantor, and proof you can support yourself financially. If you want to go this route, it’s recommended to contact a Guatemalan lawyer who can assist you, as the process can be both confusing and time-consuming.
Food and Drink in Guatemala City
Traditional Guatemalan cuisine is unique from the food of nearby Mexico, and something you should definitely try while you’re in town. Top spots include Kacao (Zone 9) and the tiny, family-owned La Cocina de la Senora Pu (Zone 1). For a more innovative, modern twist, check out the tasting menus at Flor De Lis or the unique cuisine of Gracia Cocina De Autor. Fusion cuisine is especially popular in this foodie city. Zone 10’s Tamarindos is a prime example, blending Thai, Italian, and Mayan influences to make their eclectic menu. Another great choice is Ambia, whose menu is mostly Asian-Guatemalan fusion, with outliers like carpaccio and steak thrown in for good measure. You’ll also find plenty of straight international fare in this cosmopolitan city. For French food, Jean Francois has an elegant atmosphere to match its upscale cuisine. If you want to go more American, Hacienda Real in Zone 9 is the top steakhouse in the city, while Jake’s serves some of the best American-style pizza you’ll find in Central America (as well as one of the best wine lists in the city).
Top 6 Things To Do in Guatemala City
For fans of history and culture, Guatemala City’s dozens of museums will keep you plenty busy. Among the most popular are the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indigena, the Museo Popol Vuh, the Museo Miraflores, and the National Museum of Modern Art. Many historical buildings can be toured, as well. The Palacio Nacional de la Cultura is both a museum and an active government building. For religious art and history, check out the Iglesia La Merced or Metropolitan Cathedral. The Mercado Central is a popular destination for both tourists buying souvenirs and locals getting fresh meat and produce and is an excellent place to see the city’s modern culture first-hand. Those who prefer outdoor adventures won’t have to travel far outside the city, either, with options like the Pacaya Volcano hike within an easy day trip.
Hipódromo Del Norte, Guatemala
Av. Simeón Cañas, Guatemala
Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno "Carlos Mérida"
8-52, 01004, Ruta 6, Guatemala
Iglesia del Cerrito del Carmen
y, 1 A Calle & Avenida Juan Chapin, Guatemala