Guatemala City for a few days shopping

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Wed 3 Aug 2011 18:29
Guatemala city, the nation's capital and largest city in the Central Americas, sprawls across a large valley and is divided into 22 zones. Like Antigua it's high up and has a pleasant climate all year round. There are four volcanoes in sight from the city, two being active, as well as the regular occurrence of earth tremors and mudslides. The last major earthquake was in 1976.
                                                          Government buildings and the Cathedral in the historic district
There is no metro (underground) system of transport so buses and taxis and legs are the way to get around. We were taken straight to our hotel by our private taxi from Antigua which avoided another visit to the bus station in historic Zone 1, considered one of the less friendly areas in some guide books, although as previously mentioned the Litegua bus station does have guards. We dropped a young Aussie couple off at the airport first as they were heading off to Cancun Mexico on the next leg of their holiday.
                                            The large square had an eastern block feel to it
'The City' has an awful reputation amongst travellers although much useful information is available on the internet as to which zones are considered 'safe' and which are 'unsafe'. In our experience those two words are heavily influenced by your own actions wherever you travel and to be honest if you took advice on what some people spout on the internet you would never leave your home town. But there are some areas of Guatemala City that have no place in any tourist itinerary unless you are completely stupid.  Anyone contemplating a visit would be well advised to follow the time honoured rules of travel, take a good up to date guide book and perhaps seek some local advice from the tourist office on arrival.
Whilst not exactly eagerly anticipating our few days there especially after three great days in Antigua we encountered no problems. We stayed in the Biltmore Express Hotel in Zone 10 which is very much in the cultural, commercial and airport area where there is lots of tourism, high end hotels, bars and restaurants. The Biltmore was fine, the room excellent value with satellite TV in each room - we even watched 'Little Britain' one evening.  We'll particularly remember breakfast time there as being unable to get the electric toaster to toast both sides of a piece of bread at a time!
We walked out at night as a group, didn't stay out late, dressed down and took taxis when walking was too far to contemplate.  The only time we re-visited Zone 1, apart from getting our bus back to the Rio Dulce, was to tour the busy market area and cathedral as a foursome. We encountered no problems - in fact most we met were quite friendly - of course many are trying to sell you something but we enjoyed the experience and felt reasonably secure in the crowds. But it certainly wouldn't be an area for gallivanting around in at night.
All too much for the fellows- we needed liquid relief although we resisted the temptation to eat in the market, food looked good BUT you'd need a cast-iron stomach - these very small crabs were trussed up ready for the pot !                                          
                                                                                                                            This lady wasn't a fruit basket - she was a snack carrier!
                               Not often you see shrimp being sold next to vegetables?                                                  recognise any of these? Rambutans on the left , deep purple Miracle Fruit on the right, with star fruits, guavas and grapes in the background.
When we weren't touring the shopping malls in Zone 10 (in which we secured a real bargain buy - 2 swimsuits for the Admiral and 4 colourful pairs of long shorts for the skipper - all for Q163 or £13.50) we were visiting Pricesmart and Wal-Mart which were a short distance away by taxi. It was in Pricesmart that Phil became fixated on the contents of a shopping trolley under the control of two Nuns  - after all you don't see them shopping that often. They were in there quite a while but their final tally in a huge trolley was two large bags of marshmallows and a pair of oven ready chickens. Hmm
In between the shopping we continued to practice the ancient art of filling one's belly. As in Antigua we did eat very well.  At an eagerly anticipated visit to a Sushi Bar 'The Admiral' (now completely and utterly 'persona non grata' within the Veggie Society) ordered a natty plate of raw fish that looked to have come straight from the bakery department at Waitrose! But it did look nice. Phil mainly scorned the raw stuff except for some late minesweeping activities and tackled as his main dish some medium cooked cow and veg.
                                         Eyes bigger than bellies  !! The full sushi                                                                                                               Wouldn't have eaten this stuff a few years ago eh Admiral?
On the Sunday morning we took taxi's to the Litegua station for our 0900 ride back to the Rio Dulce. Our weeks 'holiday' away from the heat and humidity of the Rio was over. Special thanks for their companionship go to our four 'partners in crime' with special mention to Kent and Faye for making all the arrangements.