Located in the southwestern Quetzaltenango department of Guatemala lies the second most populated city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango. Quetzaltenango Guatemala has around 300,000 inhabitants, half of whom are indigenous, or Amerindian. Recently becoming a popular destination for foreign students looking to study the Spanish language, Quetzaltenango has joined the city of Antigua as a primary place develop your Spanish language skills while visiting Guatemala. This former colonial town is enveloped by surrounding misty mountains, the city itself based at an altitude of 7,655 feet above sea level. Two major volcanoes share the landscape here, and while the Santa Maria volcano rests dormant, the Santiaguito volcano remains active. The commercial center for the southwest region of the country, visitors will find plenty in the way of travel amenities, and Quetzaltenango is a popular place to arrange exciting Guatemala tours around the surrounding countryside.
Before the arrival of the Spanish colonists, Quetzaltenango Guatemala was a city under the control of the Mam Maya people. These people named the city Xelajú. Most natives still refer to Quetzaltenango as either Xelajú, or the shorter manifestation of Xela (pronounced Shay-La). The names, Xelajú and Xela, are derived from “Xe laju’ noj”, which translates to “under ten mountains”. Things would change for the Mayan natives with the coming of the Spanish Conquistador, Pedro de Alvarado. Alvarado conquered Xela in the 1520"s and is responsible for murdering the last great ruler of the Quiché Mayan people, Tecún Umán. Still a hero of the Quiché people today, Tecún Umán was declared the country’s official national hero in 1960, in honor of his plight to protect both his people and their lands. The city’s name was changed once Pedro de Alvarado gained control, using a Nahuatl term. “Quetzaltenango” is generally understood as, “place of the quetzal bird”. For a brief stint between 1838 and 1840, Quetzaltenango Guatemala found itself the capital of Los Altos, which was a state/province of the Federal Republic of Central America. However, under the control of Guatemala’s first President, José Rafael Carrera Turcios, Quetzaltenango would be returned as part of Guatemala. By the 19th century, Xela began to profit considerably from the developing coffee industry, and much of the period’s Belle Époque style of architecture remains.
As a popular destination for Guatemala tourism, and
the commercial center that it is, plans are under way
to construct an international airport in Qeutzaltenango
Guatemala, making it accessible by air, much like Guatemala
City and Flores. Until
the airport is finished, bus
travel remains the primary way to arrive here, with
routes from many cities. While local “chicken
buses” take some of these routes, you are better
off spending a bit more to ride with the private bus companies
that offer luggage storage, quicker routes and nicer seating
options. Those looking to study Spanish, or even
Mayan, in Xela will find amazingly affordable options,
including home stays which have you practicing all day
long. Besides Spanish
lessons, Quetzaltenango is also a great place to learn
salsa dancing, boasting a lively salsa scene. You
can make arrangements for Spanish study ahead of time
or as you arrive.
Quetzaltenango boasts one of the more successful teams in the Guatemalan National Soccer League, Xelaju M.C., and seeing a game is an experience you won’t soon forget. Other popular diversions in Xela include taking in a concert at the beautiful Municipal Theater, spending time perusing the goods at the Mercado de la Democracia (Democratic Market) and dropping in one of the city’s clubs or bars for a night of dancing and drinking. Side trips to the many villages and highland towns near Quetzaltenango reveal colonial style churches, thriving native markets and the soothing hot springs of “Fuentes Georginas”. Longer trips to destinations like Lake Atitlan can also be arranged. Besides the scores of hand-crafted products you can buy at local markets, Quetzaltenango is also known for its artful blown glass factories. Eco-tourism enthusiasts can head to a number of agencies for information on the various hiking, camping and eco-tourism tour options and visitors should find no problems securing accommodations in one of the substantially abundant Quetzaltenango hotels. There are plenty of options for affordable accommodations, and you can even arrange a homestay through Itzamna Xela Homestay, or rent a two-story house from Casa Xelajú.