The second-largest city in all of Guatemala, Quetzaltenango is an important commercial hub in the central-western highlands. The city is a sprawling conglomeration of districts and neighbourhoods that seems to go on endlessly in any direction from the center. Although its population is estimated to be about 300,000, it often seems larger.
To the QuichĂ© people who lived in the city for centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, the city was called â€śXelajĂş,â€ť or â€śUnder Ten Mountains.â€ť Quetzaltenango, or â€śPlace of the Quetzal birdâ€ť was the name given to it by Conquistador Pedro de Alvaradoâ€™s Mexican allies during the conquest. Although the name stuck as far as the Spanish were concerned, the locals still more commonly refer to the city as Xelaju, or Xela for short.
The city was the capital of the QuichĂ© people at the time of the Spanish conquest. They fought valiantly against Pedro de Alvarado and his men, but ultimately the city fell. The QuichĂ© leader, TecĂşn UmĂˇn, bravely went to battle with the Spanish, but fell in battle outside of town. According to tradition, he fell in single combat with Alvarado himself, although there is little historical evidence to support this notion.
The city remained important during the colonial and republican periods, and when coffee was introduced in the nineteenth century, the city boomed. The fine houses and buildings of the coffee boom can still be seen in the colonial center of town, and the region still produces a good deal of coffee, although insiders will tell you that the coffee grown in Alta Verapaz and Huehuetenango is of higher quality.
There are some tourist attractions in Xela, making the town worth a visit. The colonial center has some interesting architecture, and the hills and mountains around the city are good for hiking. The central market has some traditional crafts for sale, and theyâ€™re generally cheaper than youâ€™ll find them in Antigua or Panajachel. The city is convenient to other places of interest such as San Francisco el Alto and Momostenango. There are an abundance of Spanish schools in Xela, which mainly attract those students too serious to want to study in Cuba-libre-soaked Antigua or Hippie Heaven Panajachel. These students in general sacrifice two-for-one margaritas for a more authentic homestay and less distractions.
Neighborhoods in Quetzaltenango : Los Vahos, Cantel, Las Cumbres, El Palmar Viejo, Laguna Chicabal, Xela, SalcajĂˇ, TotonicapĂˇn, Zunil, San AndrĂ©s Xecul and Almolonga.
Other places nearby Quetzaltenango : La Mesilla, Gracias A Dios, Todos Santos Cuchumatan, Huehuetenango, NentĂłn, Momostenango, San Mateo Ixtatan, Barillas, TotonicapĂˇn and Cuatro Caminos.