Not that Guatemala is an expensive country to visit, but if you’ve been overdoing it with the food and accommodations like I was, the bill adds up quickly! That is why today I am sharing with you a few things you can do for free in Xela.
None of these were on my list of things to do, but after an unfortunate accident where I fell and hurt my knee (that’s a story for another day!), I ended up having to cancel a three-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlán. Fortunately, I instead got to spend a few days limping around and exploring what this colourful city has to offer!
Xela is located in the south west of Guatemala. The true name is actually Quetzaltenango; and Xela (pronounced “shae-la”) is its Maya name. Most people do refer to it as Xela, probably due to its simple pronunciation! It’s less popular with tourists than other spots around the country, which means that it’s super affordable and authentic.
Interested in traveling further south? Try Costa Rica!
Check out these 8 reasons why Costa Rica should be on your bucket list!
Cerro El Baúl
This lava dome located in the south east of the city, is completely forested and offers an incredible view of Xela. I decided to walk up to the top, rather than take a cab or shuttle, but I was told after the fact that it was a risky move due to my being a solo female traveler. Although I didn’t feel at risk at any time during the hike, I definitely recommend that you follow the advice of the locals and avoid walking on your own. They certainly have a reason for saying so.
About half way up, you will encounter your first viewpoint overlooking the city. Big rocks line the cliff side and provide a good resting spot if you’re walking up in a group and I saw a few cars stop to snap some photos as well. On a clear day you can see the entire city and the mountainous terrain surrounding it.
To the top is a park where people come together to enjoy the view, have a picnic, see the monuments and enjoy time with family and friends. My first stop was the cement slides, which are long slides on which people of all ages go down. Some friendly locals invited me to go down with them and we took turns filming each other. It was a complete throw back to childhood! Make sure you bring a piece of cardboard to slide on, I have a dreadful feeling that people have burned holes in their pants going down those slides!
I then headed over to take a peak at the view of Xela from the top. A white cross with a dove atop overlooks the city and the area offers gorgeous photo ops! If you fancy a picnic, there are some fire pits on site that you can use to cook up a lunch.
Ireland also has a lot of beautiful views!
See our top 12 things to do in Ireland and Northern Ireland!
I know a cemetery is not your typical vacation activity, but a friend of mine suggested it and I thought I would check it out since I had some free time. I ended up spending an entire afternoon walking through, admiring the colors and reading the names of the people who were laid to rest here, wondering what their story was.
When I think cemetery, the first image that comes to mind is dark, cold, creepy and lonely. This place was none of that.
First of all it has a great view of the surrounding volcanoes and mountains. But mostly, it’s one of the most colourful places I have visited. Old trees are scattered around the site, and fresh flowers are resting in the flowerpots attached to a lot of the tombs. With each grave a different color, it makes for a beautiful sight!
Step outside of the cemetery, and find the north side wall for what looks like a hundred murals painted along its way.
Concert in the central square
The central park, known as Parque a Centro América, is home to the music conservatory where they hold outdoor concerts on a regular basis. The day I was lucky enough to enjoy it, a young jazz band played a variety of songs from classics to modern music.
Hangout in the square to see if you will be lucky, or visit the conservatory to ask for details of their next presentations. It’s a great afternoon break, where you get to enjoy the music with a lovely crowd of locals and tourists alike!
Afterwards, you can spend some time in the square, people watching, chatting up and making friends. A lovely area with plenty of seating space, it’s a great place to enjoy a little takeaway or a good book!
Is hiking your thing? Have you thought of visiting Canada's Rockies?
You may want to check out our Banff Travel Guide!
Learn or practice Spanish
Spanish schools are located everywhere, but if you have a basic understanding (thanks to language learning apps!) there is an opportunity to practice and learn at every corner, for free! Whether you chat up the server at the restaurant, the clerk at a store, your hotel attendant or a random person on the street, it’s the best way to learn.
I sat next to a lovely older gentleman in the plaza, and we ended up chatting for over an hour about my home, my work and his family. He had little English, I had little Spanish, but we manage to have an engaging conversation nonetheless and a great time!
The best part is that this kind of practice made me so much more confident in my skills, and keener to use them. Ask them about themselves, their day and their family, and tell them about you as well. You will be surprised at how quickly you can learn!
When you have to cancel or change your vacation plans it can be disappointing, especially if you’ve been looking forward to it for a while. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good time! I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these if it wasn’t for having gotten hurt and getting this suddenly free time during my trip!
Just make the best of it, and be thankful for any opportunity of discovering a new place!
Have you ever been disappointed by failed travel plans? What did you do to get through it? Let us know in the comments!
Budget Travel Blog: Tips and tricks for affordable vacation planning. From cheap hotels to cheap flights and everything in between, prioritizing safety and comfort.
The Dime Travelers
It’s time to ditch your misconceptions about cheap travel and join us on our blog as we show you safe and comfortable ways to travel on a budget. We will guide you through the process of trip planning and share with you what we have learned from our own travels. Our advice and reviews come from personal experience and will offer easy to follow tips and tricks to make your vacation a positive experience you'll want to have again and again.
Let's make your travel dreams come true!