Xela (Quetzaltenango) 5 Day Itinerary

Top 6 Guatemala Markets & Day Trips Around Xela

In City Guides, Guatemalaby ErikLeave a Comment

Are you planning on visiting Guatemala’s highlands and don’t know what to do? We have you covered with our 5 day itinerary that takes in all the best Guatemala markets and day trips from Xela!

There isn’t much to see and do in Xela (aka Quetzaltenango) itself but we here at DIY Travel HQ feel that it does serve as an excellent base for day trips to the surrounding attractions.

Most of the attractions in Xela are located along the perimeter of Parque Centro America, where you will find the city’s most striking architecture.

* Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala. We’ve been using World Nomads for over 10 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found but there are other important things to consider. Check out our post and find out which of our claims were successful or denied.

Things to do in Xela

If you don’t know where to start in Xela, then start at Parque Centro America.

Best Guatemala Markets Near Xela

Xela is the center of the highlands, one of the best destinations in Guatemala.

As such, there are a number of excellent weekly markets in villages nearby.

These include, in order of priority:

  • San Francisco de Alto
  • Momostenango
  • Zunil

We also recommend Lonely Planet’s Guatemala travel guide, or Lonely Planet’s Central America on a Shoestring to help you plan your trip.

Guatemala markets

There’s more to San Francisco El Alto than just the animal market.

  • #1. San Francisco de Alto Animal Market

San Francisco El Alto is the most authentic, large Guatemala market. The highlight is the animal market.

If you are in Xela on a Friday, get up early and make your way to San Francisco El Alto. You won’t regret going.

In fact, we were so amazed by both the quantity and variety of animals available for purchase at the animal market that we made two laps to make sure we saw everything.

San Francisco El Alto Animal Market and Sheena

Top Tip: Don’t wear flip-flops to an animal market in Guatemala!

  • #2. Momostenango Sunday Market and Los Riscos

Momostenango has a one-two-punch in the Sunday Market and Los Riscos if you can time it correctly as a day trip from Xela.

Momostenango’s Sunday market seems very tame, and village oriented compared to the larger San Francisco de Alto Friday market.

The streets were less jammed, a live band performed in the gazebo, and people were able to chat.

Best markets in Guatemala

The wool blanket vendors were the only ones showing life at Momostenango Sunday Market.

If you plan on coming to Momostenango for the Sunday market anyhow, then Los Riscos are an added bonus.

A short 5 minute walk uphill, and you are there.

These pillars were created by wind and water, as rain helped erode away the lose sediment surrounding the sandstone.

Momostenango Los Riscos and Sign

Los Riscos are a bonus on a visit to Momostenango.

  • #3. Zunil Market

Zunil recently converted to a daily market making it ok to visit any day of the week.

You won’t be missing anything as many locals and vendors still wear traditional garments in their daily lives.

Combine a quick tour of Zunil with soaking in Fuentes Georginas and finding San Simon (Maximon).

Zunil Market Traditional Outfits

We wonder how much longer the locals will continue wearing traditional clothes.

The most popular attraction around Zunil is Fuentes Georginas (Q50 / $6.85).

The private hot springs have a series of pools with different temperatures, and are surrounded by walls filled with lush vegetation.

Plan to visit the day after hiking Volcan Santa Maria to help your body recover.

Zunil Streets

Tucked up in the hills overlooking Zunil is Fuentes Georginas.

Who is San Simon, and why do I need to find him? Good questions.

San Simon is a revered god to Guatemalans in the highlands.

He is part Mayan gods, Jesus, and even the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvaradoall rolled into one.

Most importantly, he is a bad-ass who likes offerings of tobacco, alcohol, and of course money.

There are better Guatemala markets than Zunil but combined with the other attractions, it makes a decent day trip from Xela.

Zunil Finding San Simon (Maximon) Badass

Donations appreciated. Bad habits aren’t cheap!

Xela Day Trip: San Andres Xecul

San Andres Xecul can be combined with a trip to either San Francisco El Alto or Momostenango.

The town is famous for their church’s childish façade.

There’s a daily market but it’s nothing special in terms of Guatemala markets.

San Andres Xecul Iglesia del Calvario

Can you fit any more designs on Iglesia del Calvario’s facade?

Hiking in Xela

The Guatemalan Highlands are home to a plethora of nearby volcanoes.

Some you can climb as a day trip, others require overnights, and a few that could be done either way.

The day hikes from Xela include Volcan Santa Maria and Laguna Chicabal.

There are also three multi-day treks you can do from Xela.

If you are keen on hiking, then look into two day Volcan Tajumulco, three day Xela to Lago de Atitlan, and five day Nebaj to Todos Santos Cuchumatan.

Road to Volcan Santa Maria

You have to walk to the volcano before you can climb it.

  • #1. Volcan Santa Maria

If you start very early you can hike Volcan Santa Maria, and still have a nice view before the clouds roll-in around 9:30 am.

If you like to sleep in, or are a slow hiker, then consider sleeping on top for excellent views.

The goal is to catch Volcan Santiaguito erupting while still clear.

Expect the trip to take 9 hours door-to-door.

Volcan Santa Maria View of Xela and Volcan Almolonga

Look at the view of Xela!

  • #2. Laguna Chicabal

Laguna Chicabal is an easy climb for a volcano, and can definitely be done as a day trip.

The highlight is enjoying the tranquil crater lake, and possibly witnessing Mayan faithful.

Laguna Chicabal Altar and Flower Offerings Lakeside

The Guatemalan Highlands are a true mix of Christianity and Mayan Pagan beliefs.

5 Day Xela Itinerary

Follow this itinerary if you would like to hit market days in the surrounding villages:

Friday: San Francisco El Alto and San Andres Xecul

Saturday: Laguna Chicabal and Xela

Sunday: Momostenango and Los Riscos

Monday: Volcan Santa Maria

Tuesday: Zunil, Fuentes Georginas, and finding San Simon (Maximon)

Xela Accommodation

Consider staying a week in Xela if you plan on visiting several weekly markets and hiking both volcanoes.

After negotiating, the price will probably be similar.

This also gives you time to relax, or wait out bad weather.

Quetzaltenango (Xela) Casa Argentina Room

Make sure to ask for a dicount if staying for a week or longer.

Xela Transport

  • Terminal Minerva

Most long distance destinations from Xela departs from Minerva Bus Terminal.

When trying to find your ‘chicken’ bus, make sure you have the correct lane and walk from front to back as they depart in this order.

Momostenango and San Andres Xecul depart from the second lane from the left.

San Andres Xecul Chicken Bus Terminal

Waiting for the chicken bus to fill up.

  • Other Terminals

The Rotunda on the east side of Xela is handy for ‘chicken’ buses to San Francisco de Alto and Zunil.

Meanwhile, microbuses depart from 15a Avenida and 6a Calle for Laguna Chicabal.

Buses to Volcan Santa Maria pass Iglesia El Calvario.

Xela to San Martin (Laguna Chicabal) Colectivo

Plan on catching transportation no later than 6 am for the volcanoes.

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***The Final Word – There are many fantastic Xela day trips to explore Guatemala’s best markets & highlands! ***

What’s your favourite Xela day trip?

4 Shovels

Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport

Visited in August 2016

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