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Expat Exchange - Best Places to Visit in Guatemala for Christmas Cheer
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Guatemala City, Guatemala


Best Places to Visit in Guatemala for Christmas Cheer

By Betsy Burlingame

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Summary: Plan a day trip or weekend getaway to get some holiday cheer. This article highlights the best places to visit in Guatemala for Christmas cheer.

Guatemala, with its rich cultural tapestry and vibrant traditions, offers a unique holiday experience for expats and digital nomads looking to immerse themselves in local festivities. December in Guatemala is a time of colorful celebrations, religious processions, and lively markets. From the cobblestone streets of Antigua to the bustling markets of Guatemala City, there are numerous places where one can soak in the holiday spirit. Here are some of the best places to visit in Guatemala during the festive season.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua, known for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture and stunning surroundings, is magical during the holidays. The entire city comes alive with decorations and lights, and the main plaza hosts the annual Antigua Christmas Fair, where you can find handcrafted gifts, traditional textiles, and delicious Guatemalan treats. The highlight is the "Burning of the Devil" on December 7th, a tradition where locals burn effigies to cleanse the evil spirits before the holy festivities. The procession of La Virgen de la Concepción is another event not to be missed, typically held in early December.

We Recommend: Try the ponche, a traditional Guatemalan fruit punch that's especially popular during the holiday season. It's a warm, sweet, and comforting drink that's perfect for the cooler evenings.

Guatemala City's Zona Viva

In the heart of Guatemala City, Zona Viva transforms into a festive hub with its Christmas lights and decorations. The area is known for its upscale hotels, restaurants, and nightlife, but during December, it also hosts holiday events and markets. The "Festival Navideño Paseo de la Sexta" is a highlight, featuring live music, food stalls, and artisan vendors. This festival usually takes place in mid-December and is a great place to experience the urban side of Guatemalan Christmas traditions.

We Recommend: Don't miss the chance to sample tamales, a staple Guatemalan Christmas dish. They come in various flavors, with the most traditional being red or black tamales, wrapped in banana leaves.

Quetzaltenango

Quetzaltenango, or Xela as it's commonly known, is the country's second-largest city and offers a more authentic Guatemalan Christmas experience. The central park becomes a focal point for celebrations, with the "Feria de Navidad y Año Nuevo" where you can find everything from holiday decorations to local foods. The city is also famous for its "Quema del Diablo" tradition and the unique "Baile de los Moros y Cristianos," a dance that represents the battles between Moors and Christians, usually performed in December.

We Recommend: For a sweet treat, try the buñuelos, a type of fried dough ball that's often served with a syrup made from panela (unrefined whole cane sugar) and is particularly popular during the holiday season.

Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango, often referred to as Chichi, is home to one of the most vibrant markets in Guatemala. During December, the market expands with holiday-specific offerings. The town also celebrates the Fiesta de Santo Tomás from around December 13th to 21st, which blends indigenous Mayan and Christian rituals. The event includes traditional dances, music, and a pole flying ceremony that's a must-see.

We Recommend: Look out for the colorful textiles and handcrafted nativity scenes at the market, which make for unique Christmas gifts or decorations for your home.

Lake Atitlan's Panajachel

The town of Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan provides a serene setting for holiday festivities. The area is known for its stunning views and indigenous culture. During December, the town is adorned with lights and nativity scenes. Local hotels and restaurants often host special events and dinners for Christmas and New Year's Eve, offering a mix of traditional Guatemalan and international holiday cuisine.

We Recommend: Take a boat trip to the surrounding villages, each with its own unique celebrations and artisan markets, perfect for finding handcrafted gifts.

Cobán

Cobán, in the lush Alta Verapaz region, is famous for its Rabin Ajau festival, although not a Christmas event, it brings a festive atmosphere to the town in December. The town also hosts a Christmas fair and is known for its elaborate nativity scenes, which are displayed in various locations. The cool, misty climate of Cobán gives a cozy feel to the holiday season, making it a unique place to celebrate.

We Recommend: Enjoy a cup of locally grown coffee, which is some of the best in the world, as you stroll through the festive streets of Cobán.

Livingston

Livingston, located on the Caribbean coast and accessible only by boat, offers a different holiday experience with its Garifuna culture. The town has a laid-back vibe, and during December, you can enjoy the Garifuna's unique music and dance, which often accompany their Christmas celebrations. The blend of cultures here makes for a distinctive holiday atmosphere.

We Recommend: Try the traditional Garifuna dish, tapado, a seafood coconut soup that's especially comforting during the holiday season.

La Antigua's Calle del Arco

La Antigua's iconic Calle del Arco is a picturesque street that becomes even more enchanting during the holidays. The arch is beautifully lit, and the street is lined with vendors selling holiday treats and crafts. It's a perfect spot for evening strolls and for capturing the essence of Christmas in Guatemala.

We Recommend: Be sure to try the traditional Guatemalan hot chocolate, often spiced with cinnamon and served with a piece of pan dulce (sweet bread).

Whether you're looking for traditional markets, festive lights, or unique cultural experiences, Guatemala offers a wealth of places to get into the holiday spirit. Each location has its own charm and traditions, making for a memorable December for expats and digital nomads alike.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.


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