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Skyline of Quetzaltenango
Flag of Quetzaltenango
Official seal of Quetzaltenango
Quetzaltenango is located in Guatemala
Location in Guatemala
Country  Guatemala
Department Quetzaltenango
Foundation May 7, 1524
 • Type Municipality
 • Mayor Mito Barrientos, Grand National Alliance
 • City 120 km2 (50 sq mi)
 • Water 0 km2 (0 sq mi)
Elevation 2,330 m (7,640 ft)
Population (2011 Estimate)
 • City 225,000
 • Metro 661,375
Demonym(s) Quetzalteca/o, Chiva/o, Xelateca/o
Time zone Central America (UTC-6)
Climate Cwb

Quetzaltenango, also known by its indigenous name, Xelajú or Xela [ˈʃela], is the second largest city of Guatemala.[1] It is both the capital of Quetzaltenango Department and the municipal seat of Quetzaltenango municipality.

It has an estimated population of 224,703. The population is about 61% indigenous or Amerindian, 34% Mestizo or ladino and 5% white Latin American. Quetzaltenango is located in a mountain valley at an elevation of 2,330 meters (7,640 feet) above sea level at its lowest part. It may reach above 2,400 meters within the city.

The Municipality of Quetzaltenango consists of an area of 127 square kilometres (49 sq mi). Municipalities abutting the municipality of Quetzaltenango include Salcajá, Cantel, Almolonga, Zunil, El Palmar, Concepción Chiquirichapa, San Mateo, La Esperanza, Olintepeque, and San Andrés Xecul. All these municipalities are part of the Department of Quetzaltenango, except San Andrés Xecul which is a part of the Department of Totonicapán.


  • History 1
  • Climate 2
  • Economy 3
  • Sports 4
  • Transportation 5
  • Notable inhabitants 6
  • Consular representations 7
  • International relations 8
    • Twin towns – Sister cities 8.1
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Quetzaltenango central park c. 1894

In Pre-Columbian times Quetzaltenango was a city of the Mam Maya people called Xelajú, although by the time of the Spanish Conquest it had become part of the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj. The name may be derived from "Xe laju' noj" meaning "under ten mountains". The city was said to have already been over 300 years old when the Spanish first arrived. With the help of his allies, Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado defeated and killed the Maya ruler Tecún Umán here. When Alvarado conquered the city for Spain in the 1520s, he called it by the Nahuatl name used by his Central Mexican Indian allies, "Quetzaltenango", generally considered to mean "the place of the quetzal bird" (although see note on etymology below). Quetzaltenango became the city's official name in colonial times. However, many people (especially, but not only, the indigenous population) continue to call the city "Xelajú" (pronounced shay-lah-WHO) or more commonly Xela for short, and some proudly, but unofficially, consider it the "capital of the Mayas".

From 1838 to 1840 Quetzaltenango was capital of the state of Los Altos, one of the states or provinces of the Federal Republic of Central America. As the union broke up, the army of Guatemala under Rafael Carrera conquered Quetzaltenango making it again part of Guatemala. As of 1850, the city had a population of approximately 20,000.[2]

In the 19th century, coffee was introduced as a major crop in the area, as a result the economy of Xela prospered. Much fine Belle Époque architecture can still be found in the city.

In the 1920s a young Gypsy woman named Vanushka Cardena Barajas died and was buried in the Xela city cemetery. An active legend has developed around her tomb that says those who bring flowers or write a request on her tomb will be reunited with their broken relationships. The Guatemalan songwriter Alvaro Aguilar wrote a song based on this legend.

Skyline of Quetzaltenango from the surrounding mountainside in 2009.

In 1930 the only electric railway in Guatemala, the Ferrocarril de los Altos, was inaugurated, which was later destroyed by mudslides and finally demolished in 1933. It had been built by AEG and Krupp and it consisted of 14 cars. The track connected Quetzaltenango with San Felipe Retalhuleu. The people of Quetzaltenango are still very proud of the railway. A railway museum has been established in the city centre.

Since the late 1990s Quetzaltenango has been having an economic boom, which makes it the second city in economy importance in Guatemala. With its first high-raise buildings being built, it is expected by 2015 to have a more prominent skyline, with buildings no higher than 15 floors.

In 2008 the Central American Congress PARLACEN stated that every September 15, Quetzaltenango will be Central America's capital of culture.[3]

Quetzaltenango was supposed to host the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games, but could not find the economic funding for the event.[4]

Satellite photo showing Quetzaltenango and Santa Maria volcano


Farming highlands

According to Köppen climate classification, Quetzaltenango features a subtropical highland climate (Cwb). In general, the climate in Quetzaltenango can go from mild to chilly, with occasional sporadic warm episodes. The daily high is usually reached around noon. From then on, temperatures decrease exceptionally fast. The city is quite dry, except during the rainy season. Quetzaltenango is the chilliest major city in Guatemala.

There are two main seasons in Quetzaltenango (as in all of Guatemala); the rainy season, which generally runs from late May through late October, and the dry season, which runs from early November until April. During the rainy season, rain falls consistently, usually in the afternoons, but there are occasions in which it rains all day long or at least during the morning. During the dry season, the city frequently will not receive a single drop of rain for months on end.

Coldest months are November through February, with minimum temperatures averaging 4 °C, and Maximum temperatures averaging 22 °C.

Warmest months are March through July, with minimum temperatures averaging 8 °C and Maximum temperatures averaging 23 °C.

Yearly, average low is 6 °C, and average high is 22 °C.

Below, is a chart for better comprehension.

Climate data for Quetzaltenango - Labor Ovalle Weather Station (Temp.: 1991−2010 / Prec.: 1980−2010
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 28.4
Average high °C (°F) 22.0
Daily mean °C (°F) 12.9
Average low °C (°F) 2.3
Record low °C (°F) −11.5
Average rainfall mm (inches) 1.80
Average rainy days (≥ 0.1 mm) 0.8 0.93 2.33 5.87 16.8 21.93 18.0 17.53 22.8 14.47 5.67 2.13 129.26
Average relative humidity (%) 65.68 63.05 64.5 68.4 74.5 79.37 74.47 76.05 81.16 79.32 72.65 68.63 72.315
Mean monthly sunshine hours 249.57 240.27 249.33 212.77 167.14 142.32 185.27 187.51 135.61 156.94 199.15 228.69 2,354.57
Source: Instituto Nacional de Sismologia, Vulcanologia, Meteorologia, e Hidrologia[5]


Historically, the city produced wheat, maize, fruits, and vegetables. It also had a healthy live stock industry. They exported throughout the country and with El Salvador. As of 1850, wheat was their largest export, followed by cacao, sugar, wool and cotton.[2]


Quetzaltenango is home to the Club Xelajú MC soccer team. The team competes at Estadio Mario Camposeco which has a capacity of 13,500 and is the most successful non-capital team in the Liga Nacional de Fútbol de Guatemala.[6] It is also home to a rugby team in the newly formed Guatemalan rugby union and has enjoyed moderate success in the competition.

Due to the city's high altitude many athletes have prepared themselves here such as olympic silver medallist Erick Barrondo and the 2004 Cuban volleyball team.

The swimming team has enjoyed success in national and international events.

Quetzaltenango will be hosting the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games and it plans to build a new 30,000 seat stadium by 2016, as well 7 new facilities for indoor sports and aquatics.[7]


The Cuatro Caminos intersection outside the city.

The city has a system of micro-buses for quick and cheap movement. A micro-bus is essentially a large van stuffed with seats. Micro-buses are numbered based on the route they take (e.g., "ruta 7"). There is no government-run mass transport system in the city. The sole public means of transport is the bus or micro-buses. Transportation to other cities is provided by bus. Bicycling is a way to get around and to travel to (and in) rural areas.

Quetzaltenango is about 200 km (124 mi) from Guatemala City.[8]

Notable inhabitants

Consular representations

  • Consulate of Spain
  • Consulate of El Salvador
  • Consulate of Italy
  • Consulate of Mexico

International relations

Twin towns – Sister cities

Quetzaltenango is twinned with:

See also


  1. ^ About Quetzaltenango, Xelaju
  2. ^ a b Baily, John (1850). Central America; Describing Each of the States of Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. London: Trelawney Saunders. pp. 84–85. 
  3. ^ Historia de QuetzaltenangoGuateLog -
  4. ^; Ciudad guatemalteca, candidata para Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe 2018.
  5. ^ "Ministerio de comunicaciones Infraestructura y Vivienda". August 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-04. 
  6. ^
  7. ^; Xela presenta candidatura para realizar Juegos Centroamericanos y del Caribe 2018. Radio Emisoras Unidas - en línea desde Guatemala.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Pessotto, Lorenzo. "International Affairs - Twinnings and Agreements". International Affairs Service in cooperation with Servizio Telematico Pubblico. City of Torino. Archived from the original on 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2013-08-06. 

External links

  • - map & guide to Xela, tourist information, Guatemalan slang, events, shopping in xela, etc.
  • - nightlife magazine about Xela
  • map of Quetzaltenango
  • - Spanish language school

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