Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Beautiful Xela: An Old Town with Modern Dynamism

I do hope you enjoyed our train ride yesterday, because I did! Today, Xela open its front doors to let us in, to let us travel in time while we walk through narrow and some cobble-stoned streets. One of the first things we will notice entering Xela is its modernity and it may be difficult to imagine that beyond the entrance, we will find a town that keeps traces of the colonial period in its streets and avenues.
As I mentioned yesterday, fine Belle Époque-style architecture -classical, neoclassical and Italian renaissance- are evident in the buildings and the houses which were built during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with volcanic stones sculpted by local artists.
Some of the most important buildings are: the Cathedral, whose facade was originally built in 1535 and remodeled in 1896; the Municipal Theater, a Neoclassical building beautiful not just in the outside but also in the inside; the Central America Park (also known as Parque Central or Central Square), which is in the center of the town and frequently is used as scenario for artistic performances and once a month is transformed into the artisans' market.
Xela has become a popular destination for foreign students looking to study Spanish or even one of the Maya languages, and offers amazingly affordable options, including home stays which have students practicing all day long. In addition to the languages lessons, and please don't ask me why, Xela is also a great place to learn salsa dancing, boasting a lively salsa scene.  
This former colonial town is enveloped by surrounding misty mountains, the city itself is based at an altitude of 7,655 feet above sea level, so don't forget to bring a sweater. Two major volcanoes share the landscape here, and while the Santa Maria volcano rests dormant, the Santiaguito volcano remains active. The photo above was taken from a look-out point. If you are in very good physical conditions and enjoy trekking, climbing this volcano would be a one-in-a-lifetime experience.
As a popular destination, and the commercial center that it is, plans are under way to build the Xelaju International Airport making it accessible by air; until then, surface transportation remains the primary way to visit Xela and that way, tomorrow we will continue our journey, only this time on board a modern bus. Or what, did you think that we in Guatemala only have chicken buses?

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