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Guatemala City is divided into 21 zones or "zonas." The zonas are numbered sequentially in a spiral pattern beginning with Zona 1, the most central and oldest zone in the city. In general, the city is laid out on a standard grid, with avenidas (avenues) running roughly north-south, and calles (streets) running east-west. Of the 21 zones, below are those that you're likely to visit, as they hold the majority of the city's hotels, restaurants, and major attractions.

Breaking the Code -- Guatemalan addresses may look confusing, but they're actually easy to understand. All addresses are written beginning with the avenida or calle that the building, business, or house is on, followed by the nearest cross street and actual building number, written out as a two-number hyphen combination. This is then followed by the zone. For example, the INGUAT Office on 7a Av. 1-17, Zona 4 is located at no. 17, on Avenida 7, near the cross street of 1a Calle in Zona 4. Be very careful, first and foremost, that you're in the correct zone. 7a Av. 1-17, Zona 4; and 7a Av. 1-17, Zona 10, are two radically different addresses.

The Neighborhoods in Brief

Zona 1 This is the most central and oldest section of the city, home to the Plaza Mayor, Metropolitan Cathedral, and National Theater, as well as many budget hotels, stores, and restaurants. Several buildings date back to the capital's founding in 1775, when a mudéjar (Moorish) architectural style was so fashionable and uniform that the only thing that distinguished one private home from another was the size. Unfortunately, other aspects of the urban environment can overshadow the neighborhood's charms. Traffic noise and exhaust fumes flood the crowded streets and avenues. Be very cautious when exploring this area and avoid going out at night, as petty theft and even gun violence are common.

Zona 4 Just south of Zona 1, this area was once known as the Cantón de Exposición, as its center was the Guatemala Pavilion from the 1890 Paris World's Fair. A touch of Paris still remains: the Torre del Reformador, a smaller version of the Eiffel Tower built in 1935 to commemorate the progressive administration of President Justo Rufino Barrios (1873-85). Travelers will want to be aware of the central INGUAT office here, housed in the Civic Center along with the Bank of Guatemala, the Supreme Court of Justice, and other government buildings. Nearby, the compact Cuatro Grados Norte is a pedestrian-friendly and safe section of bars, restaurants, shops, and discos. The sprawling, chaotic second-class bus terminal and market are in this zone as well.

Zonas 9 & 10 These ritzy zones straddle the Avenida La Reforma in the southern part of the city center, with Zona 9 to the west and Zona 10 to the east. The streets are lined with trees and gardens, embassies and eateries, luxury hotels and shops. Zona 10 is also known as the "Zona Viva" because of its abundance of hotels, restaurants, and bars. The streets in Zona 10 are relatively safe, and the area has a hopping nightlife. More than just a playground for the well-heeled, Zona 10 is also home to the Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena, Botanical Garden, and Popol Vuh Museum, with its notable collection of pre-Columbian pottery.

Zona 13 The airport, several museums, and the Aurora Zoo are all in Zona 13, southwest of Zona 9. It's a pleasant place to spend an afternoon or a night if you have an early morning flight from La Aurora airport. The hotels in Zona 9 and Zona 10 are also quite close to the airport.

He's Gone to Zona 20 -- Though there is no actual Zona 20, you may hear locals refer to it. In a bit of local gallows humor, when someone dies in Guatemala City, they say, "Se fue para la zona 20," which translates to "He's gone to Zona 20."

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.