Port guide: Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala
Introducing Puerto Quetzal
As Guatemala’s largest port on the Pacific Ocean, Puerto Quetzal is used for both commercial container ships as well as a cruise ship pier being a gateway to Antigua, Guatemala, the main city in this area.
A long civil war ended in 1996 with a peace accord and since then Guatemala has seen a rise in economic growth. With 14 ecoregions, Guatemala is very diverse in nature and has small desert areas, lush mountains and lakes and the highest point in Central America being Tajumulco Volcano.
As with many Central American countries, the majority of towns, population and activities are inland in the more temperate regions, rather than on the humid coastlines and Puerto Quetzal is no exception. A great port for commercial shipping, it offers little to the cruise passenger but to leave the port area and drive inland opens up a new view and shows you an active volcano, the 400 year old city of Antigua with beautiful architecture and ancient ruins along with great scenery and gardens.
- Exploring Puerto Quetzal
The historical city of Antigua is located about 90 minutes drive from the pier in Puerto Quetzal in the central highlands of Guatemala, at about 4500 feet above sea level. The journey there will take you past coffee plantations and sugar cane fields. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of its highlights is its Spanish influenced Baroque architecture, as well as having many ruins of colonial churches and charming cobblestone streets, so be sure to wear good footwear.
The city is well laid out and easy to navigate with the main square in the middle, Parque Central, where visitors can see the three major volcanoes that stand out against the city’s skyline, and other attractions being the markets and architecture. NimPot, a store under the Catalina Arch is great to check out selling local items at very reasonable prices and it is no hassle shopping.
Casa Santo Domingo, once a convent and now a hotel, is a nice place to explore the gardens of this beautiful vine covered building surrounded by fountains.
- Getting around
Puerto Quetzal is the gateway to the beautiful city of Antigua, located inland, but since there is not much to see or do in the port itself it is recommended to take part in a shore excursion if you are interested in going ashore. Almost all excursions are lengthy and take you inland through the beautiful countryside and mountains and can be quite worth your while to explore this country.
- Beyond the port
The ancient town of Tikal has at least 3000 buildings that once housed the large population of Mayans that lived here. Dating from 600 BC to 900 AD, Tikal reached its peak in the 8th century. Its 1300-year history took it from a hunting village to quite an advanced agricultural society and exploring this ancient town allows you to see into this past civilization and visit the immense temples used for places of worship and sacrificial gatherings.
Guatemala City combines colonial architecture with modern buildings and has many museums featuring ancient art from early civilizations as well as having a beautiful town square and cathedral, both being popular attractions for visitors.
- Popular shore excursions
Cruise lines that visit here offer the following shore excursions. Please check with your cruise line to see if they offer them and remember some excursions may be seasonal only!
Antigua city tour
A visit to the old city of Antigua, once the capital of the country, is a highlight for many passengers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is filled with colourful baroque architecture, cobbled streets and colonial churches. There is plenty of local shopping to be had here with markets and small shops throughout and excellent photo opportunities everywhere you look.
Explore the ancient Mayan civilisations
An all day trip to the pre-Columbian site of Yaxha, takes you back in time into the jungle to see more than 500 structures dating back to the peak of Maya rule. Buildings, altars, temple pyramids and even two ball courts can be explored in this fascinating excursion that includes a short flight and bus transportation.
An educational Coffee tour
A drive through the country allows you to experience the lowlands, sugar cane plantations and pass the remarkable volcanoes of the area while enroute to a coffee plantation. Guatemalan coffee is well known throughout the world and a visit to a plantation is informative while you sample the excellent java.
- Local cuisine
The style of cooking here combines several influences including Spanish, Indian, and European. A local speciality seafood dish is the fresh Red Snapper with cashews, or try Chicken Pepian, cooked in a spicy sesame seed sauce. Bananas combined with chilli and chocolate make for a hot and sweet dish and the Guatemalan coffee should not be missed as it ranks with some of the best in the world.
- Where you are docked
The one pier here is basic and besides a small craft market, there is little else. The dock is short and tour buses and taxis can get quite close to the so walking is minimal.
- Regional weather
Puerto Quetzal experiences typically high tropical temperatures due to its location. The warmest months of the year run from November to April. With the monsoon season (winter months) running from May to October.