Quetzaltenango is Guatemala's second city. It has a great atmosphere – not too big, not too small, enough foreigners to support a good range of hotels and restaurants, but not so many that it loses its national flavor. The Guatemalan 'layering' effect is at work in the city center – once the Spanish moved out, the Germans moved in and their architecture gives the zone a somber, even Gothic, feel.
The city's name might be a mouthful, but locals kindly shorten ito Xela (shell-ah), an abbreviation of the original K'iche' Maya name, Xelajú.
Xela is popular with travelers with time to settle in to a place and work on their Spanish. It also functions as a base for a range of spectacular hikes through the surrounding countryside – the ascent to the summit of Volcán Tajumulco (Central America's highest point) and the three-day trek to Lago de Atitlán, to name a few.