October 20, 2009

Leaving Zona 9 for Villanueva

My husband, three kids and I spent the first two months of our three month stay in Guatemala City in a furnished apartment in zone 9, near to the Plazuela Espana. We stayed in an apartment building that often rents to foreigners, in a part of the city where foreigners and wealthy Guatemalans live. Where we lived is not quite as exclusive, elite, and utterly bourgeois as La CaƱada in zone 14 or Oakland in zone 10, but it was close enough. Here is the view from our window in zone 9.

From our apartment in zone 9, it was just a few short blocks to the Zona Viva, one of the few places in Guatemala City where foreigners mingle in cafes and sports bars. We also lived close to the nice Parque del Obelisco, and at a convenient distance from the American Embassy. In addition, our apartment was just a twenty minute bus ride from Zone 1, with no traffic.

Zones 9, 10, and 14 are the places most expatriates live, except for the brave few who live in Zone 2, for easy access to downtown (and cheaper rents). These are also the areas where most elite Guatemalans reside. These zones are safer than most, and one has access to nearly everything one could need. Nevertheless, we decided to move to a working class neighborhood, where a friend of ours offered to rent us an apartment. There are many advantages to living in a working class neighborhood in Guatemala City.

We packed our things and moved to San Jose de Villanueva, a working class neighborhood in the south of Guatemala City. The biggest advantage to living here, in my view, is the fact that people live part of their lives outside. In the more exclusive zones, life is mostly lived within the confines of the home, and perhaps inside restaurants and shopping malls. In contrast, in the neighborhood we live in now, kids play freely in the park outside, children come in and out of our house, and people greet each other as they pass by. Whereas my three daughters were largely confined to the house in Zone 9, except when I took them out to Pollo Campero or to the Parque del Obelisco, in our new neighborhood, they can run out on their own and play with their newfound friends. Here's a view from the window of our new place in Villanueva.

Another advantage is the food. First of all, in our new neighborhood, there are three young women who spend all day making fresh tortillas. Each morning, they grind the corn to make the masa. Then, they spend the rest of the day making fresh, hot, delicious tortillas with their hands, meaning we can have these tasty tortillas with each meal. In addition, there are several small stores that sell fresh vegetables, meat, chicken, and fresh baked bread within walking distance. And, of course, there is a large market that has everything one could want for sale, all at the best prices.

I was concerned about moving so far from all of the action. It takes a full hour to get to Zone 1 from Villanueva. It is about a twenty minute ride on a bus, and then another 40 minutes on the Transmetro, the new modern buses that go straight downtown. However, as I only have to go to Zone 1 a couple of times a week, if that, it is not that big of a deal to get on the bus. Plus, bus rides are always fertile ground for the stuff of blogs.


  1. Wow. That sounds like an excellent move. The food alone makes it so worth the trouble!

  2. I will miss the tortillas and avocados when we leave! I learned that the difference between the best tortillas and the rest is that the best ones are made from ground corn, not from Maseca flour.

  3. That's funny - i read this one to my Guatemalan husband because this was exactly like our impressions last time we were in guate - it would stink to live in guatemala and have to purchase your tortillas from pais rather than freshly made before your meal, and not be able to go down the street in the morning for your bread. the quality of the fruits and vegetables and the opportunity to have fresh bread every day at low prices are among my favorite things about guatemala.

  4. Alison: That is so true. People who work for the United Nations, for example, have to live in zones 9, 10, and 14. They are prohibited to walk around the streets. What's the point of living in Guate that way?

    I looked up on the American Embassy website to see where the robberies of foreigners take place. Every single robbery of a foreigner this year that they reported was in zone 9 or zone 10. I am not sure if that means foreigners don't go to other parts of the city, or if they are more likely to be robbed in zones 9 and 10.

  5. I was just wondering how to address a letter to someone living in San Jose Villa Nueva. My daughter's birth mother lives there and I am trying to send her a letter but it came back. Thanks Natalie W

  6. Natalie
    The address should look something like this

    Full name
    6a Avenida, 123
    Name of Colonia or Residencia
    San Jose de Villanueva

    Good luck with that. Also, you might be able to get a phone number using some sort of online directory.