Museo del Ferrocarril, Guatemala City: Railway Museum Guide

Museo de Ferrocarriles Guatemala

Antigua is a very nice place, but if you live with children, sometimes it can get a little boring for them around here. I’ve posted before about all things you can do with children in Antigua. Sometimes, though, a change of scenery is nice – at 45 minutes from Antigua, Guatemala City perfectly fits the bill.

In addition to a very nice zoo, there are museums and other interesting things to do in the city. One such place worth checking out is the Museo del Ferrocarril (Guatemala City Railway Museum), an inexpensive, informative outing that’s well worth a visit.

If you’re interested in reading a tiny bit of history about Guatemala’s train system, read on. If you just want information about visiting the museum, skip to the end of this article.

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Birth of Guatemala’s Railway System

Guatemala once had a relatively extensive railway system, which spanned from the border of Mexico to Guatemala City and onto Puerto Barrios, on the Atlantic Coast. Built in the late 1800s, the railway system provided a vital link between Guatemala’s crop-producing regions and its commercial ports.

On July 19, 1884, with much fanfare from the government, the first train arrived in Guatemala City’s only train station. Museo de Ferrocarriles GuatemalaSteam-powered locomotive #34

The first railway link connected Escuintla, a major commercial hub, and Puerto San Jose (near Monterrico), on the Pacific Coast.

Slowly, the government of Justo Rufino Barrios (the Guatemalan President on the Q5 bill) built sections as needed. The government of dictator Manuel Estrada Cabrera continued the expansion, eventually running out of money. This led to Estrada striking a one-sided deal with United Fruit Company (today Chiquita Banana).

Estrada granted large tracts of lands for United Fruit Company to plant their crops and control of the port in Puerto Barrios, all tax-free. This deal would have horrible consequences for Guatemalans and would be felt to this day when a later government (that of President Jacobo Arbenz) tried to reclaim the land United Fruit Company owned, or at least pay the taxes they owed. You can read all about the CIA-backed coup that put a stop to and ousted Arbenz in the book “Bitter Fruit“.

United Fruit Company, through its subsidiary International Railways of Central America (IRCA), went on to build the needed links necessary to ship their banana crops via Puerto Barrios, on the Atlantic Coast. Under IRCA’s direction, the railway system connecting the system with neighboring Mexico and El Salvador.

This was the golden age of the railway system in Guatemala. Because Guatemala’s highway system hadn’t been developed yet, journeys often took days on horseback – the train system was a blessing for commerce. On foot, it took 12 days to reach Puerto Barrios. Using the train? Only six hours were needed.

The Decline of Guatemala’s Railway System

The development of Guatemala’s highway system doomed its railway system. Once President Arbenz built the road the Atlantic (the 1950s), it became cheaper for companies to ship products via public roads than to use the train system.

United Fruit Company sold IRCA, which was independently operated until it was turned over to the Guatemalan government in 1968 – this accelerated the decline of the railway system.

Ferrocarriles de Guatemala - FEGUA

Logo for Ferrocarriles de Guatemala (FEGUA)

The state-owned company, Ferrocarriles de Guatemala (FEGUA) took over in 1968. During its administration, the railway’s infrastructure slowly began to crumble. In 1996, railway service finally halted.

A new company, Railroad Development Corporation, was hired to rebuild the infrastructure. The railway system opened in 1999 for freight trains and chartered steam train trips for tourists. You can read one such tourist account here, something I’d love to do if the steam train service ever reopened for service.

The railway system shut down again in 2007, as it was not profitable. You can view somewhat recent pictures of the Guatemalan train service in operation here.

The Railway System Today

Unfortunately, the railway system is very much in disrepair, as many sections are non-existent, either to theft or unauthorized constructions atop railroad tracks. There have been plans to rebuild the railway system for the past two decades, but they never go anywhere due to lack of financial commitment from the government and interested developers. A project more likely to succeed is a proposed electric train (Tren-Tram), which would function inside Guatemala City first (read more here – in Spanish).

For now, the best way to appreciate Guatemala’s train system is by visiting the Museo de Ferrocarriles, located in Guatemala City. This museum holds a restored collection of trains, which you can check out at leisure. It also has a section which displays old artifacts in use from the railway systems golden age. It’s a great place for children, as there are places in which you’re allowed to climb and even play conductor on a real train.

Guatemala Railway System Museum

Great place for active children

Visitors Guide

To get the most out of your trip to the museum, it’s highly recommended you seek out a guide, which is available free. They can explain all sorts of interesting items about how to operate a locomotive, as well as fill you in on details you won’t read or hear anywhere else.

There’s an English-speaking guide available from Tuesday to Friday but call ahead to make sure he’ll be available (telephone numbers: (502) 2232-9270 or (502) 2238-3036 or email them at info@museofegua.com). The address for the museum is 9a Avenida 18-03 Zona 1, Guatemala City.

Hours of operation are Tuesday to Friday (9:00 am to 4:30 pm) and Saturday and Sunday (10:00 am a 4:30 pm).

Best of all is the price – only Q1 for children, Q2 for adults.

Check out more pics of the museum below:

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See more activities here: https://www.okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/

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Antigua Guatemala Cheap Eats: Rincon Tipico Review

La Nueva Ola Antigua Guatemala

You’ve probably heard that Central America is quite an inexpensive place to vacation and live in. But those of us who have been around Antigua for a while know that this depends very much on where you live and where you shop. Places to eat out are no exception – here, they range from the cheap and unsanitary to the expensive and pretentious. If you’re looking for Antigua Guatemala cheap eats, below are two places we recommend – by no means the only two. But first, let’s define what is a “cheap” meal here.

Many places here offer what is known as an “almuerzo ejecutivo“, or “executive lunch.” Which is a fancy way of saying the restaurant caters to locals working in the area. It’s quite aspirational to have the meal of an “executive” while trying to make ends meet at what usually is a low-paying job. It certainly feels nicer to be sitting at a restaurant, without having to break the bank, rather than eat next to a fried chicken stand at the Mercado – I speak from personal experience.

So what does an “executive lunch” cost? Typically, lunch specials will range anywhere from Q20 to Q45 ($2.50 to $6USD). They usually include a combination of appetizer (often a simple soup), the main entree with meat (chicken/pork/beef), carbs (rice/potatoes), vegetables (steamed/salad), a dessert (pudding/jello/other), and the ever-present corn tortillas. A drink, usually horchata/hibiscus/fruit-flavored water, will be served – rarely ever refillable. Some places do both, an appetizer and dessert, while others will offer one or the other.

Their menus often change daily, though the first restaurant mentioned below is the exception. This article focuses on two restaurants that are in the low-end (Q20-Q25) of the pricing spectrum. Both places offer a satisfying meal for about $3USD. Let’s get started.

Rincon Tipico

Out of all the executive lunch places in Antigua, this is the biggest and most well-known. They offer the largest variety of meals, which you can find every day. It’s very popular with locals on weekends. On the menu, you’ll find pork (carne adobada), chicken (grilled or wood-fired), and beef (skirt steak). I’ve tried every single option and can tell you that their most consistent, the best-tasting dish is the wood-fired chicken (hecho con leña). The grilled chicken (different because it’s cooked before being grilled) and pork (seasoned pork) are good second options for me. The skirt steak can be hit-or-miss depending on whether you get a tender piece. More often than not, there’s also sausage on the menu as a meat option. I’ll mention here it’s one of the few places that won’t charge you extra for asking for white meat (breast) when ordering chicken.

Also worth mentioning are their corn tortillas, which are a tasty variety known as pishton. These tortillas are bigger, doughier than the typical Guatemalan tortilla. The best time to try them is when the place is busy and the tortillas are flying off the comal (wooden stove) by the front door.

The decoration of the place is interesting and features a covered courtyard with rustic tables and benches. There are often small birds flying about, though they won’t bother patrons. The place is reasonably clean, though know that they do use silverware and the wife always makes it a point to inspect it for cleanliness.

Rincon Tipico is two blocks away from Parque Central – 3ra Avenida Sur #3. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Lunch is 30Q.

La Nueva Ola

On the opposite end of the popularity spectrum is La Nueva Ola, a restaurant that tries very hard not to be found, or doesn’t care to become crowded. It’s not easy to find and for reasons unknown, doesn’t even have a sign on the outer wall, even though it’s been there for 10 years according to an employee I spoke to. They don’t even advertise their specials on their Facebook page, preferring people call instead. Whether they don’t care or are trying to grow solely by word-of-mouth, it can’t be argued that they do have good food at cheap prices.

As it stands, the place is never crowded and regulars are loyal. I’ve yet to have or see the same menu twice. I’ve had pork chops with pineapple sauce, bbq chicken and grilled chicken as main entrees. Sometimes fish is on the menu, as is steak. If you’re in the mood for a surprise, this is your place. Like Rincon Tipico, this restaurant also offers reasonably priced a la carte menu entrees.

This place is a bit hard to find, so I’ve added a small map. The easiest way to find it is to head north on 7ma Avenida Norte until you get to San Sebastian Park. Take a left and go past the park, walk across the street  (Avenida El Desengano), and walk for half a block along 1ra Calle del Chajon (#24). Open from 11:30am to 9:00pm, phone number 7832-4871. Lunch is Q20 daily.

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More restaurants here: https://www.okantigua.com/antigua-guatemala-restaurant/

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Any other great places for cheap eats that you’d like to see featured?

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Quema del Torito y Alas: Guatemalan Christmas Tradition

Quema de Torito Antigua Guatemala

January’s desktop wallpaper calendars are now ready! These calendars feature what is known as the “Quema de Toritos y Alas”, a tradition in Guatemala dating back to colonial times. Instructions on how to download below.

***For a list of Events happening in Antigua this month Click Here***

Quema del Torito

This tradition goes back to colonial times. If you like – or don’t like – all the fireworks going off at Christmas here, thank the Spanish.

Quema de Torito Antigua GuatemalaQuema de Torito (Burning of the Bull)

The torito (means “small bull”) is a shell made of wood and wires and fitted with fireworks that shoot in all directions. Before the fireworks in the shell are lit up, a man picks up the shell and gets underneath. Once it’s lit up, the torito runs up and down the street.

 

Now, if you happen to catch this in Antigua at Calle del Arco, you’ll see a very tame version. The torito will walk up and down the center of the street, while tourists and locals happily snap pics.

The truer spirit of Quema del Torito is much more different. I’ve seen this tradition up close in a small town and it’s not a photo op, but much closer to the traditional running of the bulls in Spain, where it also originated.

Children and teens will taunt the torito and when the torito starts chasing, it’s time to run, as the torito will do his best effort to burn you with fireworks. It sure will get the adrenaline going. The good news is that no actual bulls are harmed during this celebration.

Quema de Alas

The Quema de Alas (burning of wings) follows the same concept, though I find it prettier than the Torito.

Quema de Alas Antigua Guatemala

Quema de Alas (Burning of Wings)

These calendars are available in a US-friendly format which marks Sunday as the first day of the week. National holidays (New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Day) are highlighted.

To apply the calendar to your desktop, follow the instructions below:

1- Click on the following links to get your preferred version; each of these links will open a new window (or tab) displaying the wallpaper calendar in the screen size selected.

Quema de Alas:  1920 x 1200 -&- 1920 x 1080

Quema de Torito: 1920 x 1200 -& 1920 x 1080

2- Right-click (or Ctrl-click for most Mac users) on the image. Choose the option that says, “Set as Desktop Background”, “Use as Desktop Picture,” or something to that effect. Keep in mind that the exact wording will depend on the browser you use.

3- If the image does not fit your desktop background like it should, you may have to go to your Preference options. On a Mac? Go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop. Using Windows? Go to Control Panel > Display > Desktop) and choose “Fit to screen” as the display mode of your background image.

I hope you enjoy them! Feel free to share with friends and comment on our Antigua Guatemala Facebook page.

Guide To New Year’s Eve in Antigua Guatemala

Moros y Cristianos Antigua Guatemala

Even though I’ve been in and out of Guatemala for the better part of almost three years, there are traditions I’ve never encountered before and some which I still don’t fully understand. As part of Antigua’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, there were two such events I was looking forward to watching: The Baile de Moros y Cristianos (Dance of the Moors and Christians) and the Quema de Toritos y Alas (Burning of Wings and Bulls).

Baile de Moros y Cristianos

This dance is one of those traditions that have endured even though the actual events that inspired it occurred well before colonial times and a continent away. In Spain, this tradition is much more elaborate and recalls the time when Moors (or Muslims) dominated the territory that is now considered Spain. Eventually, the Christians reconquered their land from Muslim rule in the 15th century. By the time Spaniards established themselves in the territory that is now Guatemala, they had already been celebrating their victories over Moors for centuries.

These dances, in particular, were a not-so-subtle reminder for the Maya that the Spaniards were on the side of the “good” guys and would triumph over those who opposed them. Spaniards represented Virgin Mary in her customary blue, while the Moors were dressed in red, much like the devil, who was purported to be on their side. Additionally, there are good sheep and evil goats. This allegory played nicely with the Maya’s religious beliefs, which strongly assert the existence of good and bad spiritual forces and conveniently co-opted by Catholic missionaries.

Baile de Las Abuelitas

This dance is relatively recent, as the custom started less than 20 years ago. The Dance of the Grandmothers is a fixture at Independence Day celebrations in Guatemala. This particular dance company is from the nearby town of El Tejar, where the dance originated, though there is now a myriad of copycat groups, each trying to outdo each other. The Pregonero (Town Cryer) could also be seen walking around, announcing the start of each dance/event. Curiously, at the one event where the Town Cryer would’ve been the most useful – the countdown before the stroke of midnight, the Town Cryer went missing and was nowhere to be found.

Quema de Toritos y Alas

Another important tradition I’d never seen in person before was the Quema de Toritos y Alas (Burning of the Bull and Wings). The Spaniards also brought this tradition to Guatemalans, the latter who very much love their fireworks. To say Guatemalan love fireworks is akin to saying that fishes love water – they absolutely cannot get enough.

This particular celebration was tamer than most – in its traditional interpretation, the man carrying the contraption loaded with fireworks actively chases people around a plaza. In this particular one, the “bull” just limited itself to pacing up and down the center of the street.

Midnight Celebrations

As mentioned earlier, fireworks play an important role during any on here in Guatemala. Midnight in New Year’s Day is no exception. There are two popular places to await the stroke of midnight here in Antigua. One is in front of the Municipal Palace across Parque Central, the other at Calle del Arco. Having done the first, this year I had the opportunity the latter. Much more crowded than the other location, it’s not for claustrophobic people, although there wasn’t any pushing or shoving that one might expect. It was a fitting fireworks display to end the evening.

New Year's Eve Antigua Guatemala

New Year´s Eve Fireworks

New Year's Eve Antigua Guatemala

Welcoming the New year

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Did you spend your New Year’s Eve in Antigua?