Guatemala City

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Central America's largest metropolis has what you'd expect from an urban area of 2.5 million people—the best selection of hotels, restaurants, nightlife, and museums in the country. Yet most tourists come to Guatemala for ancient ruins, colonial towns, flamboyant markets, and spectacular volcanoes and lakes—not to explore a large, mostly modern city with a questionable reputation for security.

If time is tight, we certainly wouldn't recommend lingering in Guatemala City instead of, say, Lake Atitlán or Antigua. But if you have a couple of extra days, the capital, once known as "the Jewel of Latin America," does offer some unique attractions, all located within just a few of the city's 21 zones. Whereas the narrow streets of the Old City can be chaotic, the quieter, more polished streets of the New City, with their fine restaurants and comfortable hotels, can be a much-needed dose of civilization after hitting the country's more remote sights. Toss in visits to a couple of impressive museums, and Guatemala City might surprise you. Who knows, if you stay in the capital long enough, you just might start using the same affectionate name residents give to their city: "Guate."