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. Steam-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.
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.
Great place for active children
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 email@example.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:
See more activities here: https://okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/
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