Insanity Pepper


Quetzaltenango is the second most populous city of Guatemala, after Guatemala City. It is both the capital of Quetzaltenango Department and the municipal seat of Quetzaltenango municipality.

It has an estimated population of 300,000. The population is about 50% indigenous or Amerindian, 47% Mestizo or ladino, and 3% European. Quetzaltenango is located in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,333 meters (7,655 ft) above sea level.


In Pre-Columbian times Quetzaltenango was a city of the Mam Maya people called Xelajú, although by the time of the Spanish Conquest it had become part of the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj. The name may be derived from "Xe laju' noj" meaning "under ten mountains". The city was said to have already been over 300 years old when the Spanish first arrived. With the help of his allies, Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado defeated and killed the Maya ruler Tecún Umán here. When Alvarado conquered the city for Spain in the 1520s, he called it by the Nahuatl name used by his Central Mexican Indian allies, "Quetzaltenango", generally considered to mean "the place of the quetzal bird" (although see note on etymology below). Quetzaltenango became the city's official name in colonial times. However, many people (especially, but not only, the indigenous population) continue to call the city "Xelajú" (pronounced shay-lah-WHO) or more commonly Xela for short, and some proudly, but unofficially, consider it the "capital of the Mayas".

From 1838 to 1840 Quetzaltenango was capital of the state of Los Altos, one of the states or provinces of the Federal Republic of Central America. As the union broke up, the army of Guatemala under Rafael Carrera conquered Quetzaltenango making it again part of Guatemala.

In the 19th century, coffee was introduced as a major crop in the area and the economy of Xela prospered. Much fine Belle Époque architecture can still be found in the city.

In 1930 the only electric railway in Guatemala, the Ferrocarril de los Altos, was inaugurated, which was later destroyed by mudslides and finally demolished in 1933. It had been built by AEG and Krupp and it consisted of 14 waggons. The track connected Quetzaltenango with San felipe Retalhuleu. The people of Quetzaltenango are still very proud of their railway. A railway museum has been established in the city centre.

Recently, the city has become a popular destination for foreign students studying the Spanish language or Mayan language.


There are two main seasons in Quetzaltenango: the rainy season, which generally runs from May through mid-November, and the dry season, which runs from December until May. During the rainy season, rain falls consistently, usually in the afternoons. During the dry season, the city frequently will not receive a single drop of rain for months on end. From December through February, the days are quite warm, but the temperature drops dramatically during the nights.


Quetzaltenango is home to the Club Xelajú MC soccer team. The team competes at Estadio Mario Camposeco which has a capacity of 13,500 and is the most successful non-capital team in the Liga Nacional de Guatemala. It is also home to a rugby team in the newly formed Guatemalan rugby union and has enjoyed moderate success in the competition.


The original Nahuatl name was quetzaltenānco, quetzal-tenān-co, of which a likely etymology is:

  • [erected]-[wall]-[place] roughly translated as "place where there are erected walls"


  • [Quetzal bird]-[fortification]-[in the] roughly translated as "In the Quetzal fortress"

(Note that while quetzalli also means feather of the quetzal bird it also means something erected, and it became associated with quetzal feathers because those were the kind of feathers that Mesoamerican rulers used in their erect head-dresses.)


  • The city boasts a system of micro-buses for quick and cheap movement within the city. A micro-bus is essentially a large van stuffed with seats. Micro-buses are numbered based on the route they take through the city (i.e. "ruta 7").
  • There is no efficient urban mass transport system in the city. The sole public mean of transport within the city is the bus or system of micro-buses.
  • Transportation to other cities in the country is provided by bus.
  • Quetzaltenango Airport is currently undergoing ampliation. Transportes Aereos Guatemaltecos offers charter flights to Guatemala City.

Sons and daughters of the city

Consular representations


In popular culture

In the ninth episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons, "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer)", Homer eats an "Insanity Pepper" and goes on a mysterious voyage, which features surreal animation to depict the elaborate hallucination. Following this he questions his relationship with Marge and goes on a journey to find his soulmate. The episode was written by Ken Keeler, directed by Jim Reardon and features Johnny Cash in a guest spot as the "Space Coyote". At the cook-off, Homer demonstrates an extraordinary ability to withstand hot foods, until he falls victim to Chief Wiggum's chili which is spiked with "The Merciless Peppers of Quetzaltenango - Grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum."

See also

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