Guatemala City's topography lends itself to building on top of ridges, which are protected by deep ravines. Often, the only way to reach a neighboring community is a long, tedious detour on winding roads, providing a natural boundary for rich communities like this one in Mixco.

The straight line of a fence which separates the poor from the rich in Mixco. This location was interesting, as these communities both occupied the top of the ridge, but there was only one road in to each community - one from the north, and one from the south. The fence made it impossible to cross to the other side. 

Precarious building practices in the city's poor neighborhoods occasionally lead to disasters caused by natural phenomena which Guatemala is plagued by, such as landslides, sinkholes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods. 

Guatemala City is a sprawling behemoth of 4 million, and the heart of Central America's largest economy and population center. Guatemala suffers from a high degree of poverty, the rate of which has not decreased commensurate with improvements in the economy. The city infrastructure reflects these inequalities, with wealthy residents and developers taking advantage of the unique topography to build ridgetop aeries inaccessible by neighboring low-income residents.

Sometimes communities will be built almost on top of each other - like this one in Villa Nueva, separated by a cliff of 20m. 

El Basurero, the city dump, the largest in Central America. It is built within one of the ravines, is surrounded by poor communities, and hosts an active population living within the trash, visible at the bottom of the image. 

It's precisely these ridges which crumble in the country's rainy season, plaguing the city with sinkholes and famously swallowing whole factories. Along many of these ridges, tin shacks extend precariously down near-vertical walls to the river's edge, forming havens of informality that police, city services, and average Guatemaltecos fear to enter. Some even live within the city dump, Central America's largest, itself built at the bottom of a ravine. 

A deep ravine separates communities in Zone 5, near the city center. 

The city's main ring road passes above informal shacks which extend vertically down to the river's edge, and are essentially impossible to service or access, except by footpath. 

A large sinkhole in Zone 19.

Meanwhile the wealthy are building themselves gleaming new communities like Cayalá, a sort of neo-classical haven recently profiled as a "utopian domain created by one of Guatemala’s richest families". I saw many of these communities in the city's hills, and there is great wealth here - the thought that Guatemala is a poor country is at stark odds with the golf resorts, SUVs, and hilltop mansions of places like Las Nubes and San Isidro, in the city's east zones. ​​​​​​​

Cayalá, an enclave for the wealthy, designed as a fully contained shopping/residential micro-city in the heart of Guatemala City's tony east side.  

Divisions in a crime-ridden zone of Mixco, a peripheral city to the west. 

A high wall separates the poor from the golf estates in San Isidro, Zone 16.

Separation in Mixco, to the northwest of Guatemala City's center.

Interesting patterns in the built environment between the haves and the have nots. Southern Guatemala City, Villa Nueva.

A sinkhole surrounded by the city.

This landslide must have been fairly recent, as the homes still clung to the edge.

A stark contrast in living styles between the ultra-wealthy and the poor in Las Nubes. 

El Basurero, the dump, with waste pickers' homes along the river, and the cemetery at the bottom of the image. 

Guatemala's volcanic topography make for beautiful photos, but it also is a reminder of the immense natural forces which beset the country and create such dramatic variations in geography within Guatemala City. 

The top of a ridge in Mixco, where residents from both communities have one road in, one from the north, and one from the south. The fence in the middle means they do not connect. 

Las Nubes, Zone 16.

Sprawling development along the volcanic ridges to the west of the city.

Informal homes next to a golf estate, San Isidro.

You may also like

Back to Top