Glorious in Guatemala – A Guide to Antigua

The city is located in the central highlands of Guatemala; it was the capital of the kingdom of Guatemala for many years. The beautiful Spanish style baroque architecture is just stunning, and there are many ruins to explore. Antigua is also surrounded by a few volcanoes which can be climbed and the city has experienced many earthquakes that have left structures in ruins. Because of this, the capital was eventually moved to Guatemala City.

Getting there:

Antigua is a short drive from Guatemala City, but heavy traffic is common so it could make your trip longer.  There is no airport in Antigua so you’ll need to fly into the capital.

Currency and costs:

Guatemala uses the Quetzal. You may use US dollars, but I always recommend using local currency. There’s not as much of a chance of being ripped off, plus you can easily withdraw money from the ATMS. I found pricing in Guatemala to be totally reasonable.

Getting Around:

Tours:

I did a tour with Intrepid, one of my favorite tour companies. I chose Maya Encounter, which was 17 days total.

https://www.intrepidtravel.com/ca/mexico/maya-encounter-116420

There is also a tour called Guatemala Experience, that visits this area plus a few in Eastern Guatemala. This one is a little pricier though, and lasts for 9 days. The maximum group size is 16 but the tour will still run with 1 person! The tours use local transport which can be quite the adventure, and sometimes they use private vehicles. The tour leaders will organize activities for the group, or you can go off on your own. Plenty of free time is offered. I think it’s a great way to explore, but also to meet new people. Plus, your transport and hotels are already booked so it’s a very hassle free and safe way to travel. Especially if you’re a woman or if it’s your first time traveling.

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Where to Stay:

El Carmen Suites – this cute hotel is within walking distance of everything you’ll want to see in Antigua, but also located on a quiet street. The rooms are spacious and clean, and there is an open courtyard in the middle of the hotel. There is a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy breakfast. And the staff is extremely nice and helpful. Loved my stay here!

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo – the only 5-star hotel in Antigua, this place was built among the ruins of the old convent that was destroyed by the earthquake in 1773. If you don’t stay here, you can still have a look at the small museums inside that showcase the items that were retrieved from the rubble.

Explore the pretty gardens, crumbling tombs and old fountains, the monastery archways. The hotel also houses a bunch of rescued macaws; they are a fun addition.

What to see and do:

Hike a volcano- Pacaya is the most popular volcano to hike and while this one is an easier one…all the volcanoes will provide a challenging hike. On the way up, fun thing a lot of tours do is roast marshmallows in the heat of the lava, since this volcano is still active! The views from up top are gorgeous.

Visit a coffee plantation – I visited the De La Gente co operative, and the farm that is run by Fredy Gonzales.

They take you through some fields to show you beans, and then you go through the process of how coffee is made.

If you’re a fan of coffee you’ll love it…and you’ll have a finer appreciation for coffee once you see how they do it.  The farm is a short drive from the city and can be arranged as part of a tour. I used a company called Prime tours.

Visit a macadamia farmValhalla is one of the coolest farms in Guatemala. This farm is fully organic and they don’t waste any parts of the nut. The farm has planted over 350,000 trees all over the country, and it effects the communities and environment in so many positive ways.

There’s a restaurant that serves all things made with macadamia. Nothing gets wasted on this farm…they use every part of the nut! You can buy some nuts to take home and they are the best I’ve ever tasted.

Take a dance lesson – your best value for salsa lessons is at New Sensation Salsa Studio. There are free intro classes on Mondays and Tuesdays from 5pm to 6pm. If you like it and want more, book yourself in for the private lessons!

Check out the chicken bus station– what a colorful sight to see a bunch of them in one area, decorated in a fancy manner.

They are actually old school buses from the USA, and they get their name because locals used to transport live animals on them…mostly chickens.

Hang out in Parque Central– a bustling area where people come to meet and socialize. There are a few notable places that surround the park.

First, the San Jose Cathedral which was almost destroyed in the earthquake – luckily the two towers in front survived.

There is the Palacio de Los Capitanes, headquarters for a few government and tourist agencies.

And also many shops and banks and places to eat!

Hike the Hill of the Cross – it should take around 10 minutes if you’re at a decent fitness level…. bring water because it’s hot and humid up there. In the past, this hike has had problems with robberies so there is should be police presence (although I did not see any).

Best to go early in the day and in a group for extra safety. And once at the top…the views of the city below are breathtaking. There is a giant cross up here too, and it makes for some great photos of Antigua.

Explore some ruins and churches– first stop is San Francisco church – its style is baroque Spanish and features twisted salomonic columns in the front by the doors.

Explore the area next to the church where the ruins of the convent remain.

Then onto Convento Santa Clara...this one is in front of La Union Park and the haunted public laundry. This convent was run by Franciscan nuns and was built in the early 1700’s.

It is quite large, and there are lots of areas to explore like the large courtyard in the centre with a beautiful fountain and the church with large open circles in the ceiling. Then walk over to Convento Capuchinas. It is said to be one of the finest examples of an 18th century convent.

This one is rumored to be haunted. See the cells of the nuns, the underground tunnels and the courtyard. Finally walk up 5th avenue through the Santa Catalina Arch and onto La Merced, a gorgeous yellow Baroque church.

The ruins of the monastery are behind the church; the fountain in the centre is believed to be the largest in central America.

You can climb up to the rooftop and look down onto the fountain; there are also great views of the volcanoes from up here.

Chocolate Museum – there are two locations in Antigua; they both offer chocolate making workshops that focus on the history and process.

We roasted cacao beans, crushed them, made a few different types of chocolate drinks and some chocolate lollipops to take home. The museum also has a ton of yummy goodies for sale, such as organic chocolate jam.

Where to Eat and Drink:

Puerta Once (Door Eleven) – come here for the cool courtyard patio and enjoy their happy hour and mixtas – light and dark draft beer mixed together. If you’re hungry, try the Eleven burger…it’s huge!

Rainbow Café – open all day and then dimly lit with candles at night, this intimate room has live music every night and a famous open mic night every Wednesday.

Reilly’s Irish Pub – the only Irish pub in Antigua, but don’t expect to hear Irish music played here. Spanish music booms over the speakers and there is room to dance. Great place to watch sports on their large screen TV’s; it’s one of the most popular bars in Antigua among travelers and locals.

La Fonda de la Calle Real – cozy place that serves a variety of traditional Guatemalan dishes. The service is great; it’s a bit of a higher end restaurant so it’s awesome for a special occasion. It was here that I tried kak’ik, the traditional Mayan turkey soup.

El Ilegal – a cool trendy little bar that serves cheap beer, happy hour drinks and fun music. The walls feature art from local artists, and they often have live bands…. always guaranteed a good time!

La Casbah – if you wanna dance the night away, this is your place. It’s really big inside…multiple levels, and a spacious dancefloor. It gets pretty hot and crowded, so luckily there is an outdoor terrace to cool off.

Rincon Tipico – offers cheap Guatemalan food and is super popular with the locals. A large room with a bunch of tables and you get a big plate of food for $5. It is BBQ chicken, melt in your mouth potatoes, veggies and a glass of horchata. Worth doing at least one or two lunches here!

Café No Se – a hip café and pub with a secret mezcal bar located through a small fridge door. Try an oferta – a beer mixed with mezcal. We stopped in briefly but it was busy and the food menu wasn’t great. Didn’t have time to go back…but you should definitely go…it’s one of the top-rated places for drinks in Antigua.

Antigua Brewing Company. – an awesome place to have dinner and sample some unique, tasty beers. You can sit up on the rooftop terrace for views of the volcanoes and the city below. Try the flight of beers to sample the many flavors – fruity, spicy, coffee, chocolate, toffee…they are all so good!

What to eat:

Chicken pepian – a traditional Guatemalan dish. It’s like a stew; flavored with pumpkin and sesame seeds, garlic and tomatoes. It is mixed with vegetables and served over rice or with tortillas. A must have while in Guatemala!

Rellenitos – fried plantain with a filling of sweet bean paste, topped with sugar. How can you say no to that?

Frijoles – refried beans…a staple in most Guatemalan meals.

Kak-ik – a traditional Mayan turkey soup, flavored with spices like coriander, garlic, onions and chili peppers. Served with rice and tortillas.

Nachos – on pretty much every menu in Guatemala…topped with cheese, meats, avocado, veggies, refried beans.

Elote loco – grilled corn on the cob, topped with ketchup, mayo and cheese. Maybe not all together, but you have options!

Pupusas with loroco flower – a flatbread stuffed with this edible vine.

What to drink:

Gallo beer – the most famous and oldest beer in the country, dating back to 1896. It’s a pale lager, and so refreshing in the central American heat.

Coffee – Guatemala makes some of the best coffee in the entire world!!

Quezalteca – this yummy sweet liqueur comes in a variety of flavors…but be careful…they go down easy, and you’ll find yourself drunk as a skunk in no time.

Atol de elote – you get this from street stalls…it is a sweet warm corn drink. I know, it sounds weird but it’s actually really good.

What to buy:

Coffeeyou need to bring some of this home with you!

Textiles – the beautiful colors make these items hard to resist. You can get blankets, rugs, table runners, bags, and clothing.

Jade jewelry– there are many jade mines in the country, try a ring or a necklace. Visit a small jade factory for the most authentic types.

Ceremonial masks – brightly painted in various colors, my favorite is the jaguar head.

Ron Zacapa Rum – Guatemala’s most famous rum, and it has the most complex flavors.

Worry dolls – I thought these were so cute, and they have a story behind them. If you have a problem, tell the doll. Then place the doll under your pillow when you go to bed. The dolls will take your worries away!

Chocolate – there are many chocolate factories that offer a vartiey of products.

Antigua is one of the neatest places in Guatemala…the city has so much charm and beauty. You can easily spend a few days here and not run out of things to do!

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