ANTIGUA TRAVEL GUIDE
In case you are new here, we are Will and Katy. We are a travel couple that is traveling around the world. We are on year two of our travel adventures and exploring our 16th country -- Guatemala.
Antigua was established, as the city Santiago de Guatemala in 1543, after Spanish Conquistadors took the land from the Kaqchikel (ka cha kel) Indigenous Maya people of the area. The Spanish made this city, nestled in the Panchoy Valley, it's capital of the Captaincy General, or Kingdom of Guatemala, for over 200 years.
The city survived floods, volcanic eruptions, and smaller earthquakes until Santiago de Guatemala was mostly destroyed in 1773 by the Santa Marta earthquake. This caused the Spanish to establish Nueva Guatemala, or Guatemala City, as the new capital.
After this exodus, the area was nearly abandoned and its remaining population consisted of mostly indigenous residents. The locals began to refer to Santiago de Guatemala as “la Antigua Guatemala,” meaning “Old Guatemala City”. The city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Antigua was rated the top city in Central and South America in 2021 by Travel and Leisure.
The 1773 earthquake did not completely level the Spanish colonial buildings, as a few remain stunning ruins with impressive facades. There are plenty of bars and breweries and an endless number of restaurants to eat traditional Guatemalan food as well as international cuisines. Several volcanos surround the city, and on a clear day, you can catch the billowing smoke of an active volcano. In modern times Antigua has become a booming city for tourism. Sure there is El Arco de Santa Catalina, built as a way for nuns to get from the convent where they lived, to where they taught at the school across the street, but there is a lot more to Antigua!
Things to See and Do
Town Square is filled with local vendors, surrounded by Palacio Nacional de la Cultura and Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago of Guatemala. During the day you will see this park filled with people. The fountain serves as the central piece of the park. There are benches throughout the park to sit and admire all the commotion. At times it will be filled with pigeons. On the weekend you might even find a pop up market like we did.
This park hosts the convent, Nuestra Señora de La Merced, with a beautiful facade. The park also has local street food and drinks. Finally, a "Yo ❤️ Guate" sign; is a great spot for photos.
SHOP IN THE ARTISAN MARKETS
Admire handmade items in the artisan markets. They are filled with plenty of souvenirs and local trinkets and it's a great way to support the locals.
Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen
This field lies on the outskirts of town. The entry fee is 10 Quetzales and you can stay as long as you'd like. Plenty of photo spots! They sell refreshments and have picnic tables scattered throughout their field.
This was built as a way for nuns to get from the convent where they lived, to where they taught at the school across the street. Be sure to get your photo with the arch and Volcán de Agua in the background. The closer you are to 1a Calle Poniente, the better the photo!
Important Tip: When taking your photo at the Arch, get there first thing in the morning. We were there at 7:30 am and by 7:45 am it was already packed with people!
But avoid the rainy season! There are so many hiking options from hiking and roasting marshmallows to camping overnight so you can see the active Volcán de Fuego.
Antigua is just about an hour away from Guatemala City where you will be flying in from. You can take a direct taxi from the airport, but we suggest stopping in Guatemala City and exploring the capital.
Uber is also an option, but confirm with them they will accept the price Uber offers. Or you can travel like a local and ride a "camioneta." These are painted school buses that tourists call "chicken buses," but that's not what the locals call them. This is the most affordable option at 20 Quetzales. Expect to be in a packed bus and to sway from side to side as the bus rushes through the winding roads. You can take the bus from "Trebol" in Guatemala City. To take a bus from Antigua to Guatemala City you can take it from this spot right next to the Central Market. They drop you off in the Trebol area.
Food & Drink
The food scene in Antigua is great! On every block, you'll find a great spot to eat, with aesthetically pleasing spots! Be sure to check for Happy Hour specials. If you are a vegetarian you will have PLENTY of options!
Not only is this a vegetarian option, but also vegan! The food was delicious and top quality! In addition, the atmosphere of boho chic just added to the experience. They offer a complimentary soup as you wait and we highly recommend the cauliflower wings.
A great spot for local food. You can choose to indulge in its cafe or restaurant. We opted for eating lunch at this spot and we were pleased with the quality and veggie options!
We did not have a chance to eat at this local cuisine restaurant, but we wanted to! When we arrived for lunch there was a line out the door waiting to be seated, so it must be good! If you end up trying it, please let us know!
This local brewery is a great spot for live music, delicious bar food, and great beer & mixed drinks. To eat we had the veggie burger, and it was one of the best we've had! The staff was friendly and welcoming. This spot also sells smoothies under the name of Vida Rose.
Like a 1920s speakeasy, this bar is hidden in plain site; but this one is right behind a phone booth. You'll have to go into the Antigua Brewing Company and once you go up the steps, you'll see the phone booth on the left-hand side. There’s no menu, you just sit, tell the bartender the type of spirit, flavor, and taste that you like, and they prepare a unique drink for you. This drink was on the pricier side ($10) based on other prices in the city.
While you're walking around the Parque Centro & Parque La Merced stop by one of the traditional ice cream cart vendors for a sweet treat!
Where We Stayed
We stayed at this cute little hotel in the center of town. The terrace and common areas are filled with beautiful greenery and architecture. You can get incredible views of the landscape and most importantly Volcan de Agua and Volcan de Fuego from the rooftop terrace. On a clear day, you can even see the smoke billow from Volcan de Fuego. The rooms were comfortable and clean. There is free water and coffee available and a shared kitchen for the guests.
Antigua is a major tourist city and we can see why. We always love ruins, and these did not disappoint. Not the Maya ruins you may think of, but still impressive. As the sun set on our day, the cobblestone streets came alive in a different way. There are live bands at almost every restaurant or bar. There are also plenty of Happy Hour specials.
We were happy with all that we were able to see and do in Antigua. It would be a city we would love to return to!
Until next time... What could possibly be next?
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