Travel in Guatemala: What to Do in Antigua

The well-preserved city of Antigua, Guatemala is truly blessed with not only stunning colonial architecture, but also fascinating Mayan culture and delectable cuisine. 

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Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

In fact, it used to be the Spanish capital of Central America, which is reflected in both the city’s historic colonial architecture, and the notable presence of the Catholic church.

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La Merced Church in Antigua
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San Francisco Church in Antigua

Now since the city has suffered from many volcanic eruptions, the capital was moved to Guatemala City, and this city became known as La Antigua, Guatemala, which means, “The Old Guatemala.”DSC_2255After the capital moved, the city was abandoned for many years.

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former convent in Antigua

This worked out in its favor, since it helped preserve the beautiful Baroque-style buildings, and cobblestone streets.DSC_2294Eventually, the region found a cash crop in coffee, which brought people back to the city, where it still flourishes to this day. In fact, now-a-days, Antigua is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Central America. It’s also one of the cheapest places to take Spanish lessons, so many foreigners come flocking here, to learn the language, and immerse themselves in the Latin American culture.

What to Do in Antigua

Now, other than my overnight night hike on Volcan Acatenago, I had only two full days in this beautiful city. There is so much to see and do here, so I’ll try and do it justice with this post. 🙂
Take a Stroll

The streets in Antigua are in beautiful grid layout, and it’s easy to spend a whole day wandering the streets, ogling over the colonial architecture, and checking out the many shops and restaurants in town.DSC_2275DSC_2276

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fruit vendor selling mango, watermelon, pineapple, and orange

DSC_2317Also, many shops lead into quaint courtyards, where there are even more shops and cafes to be found.DSC_2514Everything is so adorable here. Heck, even the public bathrooms look cute. Hah! 😛DSC_2516There are also quite a few green spaces, where locals like to sit and chat, or relax during their day. DSC_2247

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locals chatting on the bench
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kids playing with a balloon

Shop for Handicrafts

There are many artesanal markets and boutique shops in Antigua. They sell lots of colorful handwoven fabrics, jewelry, wooden sculptures, artwork, and much more.

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Mayan fabrics used to create leather boots and sandals

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hand-carved Mayan masks

I spent hours perusing the local market for souvenirs before deciding on a few pairs of earrings. Prices in the markets are negotiable, and most places accept both USD and Guatemalan Quetzales as currency.

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souvenir market

Sample Local Cuisine

As you walk the streets, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of restaurants and food markets to try. The cuisine is quite unique to this region. Typical Guatemalan foods include pepian (Mayan curry), beans and rice, chili rellenos (deep fried chilies), tostados (fried tortillas piled with toppings), plantains (starchy bananas), and tamales.

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top: chicken and bean stuffed tortillas; bottom: rice, chicken pepian (spiced with chilis, garlic, cumin, coriander, and clove), refried beans, mashed potatoes
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fried chicken and fried pork chops
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bunuelos (fried donuts) and plantains (starchy bananas) with chocolate
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rellenitos (plantain balls filled with beans), assorted cold salads, spaghetti, and fried empanadas
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blue corn tortillas on the grill

In the markets, you’ll also find lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. The ladies in the market are also super friendly, and I chatted with them for awhile about their day, and about their food. DSC_2527DSC_2528Personally, I’m not a big meat eater, but I was in love with the abundance of cheap avocados. They were perfect when mashed with salt and lime, using sliced radish to dip in the mix like a chip. So good! As well, even if you don’t want to try local foods, they have international and popular fast food chains here as well. For example, Antigua’s Taco Bell is housed in a gorgeous historic building, with a colonial courtyard and water fountain to boot.DSC_2519
Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate! 

DSC_2274The ChocoMuseo in Antigua does a beautiful job in not only describing how the Mayans created chocolate, but also in explaining the step-by-step process of turning cacao into many delicious chocolaty treats.DSC_2268

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grinding cacao in powder

Their edible items include chocolate bars, truffles, chocolate coffee and tea. It isn’t just plain chocolate either. Many are either infused with spices, like cardamon and cinnamon, or are mixed with fruits and nuts.

DSC_2265DSC_2271Their non-edible items include lotions, room sprays, and even some slightly erotic products. Hah! 😛DSC_2264My favorites were the chocolate mint body lotion, the chocolate/cardamon tea, and the chocolate-covered coffee beans.DSC_2267

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loose chocolate cardamon tea
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chocolate-covered dried oranges, coffee beans, nuts and cranberries

As well, the museum holds classes in chocolate-making. When I visited, there was a family that had made their own hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and even a chocolate face mask.

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the family applying their chocolate face mask

Learn Latin Dance 

New Sensation Salsa Studio in Antigua holds both group and private lessons, so I thought I’d take a complimentary salsa and bachata class while I was in town. 😀DSC_2546Frank was a wonderful instructor! He lead the class almost like a fitness session. We first learned the basic dance steps, then he would play music and instruct us on which step to take next. So much fun!DSC_2542Here’s one of my favorite songs that he played:

Accommodation: 

As a backpacker, I absolutely loved Three Monkey’s Hostel.

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Three Monkey’s Hostel common room
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Three Monkey’s Hostel bar

The place was very social and welcoming, and the hostel arranged different events each evening, like an Argentinian steak dinner, and a ladies’ night out.

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preparing plates for the steak dinner

As far as their facilities, I thought they had a nice entertainment room, cozy kitchen, and a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the city. DSC_2322As well, they organize tours, shuttle service, and have locker storage for people making the hike to Acatenago. Such convenience! 🙂DSC_2326
Cost: 10 USD/ night

Getting There:

To get to Antigua from Lanquin, I booked a 9-hour shuttle arranged through my hostel, which cost 13 USD.

Anyway, there are obviously heaps of other activities to do within the city, but I was short on time. For someone taking Spanish lessons long-term in Antigua, I’m sure they’ll never find themselves bored, and I hope I get to return to this beautiful city someday to explore it even further. ❤

Oh well, up next I’ll be heading to the lake towns of Atitlan. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

 

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