When we took our family trip to Guatemala, I made sure that we spent a week in Antigua, Guatemala. I wrote about it in The Joys of Traveling with Your Adult Kids previously. Antigua is a must see if you visit Guatemala. I would go so far as to say that if you can only spend time in one place, let this be the place. Antigua offers the charm of a well-maintained colonial city with cobblestone streets and authentic buildings. While the cities of Guatemala are becoming modernized, the merchants–local, foreign and indigenous–are all committed to bringing the tourist the best of both worlds. While the coffee shops and hotels offer free wifi service, the markets with the indigenous local merchants remain the same as they have been for decades.
We loved the wide variety of local artisan shops and wares. We did all of our shopping for souvenirs and gifts here. In the markets and with street vendors, you are expected to dicker for prices–but not in the stores.
We spent hours at this artisan’s market. Inside are rows and rows of vendors’ stores. Guatemalan’s are known for their beautiful cloth, rugs, leather and pottery. It was hard for us to not buy more than our suitcases could hold!
My daughter and I started looking at this lady’s items and before you know it, she had wrapped her hair up in the traditional weave. She then tried to sell us the hair tie, but I offered to pay her for taking her photo instead. Notice the girls turning away from the camera behind. That is common practice. You either have to get sneaky with photographing the indigenous people or ask permission. (Or pay them like I did!)
Markets are unique as it’s one of the few places you get to interact with the indigenous people. Of course, they mostly only care that you buy stuff. Many have learned enough English to barter with you. Ladies walking the streets of Antigua would say to us in English, “Necklace. Scarf. Good price. How much you want to pay. Buy for your friend. Buy for your wife. Buy for your mother-in-law.” Haha!
We found a quaint and quiet condo to stay at in a new development at the edge of town. They built it with the old world style and cobbled streets. There are many places to stay in Antigua including beautiful hotels to Airbnb‘s.
We had rented a car, so we drove close to the center of town and walked around. You can also rent a tuk-tuk to take you around the city.
If you’re up for an adventure, the “chicken buses” are available to take you between cities. That is how many locals get around. You want to know where you are going and keep your valuables on you and hard to get to. As you can tell, these are just old school buses and that’s how comfortable they are, too. Plus they tend to get crowded. I am very glad that we were able to rent a car! If I were going there without my husband who is fluent in Spanish, I would hire a private shuttle to get around like this one: Guatemalan Transport.
Processions of Holy Week
I thought that since we were going to Antigua a month before Easter, we were safe from the crowds and processions. Once there, however, I found that the processions happen every week in the weeks preceding Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter. It was fun to see them making the sawdust carpets along the way. If you would like to see one of their religious processions, I recommend that you park and hunker down in town for the day, because traffic in, out and around the town will be at a snail’s pace. If that’s not your thing, leave in the morning and stay out until 8 or 9 pm.
Food is offered and displayed in the weeks coming up to Holy Week.
Many of the buildings have not been repaired. Antigua has seen a couple large earthquakes over the centuries and damage has been done to many of the buildings.
Behind the walls of this building, I spied floats ready for the procession that week.
Spanish Colonial Architecture
We enjoyed seeing the unique Spanish colonial style of architecture–so different from home.
Antigua has so many grand and amazing doors!
Casa Santa Domingo
Casa Santa Domingo was once a monastery. It is now a hotel, restaurant, and museum featuring ruins and artifacts and is open to the public.
We found the Choco Museo! It says it’s a museum, but it’s more of a store. They do paid tours showing how they make chocolate, and I recommend this place if you love chocolate!
We enjoyed al fresco dining almost everywhere we went.
We enjoyed local typical food in the restaurants whenever we could. You can also buy cooked foods from street vendors to get that authentic Guatemalan flavor. We didn’t buy raw foods from street vendors, however. I’ve had amoebas and I don’t care to go through that again. We also bought many different tropical fruits from the markets or grocery store. Since we stayed in a condo with a kitchen, we were able to prepare them there easily. We all love to try new things.
There’s so much to do in Antigua but we made time to relax, too. We loved going to coffee shops because we could rest, make plans for what to do next, visit with friends or catch up posting pictures online with the free wifi. This coffee we shared with a friend just outside the city at her home. She served us supper with delicious platanos rellenos (stuffed plantain), a delicious Guatemalan dessert.
So many photos were taken out of my car window, like those below. I had to take them quickly and I had to take a lot to get some photos to turn out! Those streets are bumpy!!
Another great thing about staying in Antigua is that it’s so close to other places you may want to visit. My husband and son took a tour to climb the local active volcano, Picaya, one day. Another day we drove two hours to the Pacific Ocean and visited a surf house. We ran out of time, but it is also a short distance to either Panajachel/Lake Atitilan or Chichicastenango. Both are beautiful places and make a great day trip. It’s also less than an hour away from the airport and Guatemala city. For us it was also ideal because it’s the perfect place to meet up with family and friends.
There’s so much to do in Antigua that you couldn’t possibly fit it into a week. In fact, people come and stay for months going to Spanish schools, taking classes, experiencing the rich local and expat cultures.
See more of this beautiful city and it’s people at Antigua Daily Photo.