It’s picture-perfect. Cobblestone streets, colonial houses everywhere, a classic Parque Central. And a volcano as its backdrop. But it’s also touristic and international, changing the Guatemalan fabric a bit too much.
That’s probably the price of beauty. It has happened to many other cities, and all that tourism is bringing in lots of tourists (and language students) from abroad.
And it’s not nearly as bad as for example Venice. Antigua is still laid-back, not very crowded and also not littered with tourist traps. So let’s take a ride…
- General introduction
- Food and drinks
- Activities / Things to do
- Getting there and getting around
The former capital of Guatemala has seen lots of drama in its history. Particularly damaging were several earthquakes. People here are used to a trembling earth, though the last proper quake has been quite some time ago.
Damaged buildings absolutely add to the atmosphere of the city centre. It is an awesome place to just crawl around a bit for two days or so, drinking a coffee and visiting a museum, climbing a volcano as well maybe. It is the complete opposite of its neighbour Guatemala City, though both deserve to be seen and experienced.
Food and drinks
- El Viejo Cafe is an institution: not only is it a great bakery for takeaways, the inner courtyard is a genuine treat to sit and have breakfast, lunch and/or dinner
- Along 6a Calle are more restaurants and cafes than you can cover in a week. Cactus Grill has excellent Mexican food, Travel Menu is an Irish pub with dirt-cheap pub grub and friendly service. La Pasta Nostra is more expensive, but has solid Italian food. If you want to extend the night a bit, head for the parties in La Sala
- Bella Vista cafe does exactly what the name promises: excellent coffee with a roof terrace overlooking the old city. Nearby is the equally enigmatic Sunset Terrace, with ridiculously cheap cocktails
- Another hotspot is El Barrio, a complex with an inner courtyard and several bars and restaurants. Raucous on saturday nights, as hipsters from Guatemala City flock here to have a night out
- The Lucky Rabbit is one of those places where the testosterone is flying at you. Teenagers and twenty-somethings shake their booties here especially on saturday night, until the 1am closing time of course. It has a small techno / house floor as well
- You might want to continue to the night rave at an abandoned swimming pool. Just ask the locals. It is a twenty minute taxi ride outside Antigua, lasts from around 1am to around 9am (yes, you’ve read that right) and at the bar they apparently even accept credit cards. Woohee!
- The Cooperacion Espanola / Spanish Institute on the corner of 6a Avenida Norte and Poniente has an astonishingly good collection. There are excellent exhibitions, obviously (as this is Central America) dominated by paintings. Colorful, vibrant, fun and with hardly any visitors. Good place to eat some lunch food as well
- La Antigua Galeria de Arte: it’s not big, more or less hidden in a shop, but has good temporary exhibitions
- Santo Domingo del Cerro: pretty much off the beaten track, this one is actually a combination of several museums. You can get there with a free minivan shuttle that leaves two streets east of Parque Central. It takes you up the mountain, basically to the luxury restaurant that is located there (a part of a posh hotel in downtown). But just ignore the restaurant and visit the museums. When we were there, it had a photo exhibition about El Mirador (a Mayan architectural site), an architectural exhibition and the history of local textiles. There is also a tree-top canopy tour, and stunning views of the entire valley
Activities / things to do
- Museo Santiago de los Caballeros: more of a history museum, located in the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales that is dominating the south side of the Parque Central
- Hiking: obviously. The easiest is the trip to Pacaya volcano, which lasts only a couple of hours. Much heavier is the hike to Acatenango, with views of the very active Fuego as a reward
- Cerro de la Cruz: awesome viewpoint of the entire city. Located on the north side of the centre, twenty minute walk from Parque Central. Can’t miss it. Take a beer at a nightshop with you for sunset
- Hearsay: apparently there is a nice natural swimming pool in the surrounding hills, within a walking distance of the city. There are no facilities and water can and will be cold 🙂
Getting to Antigua and getting around
- from Panajachel there are plenty of chicken buses. Apparently first class buses go there as well: ask locals. From San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico) there are daily shared minivan shuttles in both directions, which take a full day. Same goes for San Salvador and Playa El Tunco in El Salvador
- From and to Guatemala City it is more difficult. There are minivans going, but usually to the airport. The end point of the regular chicken bus brings you close to Estacion Santa Cecilia, where you can take the TransMetro bus into the center (Zone 1). The Estacion Plaza Barrios (or one prior to that) is safe to exit if you need to be in the centre. On the way back, take the same bus line (pay at the vending machine) to Santa Cecilia, and ask the way to Occidente terminal which is only a two-minute walk. Pay attention: the first chicken buses you see probably go to Xela and Panajachel, others (150 metres further) to Antigua
- Getting around is easy enough. Antigua is so small you can basically walk everywhere. Otherwise taxis or rikshas will take you where you need be
- Guatemala is not exactly soccer paradise. But it is a local folklore, so good fun. And as a football fan I just had to visit the local team’s home match in the local Premier League