Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its architectures and ruins of colonial churches. Once the capital of Guatemala, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Where to Stay in Antigua
During my time in Antigua, I stayed at Hotel Mesón del Valle on the South side of town which is a bit quieter. Hotel Meson del Valle is one of twelve hotels operated by Antigua Hotel Solutions. I didn’t know this at the time of booking, but think it is good to know if hotels rooms are booked during peak times like Easter.
I loved Hotel Mesón del Valle which is pet friendly. The staff was extremely kind and helpful with organizing tours and transportation. The rooms are nice with comfortable beds and linens. I got used to no A/C that was prevalent throughout Guatemala. The courtyard and lobby were simple, yet nice, though I didn’t spend much time there.
If I were to return to Antigua, I might consider staying at Santa Cantalina also owned by the Antigua Hotel Solutions. It was once a convent and is attached to the iconic Santa Cantalina Arch. On the north side of town, it is in a very good location.
Where to Eat
I’m always looking out for interesting places to eat. I found some good spots and even returned to one place for breakfast a second time which I rarely do. Below are a few places I tried:
Casa Troccoli has a great atmosphere. Our volunteer group of thirty ate here in a reserved upstairs room that wasn’t as exciting as the lively bar, but we needed something private for presentations. The food was good and the rooftop offered lovely views of the volcanoes.
Guat-ik is a Guatemalan International Fusion Restaurant. We arrived early and the sparsely decorated restaurant was empty. I generally prefer a livelier atmosphere and was considering leaving, but fortunately I stayed. My food was beautifully plated and the shrimp were fantastic.
Y Tu Piña También
Y Tu Piña También is a great place for breakfast. The café is owned by a New Yorker who originally wanted to sell deli sandwiches but couldn’t find quality meat. As such, they sell what is good…great breakfast sandwiches and delicious smoothies. I came here twice. After almost two weeks of rice and beans, I enjoyed the American service and food.
Central Park Pizzeria
I can’t claim this is the greatest pizza in the world, but I can claim an extremely friendly bartender who loved American music. She learned her English by talking to tourists and it is very good. I just needed a quick place for a meal, and Central Park Pizzeria fit the bill with pizza by the slice.
Por Qué No? Café
Por Qué No? Café is on the south side of town. The 20 seat, eclectic restaurant was conveniently located near my hotel. It literally seats 6 people at two small bars, a table of 4 in the entrance, and a table of 10 in the loft. The kitchen was tiny, but they managed to whip up a caprese salad and a nice steak. With its wine bar vibe, this graffiti covered restaurant had a great atmosphere.
I was very excited to try this farm-to-table restaurant. Unfortunately, I found it suffered technical difficulties over the busy Easter weekend and was closed for a few days. At least the shaded walk to the farm past large mansions and fancy housing developments was nice.
Things to Do
The Choco Museo offers chocolate workshops three times a day at 11am, 1:30pm and 4pm. The workshop takes about two hours and costs around $20. I think we got a small discount because we were a group of 15 or so that took over the 1:30pm class.
At the Choco Museo, we learned about the Guatemalan chocolate making process from picking the cacao bean, fermenting it in a banana leaf, and drying it beneath the sun. Sun drying takes many days and is better than the oven drying process as it preserves the strong flavor. Anyone who has tasted unsweetened cacao, knows it is very bitter. Guatemala’s 70% cacao chocolate definitely has an intense taste.
After we learned about chocolate’s history and the chocolate making process, we made it ourselves. We filled chocolate molds with dark or milk chocolate and added toppings like nuts, sprinkles and salt. In addition, we tasted chocolate tea, the chocolate drink of the Mayans, and our own chocolate beverage. We had such a fun time!
Hike to Cerro de La Cruz
I debated whether or not to walk up to Cerro de La Cruz. I’m so glad I decided to go. It’s an easy hike up the paved trail to a stunning view of Antigua with volcanoes as a backdrop. Of course, the cross placed atop the hill in 1930, is spectacular too. I visited during Semana Santa and could see the procession along the city streets below. I suspect the views and perhaps solitude would be lovely at sunrise.
Hike a Volcano
There are four volcanoes surrounding Antigua: Volcán de Agua, Volcán Fuego, Volcán Acatenango, and Volcán Pacaya. The two most popular hikes are on Pacaya and Acatenango. Acatenango is a two-day hike with a night of camping to see eruptions of lava. Pacaya is a half-day hike that leaves from Antigua early morning or early afternoon.
I hiked Pacaya in the morning for cooler temperatures and a clearer sky which let me see the lava tumble down its slopes. The afternoon hike goes into the evening and provides a better chance to see the lava glow, but only if the skies are clear. Clouds tend to fill the afternoon skies.
Walk through Santa Catalina Arch
Antigua is known for its famous yellow arch. Visitors pose for photos beneath its majesty while vendors hover nearby to sell their wares to tourists. During Semana Santa, almost all the processions pass through the arch, so it’s a good place be to see the parades.
Relax in the Parks
It seems like every colonial city has a central park, and Antigua is no exception. Parque Central is surrounded by old government buildings, restaurants, artisan markets and the cathedral. It is very busy place for both tourists and locals. Of course, there are many smaller parks (Parque La Merced, Tanque La Unión, and Parque de Belén), that are all worth a visit to relax on park bench in the shade or to buy some street food.
Visit the Churches
While there isn’t a church on every corner in Antigua, it sure feels like it! The three most prominent churches are the Cathedral, La Merced and San Francisco, but there are many others scattered throughout the city.
Explore the Ruins
Antigua has suffered from many earth quakes since its establishment in the 1500’s. The 1773 earth quake turned out to be so devastating that a few years later the capital was moved to Guatemala City. There are, however, remains of several churches and convents that are very cool to explore. I didn’t see them all, but two of my favorites were La Recolección and Santa Clara.
Shop at the Markets
Visiting the local markets is one of my favorite things to do. In Antigua, there are two markets on the west side of town, Mercado de Artesanias and Mercado Municipal. These are huge complexes that sell just about everything. The artisan market tends to cater toward tourists while the municipal market favors the locals. I walked around both along with stepping into some other markets near Parque Central and on 6th avenue.
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