I arrived in Guatemala City just as the sun was starting to set. Immigration was a breeze. By the way, they didn’t ask me for my onward ticket, which may not always be the case, but better safe than sorry! There is a shuttle stand right outside the exit, in front of the baggage claim area. At only $12 per person, it’s a hell of a deal. The guy walked me out front to where the bus was waiting and the driver told me that we had to wait for a minimum of 3 people before we go. So, I chatted with the him for about 20 minutes before 3 more people arrived. We loaded their bags into the back and headed off. He said that, on a good day, with no traffic, we could make it there in just over half an hour….. But, it was rush hour and the traffic was really backed up in the city. After around 45 minutes we hit the highway and it was straight going from there. Took us just over an hour to get there.
We stopped at the first hostel and dropped off one of the guys, then another and then it was my turn. We went round the block a couple of times, because it wasn’t the easiest to find. The signs in Antigua are very small (if at all) and it just so happens that Esthela is in a small alley that doesn’t even show on Google maps (it does show on Maps.me). Finally we found it and I checked in.
At first glance, the place was a bit run down. I was in an empty 4 bed dorm room, the beds clean and a nice thick blanket. It does actually get quite chilly at night in January and February!
I woke up in the morning and went up to the roof to have a look at the view…… and it was spectacular! You could see Volcan de Agua, Acatenango and Fuego smoking in the distance. I got a great sunrise shot (above) and headed down for a nice hot shower.
Time to head out and see the city. I walked just around the corner from the hostel to Santuario San Francisco el Grande, what a beautiful church. The ruins and museum in the back are something to see, with Beautiful gardens, ruins and relics. I would recommend entering the grounds, at only $2 per person. It is well worth it.
After the sanctuary, I went down 1st Ave. Sur, which is lined with restaurants and hostels. Froi, Split, Bikers and Luna Maya and El Hostal BnB to name a few. One thing that you will not want to miss is the Cafe Sky, which is right at the corner of 6a calle Oriente and 1st ave. You can enjoy the sunset with a drink on the rooftop terrace. As soon as the sun goes down, you might also be able to see Fuego spewing lava in the distance. As it gets darker, the light show gets brighter!
I continued on to central park, to the heart of the city. It is a very active park, lined on all sides with beautiful old buildings. One of which is the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral –
Catedral San José. It is really gorgeous right around sunset and into the night, with the bright colorful sky and lights illuminating the entire building.
I love central park and visit there almost every day, passing several times on my walks throughout the city. The park is always bustling with people, pigeons flying everywhere and kids playing. It is such a nice place to relax at any time of the day.
It’s a straight shot down Calle Poniente to the City Market, my other favorite place in any city! It’s one of the cleaner markets I have seen and really quite large. If you need it, they’ve got it! Fruits, vegetables, meats, spices, clothing, household goods and the food court in the center of the market has really good local food at affordable prices. Very clean environment, so, no need to worry about your tummy! 🙂 There is also quite a large used clothing section in the back of the market. You’ll also find the main city bus terminal at the back of the market, with buses to all parts of Guatemala.
For the next few days, I visited every corner of the city, all of the parks, churches, ruins and hunted for the best, affordable food and coffee in the city. The best cup of coffee I’ve found in Antigua has to be Cafe Cafe Guatamela. They blend and roast their own coffee and it tastes delicious. Right across the street is Cafe la Parada, which also has a nice chill environment and a strong cup of coffee for Q10-S – Q13-L ($1.50-2). Neither of these places are local corner cafes, but both have great atmosphere, WIFI and comfortable places to meet friends. They’re actually just around the corner from the arch.
For lunch, I like to grab a sandwich at the vendors in Tanque La Unión park. If you would like a totally local meal, you can walk just a short distance from the park to cafeteria Claudia, on the corner of 1 a Avenida Sur and 5a Calle Oriente. Claudia has a couple of different local dishes each day that cost about Q20-22 (+/-$3), including fresco natural (fruit juice).
Iglesia de la Merced is a beautiful church from the front, but a little disappointing on the inside, when you compare it to the entryway. On the weekends, there is a market in the park. You can buy handicrafts, jewelry, local food all types of fruit juice. They also usually have music from local musicians. It is a pleasant way to spend a morning on the weekends!
In the evening, it is one of the more beautiful churches I’ve seen is the Church San Padro Apostol. It is located directly in front of Tanque La Union park. If you catch it right at sunset, you’ll get the bright colors of the sky, as a backdrop to the lights illuminating the front of the church. It’s a great place to relax in the park, with all of the romantic couples kissing on the grass, beneath the palm trees.
I guess it was about a week into my stay in Antigua, when I thought I was missing something. In one of the articles I’d read about Antigua, I remember seeing a large gate or what I thought was a gate or arch, into the city and I had yet to visit this place. I took a long walk to the entrance of the city, where the highway from Guatemala City ends and the cobblestoned streets begin. To my amazement, there was no gate, there weren’t any big stone walls, no arch at the entrance either, just a simple stone road heading down towards central park.
Earlier in the day, I had sent a WhatsApp message to a friend and told her I was going in search of this arch at the entrance of the city. When I stopped for a coffee and a bit of WIFI, I saw a message from her, saying “I’m at The Arch, where are you?” I thought it was about time I did another search for the “Arch” in Antigua. Of course, that turned up totally different results than “Entrance Gate” or “Gateway to Antigua.” 🙂 Well, I found what I was looking for, the Arco de Santa Catalina. It was actually just around the corner from where I was having coffee, so I settled up and headed for the arc. When I turned the corner, it was quite an amazing site. There stood the arch with Volcan de Agua in the background, the perfect picture!
The street passing through the arch was bustling with tourists, artists, ladies selling jewelry and tapestries. There are many shops, restaurants and galleries.
Nim Pot is one of the nicer handicraft shops I’d seen in Antigua. It’s a very short distance from the arch and you’ll find all kinds of tapestries, masks, jewelry, carvings, even a small cafe in the back.
On my last day in Antigua I went up to Cerro de La Cruz, where you can get the best view of the city. It is a short walk to the park entrance from the city center, then a relatively mild climb up a few steps to the viewpoint. This is a must see for anyone visiting Antigua. You can see the entire city, along with Volcan de Agua towering over the city in the distance. It really is spectacular!
I am sad to leave Antigua, as it is such an incredible city. Every day brought something new, so much history.