It’s been a while since my last post from Guatemala as I’ve been busy with TRIO (more about that soon!) so if you need to remind yourself where we’re up to, we just hiked up a Volcano and now had 24 hours to hang out in Antigua.
Antigua used to Guatemala’s capitalbut it’s earthquake-prone position in between 3 volcanos led to the relocation of the capital to a safer region - Guatemala city. What remained was a small grid of cobbled streets, inspired by the Italian Renaissance with a smattering of ancient monuments – many have been reconstructed due to it’s popularity with tourists who come here to attend language school or to set up a base for exploring other parts of Guatemala.
We only had one day to explore and headed out fairly early, but not before we'd taken a spin around our hotel's grounds and museums. If you don't stay at the Santa Domingo, make sure you at least visit.
The main activities in Antigua, when you're not booked on an adventure tour, are shopping, eating and drinking on various terraces and plaza’s. The streets are littered with café’s and bars in overwhelming quantities and it’s difficult to make any sort of decision about where to go. Luckily the owner at Hector’s had given us a little guide to her favourite places the night before and we tried our level best to visit all of them in a day!
Starting with Luna Del Miel – hands down the best crepe restaurant in Central America, and maybe anywhere! Head upstairs and outside onto the terrace, sink your bum into a sofa or bean bag and order something savory, followed by something sweet. The portions are huge, the prices ridiculously reasonable and the food is eye-rollingly good!
Work off some calories at the market across the street at the Nim Po’t. It’s a one stop shopping place with everything you’ll find in a market but it’s set up like a shop – well organized and prices are set so there’s no bartering, which means no nagging! You can browse in peace and the prices are as good as you’ll be able to negotiate anywhere else. Then if you want a dose of culture in between the retail and food therapy, take in Le Merced and Santa Catalina Arch.
Hungry again? Follow your nose to the Dona Luisa, famous for it’s freshly baked Banana Bread. Packed with locals queuing for bread and pastries, you know you’re onto a good thing. Fluffy, fragrant and flavourful – its the perfect little snack and energy boost. There's a restaurant at the back if you want to take a load off and from there you can stroll over to the Plaza Central and take in the old cathedral. Pretty much flattened in the last earthquake and rebuilt, the façade stands tall over the main square, and if you walk down the side street you can visit the ruins of the old church behind.
That's pretty much all we found of real cultural interest in Antigua and as the sun started to dance dangerously close to the horizon we made a beeline for the rooftop of Cafe Sky. You don't want to leave it to the last minute to get to this watering hole - it's the perfect place to catch the sunset with beautiful views across the city and Volcano's Agua and Pacaya. It gets full fast though and once you have a seat, you have to have a drink to stay in it - which is fair enough!
As night fell we headed back out onto the streets as they came alive for the evening shift.
Antigua offers something for everyone when it comes to dinner choices. From quick, cheap and cheerful places like Cactus Jacks mexican restaurant, famous for it's shrimp and bacon burritos, to fine dining at Izakaya. We were looking for a good feed and a lively atmosphere and chose Lava which we'd heard served good burgers. The bar is on a rooftop in a courtyard with a number of other different bars and restaurants - there's music blaring, lots going on and the burgers are HUGE! A great place to start your night and one place you should definitely move onto is Cafe no se - something of a legendary establishment in Antigua it's a dive bar with no windows, just a long narrow, dark room with small tables, live music and trendy bar staff. No one is allowed to leave without trying their mescal and if you take a fancy to it, you can head through the fridge door to a bar devoted to the stuff.
Don't expect to come out remembering why you went in....
Onto Lake Atitlan for some fresh air to clear the head!