There’s a very specific FEELING that you get once you enter Antigua, Guatemala. Shrouded by towering and active volcanoes, this place pulses with an mystic energy and power. More than once I’ve had a visiting friend or family member say ‘yep. I could live here’ after coming to visit me in Antigua, Guatemala. If you’re visiting El Salvador, it’s a cheap, six hour shuttle to Antigua. So consider carving out a few days to experience the magic of El Salvador’s next-door neighbour.So where should you go when you’re here? What should you see? Let me tell ya. This small city of Spanish Colonial buildings is a hotspot for travellers. Antigua is tourist-friendly and packed with Spanish schools and making it a hotspot for travellers who want to learn Spanish before starting their Central/ South America trip.
What to do:
Visit the Nim Po’t Textile markets
One of the things Guatemala is famous for is its gorgeous Maya textiles, woven by the the artisan women. Walk through the Nim Po’t markets to enjoy the full impact of piles upon piles of the bright, colourful artistic textiles, then walk out the back into the small courtyard to leave an offering to the statue of San Simon, the liquor-drinking, chain-smoking saint. According to National Geographic, San Simon is “said to answer prayers that might be too taboo for Catholic saints.”
Needless to say, I think he’s my favourite.
Go to the Chocolate Museum
Right near the markets in the Choco Museo. It’s this cool little micro-city in itself, with a mini museum outlining the history of cacao and coffee, a coffeeshop, small stores selling gorgeous colourful artisan creations and a TONNE of chocolate. Skulk around and try all the chocolate liqueur samples, buy a brownie on top of that. Go back and buy another one. Then go to a park and spend the afternoon lovingly stroking your now pregnant-looking-belly like any well-respecting adult.
Walk up to Cerro de la Cruz
Get a proper view of the city (and a small workout) by hiking up to Cerro De La Cruz lookout for amazing views of the city and volcanoes. Go up early to beat the crowds and the clouds. It’s free, it’s active, the view is damn incredible.
Look, yes, I know, not to promote one of the most damaging corporations on the entire planet buuuut, this McDonalds was voted ‘most beautiful mcDonalds in the world’ somewhere, by someone, almost definitely. Just pop your head in and have a look at the garden, okay? It’s bloody beautiful. I’m not even going to put a picture here, so you get the full impact of it.
Dance Salsa at Las Palmas
Las Palmas is a nice restaurant with a little salsa night club night club in the back. This lil dive bar is hot, loud, charming, fun and is where you’ll find the salsa dancers and live Latin musicians Thursday through Saturday.
It sounds like what you think it sounds like. Some real lord-of-the-rings style shit. Hobbitenango is a short drive from the city of Antigua. From the the moment you squish yourself in the back of the pickup truck transport and fear for your life as the truck climbs precariously up one of the steepest roads you’ve ever seen, it’s a cool time. The ‘family games’ offer a tonne of adrenaline too, there’s nothing like watching your twelve year old neice get handed a handful of machetes to throw at the assigned tree trunk some three meters away (and to think in Australia growing up we thought duck-duck-goose was a good time.) But for real, from the eco-friendly hobbit style buildings to the volcano views, this is one of those places you’ll be glad you saw in your life.
Another eco-friendly place up the mountain and worth the visit is Earth Lodge. They are located 7km outside of Antigua and 6000 feet into the mountains above Antigua, Guatemala. The accomodation ranges from treehouses to cabins to tents. The restaurant section is this open, nurturing atmosphere where you can rug up, get a drink and watch the sun set over panoramic views of the volcanoes. It’s indescribable. If you opt to have dinner in the restaurant, they’re family style meals and wifi is switched off at 7pm, encouraging connection with your table mates.
Hike Volcan Acatenango
Wanna camp next to an active volcano? Many travellers with a taste for challenge opt to do the two-day overnight Volcan Acatenango hike. The volcano next to it, Volcan de fuego, is extremely active and (literally translates to volcano of fire.) Your hostel will mostly likely have the goods to get you set up.
Where to eat:
You know what’s a trippy experience? Peeing in a psychedelic-painted bathroom while neon lights shine on you and abstract Alan Watts video clips play in the background. At the toilet in samsara, you go in to pee and come out an enlightened being instead, saying WHERE’S MY SHALA BEADS AT, BITCHES?! NAMA-FUCKIN-STE. The vegetarian/ vegan menu is packed with flavour and varied enough that your ‘where’s the meat, tho?’ boyfriend will find something he likes, too.
Think giant portions of amazing curry for cheap. They always serve this white sauce that makes me wanna roll around and drown in it, it’s so good. Learn more here.
Caoba farm is the place where your Sunday morning breakfast with friends can turn into your early Sunday afternoon with ease. Literally farm-to-table (you’ll see all the produce growing when you walk through the farm to the bathroom) the menu is fresh and tasty. The outdoor restaurant is huge and green, packed with plants and vegetation, and on weekends local musicians take the stage and create the most chilled out, creative vibe. It also has a health food store on-site so you can buy all the same health foods you threw all your money at back at home.
The traditional food stands near the Iglesia la Merced
Here is where you’ll find your cheap, tasty, authentic “comida típica” – rellenitos, mole, molletes, empanadas, enchiladas, tostadas… every ‘-ada’ you could want in and around your life. Don’t know what any of these foods are? That’s why you have to go here and try every plate you can get your hands on. Near the big sexy church that looks like this. Oh wait, is that me just candidly walking by with my hair blowing just-so? What luck.
Stay in Casa Moka
Casa Moka is a cheap, low-key bed and breakfast, for the same price as a bed in a dorm in a hostel, with a beautiful terrace and a short walk to the centre of the city. Plus! Breakfast is included.
What’s your Antigua, Guatemala recommendation?