A CITY GUIDE TO COLONIAL ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
The first stop on our Central American jaunt was the colonial city of Antiqua in Guatemala. This city was once the capital of Guatemala but being surrounded by three volcanoes, the government stripped it of this status in 1776 and awarded it to the now capital, Guatemala City.
The resulting city, in my eyes is a stunning colonial masterpieces steeped in history comprising old-decaying buildings, religious ceremonies conducted in collapsed building to this very day, some missing roof tops. The stunning colours of the traditional dress, the markets and the diverse cuisine. This stunning city was our home for 48 hours and below I’ve included some of my favourites from this city ranging from where to stay, what to do and most importantly where to eat. As long as you stay in the colonial centre of Antigua, you can access all of these points easily by foot within minutes.
WHERE TO STAY
EL MESÓN DE MARIA
Our abode in Antigua was at El Mesón de Maria, a beautiful colonial styled hotel, located a five minute walk from almost all the points of interest in the city. The hotel is located on a long cobbled stone street, boasting some of the cities best locations as well as having a traditional Guatemalan and international restaurant opposite, where food can be transferred to the hotel.
We opted for a Deluxe Room, which formed the perfect base to explore Antigua from. The room itself was on the top floor, decorated with traditional dark woods, a medley of vibrant colours in the form of textiles and had the cutest tiled bathroom.
The room also had a view of the neighbouring Volcan de Agua and Pacaya as well as having a roof top level, which was perfect to experience the sun rising and setting each day.
El Meson de Maria, served up a fab international breakfast to include, juices, teas, coffee, bread, conserves, fruits, yoghurts, cereals with eggs and pancakes being alternated daily.
El Mesón de Maria
3a. Calle poniente No 8.
Tel +502 7832 606
WHAT TO SEE
ARCO DE SANTA CATALINA
This yellow stone, white trimmed archway is Antigua’s iconic landmark, located just above a typical stoned bustling street, the arch was erected in the 1690s. The street is a fantastic place for photography, especially on Sundays as cars are not permitted to park here so you can capture the arch with Volcan de Agua vista in the background.
Arco de Santa Catalina
5a Avenida Norte
As one can imagine, tourist markets are well located in Antigua, however I find the most authentic to be The Mercado. You name it, you can buy it at The Mercado! Fruit, veg, food, flowers, electricals, clothes, handicrafts and so on. The colours are vibrant and the atmosphere chaotic, but if like me you love wandering through local markets and experiencing the local way of life, then this is your poison! There are also a number of food stalls in the market so you can sustain yourself whilst shopping at one of the Mercado’s cafes. Once of my favourite snacks was trying a freshly hand rolled tortilla with chopped avocado inside.
1 Poniente and Alameda de Santa Lucia 4
IGLESIA DE LA MERCED
This in my opinion is the prettiest Baroque church in Antigua. It had been well looked after with its stucco work highlighting the Moorish influence of the Spanish back in time.
Don’t just visit the church but it’s worth paying the equivalent of £2 to go and see the stunning first monastery in Guatemala, which is located directly next door. It houses Central America’s largest stone fountain in its courtyard. History has it the monks raised fish in the fountain for sustenance.
Iglesia de Mercad
1a Calle Poniente & 6a Avenida Norte
CONVENTO DE LAS CAPUCHINHAS
The convent of Las Capuchinas was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1773 and was abandoned for two centuries. Painstaking renovations in recent years allow visitors to get a glimpse at what life was like for the convent’s nuns, who also ran an orphanage and women’s hospital.
Convento de las Capuchinas
2a Avenida Norte y 2a Calle Oriente esquina
Antigua Guatemala, 03001
PARQUE CENTRALES (PLAZA CENTRAL PARK)
This is the central gathering spot of Antigua. Its bustling with families, couples, the elderly and woven textiles and other local produce offered here by the local traders. The square is surrounded by cathedrals, fountains, trees and stunning colonial architecture. If like me you like to grab a coffee, a pew in the form of a park bench, then this is a great place for people-watching.
4 Avenida Sur
CERRO DE LA CRUZ (HILL OF THE CROSS)
I strongly recommend a hike up to Cerro de la Cruz to capture a fabulous panorama of Antigua. It takes roughly 30 minutes to walk up there, it’s totally worth the effort if you want a stunning Volano back dropped image for your memories of Antigua. We totally lucked out with the weather-blue skies but humidity was high, but at least you can have a rest at the to and grab a drink.
Cerro de la Cruz
CHURCH OF SAN FRANCISCO
This church was built in 1542 and is said to be the oldest practising church in Antigua. The architecture, you’ve guessed it is colonial and has a grand courtyard with a ruined monastery. Additionally there is a museum dedicated to Guatemala’s only saint, a Spanish missionary by the name of Herman Pedro.
Church of San Francisco
Calle del Hermano Pedro 3b
CASA SAN DOMINGO
This is a five-star hotel, which many years back was used as a convent and sanctuary, providing shelter for people of the Santo Domingo De Guzmàn order. The hotel now incorporates a museum, candle factory, church, chocolate factory, restaurant and bar. The grounds are beautifully manicured featuring fountains, pools and tropical birds.
Casa San Domingo
3a Calle Oriente 28 A,
CATÉDRAL DE SANTIAGO
Antigua’s cathedral was destroyed by the 1773 earthquake and has only been partially rebuilt. Visitors should allow an hour or two to explore the ruins of the old cathedral. With crumbling pillars, moss-covered walls and only the sky for a ceiling, it’s a dramatic and haunting place.
Catédral de Santiago
5a Calle Oriente 5
Pacaya Volcano is the most popular volcano trek in Antigua, probably because it’s the most accessible. You only need a moderate level of fitness to scale Pacaya and can do it in a half day. The volcano is still active, so you can toast marshmallows on the still-hot rocks.
WHERE TO EAT
This cute colourful courtyard café drew me in when I saw the Frida Kahlo artwork on the wall but also because it serves up amazing Vegan food and delicious topped smoothies. The coffee is also pretty cool.
The owner first came to Guatemala as an archaeologist and then started up the brand Stela 9 with local artisans in order to preserve the culture through creating handbags and clothing. The Café actually has the clothing store at the front selling beautifully cut pieces, which I could have literally sat all day trying on deciding, which to buy.
The café is a total hidden gem and a great calming and peaceful place to relax amongst a day of heavy sightseeing and yes I loved it so much I visited twice!! I whole heartedly recommend the coconut milk, peanut butter, banana and vanilla smoothie to go with a cheddar, avocado and chipotle aioli toasty.
3a Calle Oriente
This I would say is my go to place for coffee and juices exclusively. It features indoor and outdoor seating areas and serves food as well as an array of healthy beverages. It has a modern hippy vibe and the walls are adorned with some pretty funky colourful artwork. They even have an outdoor grass wall!
The owner of Café Stela used to own this place, hence the artwork but has now sold the place but you can still see the similarities in the style. This place is a must to escape the midday heat and crowds along the cobble-stoned streets. My favourite was most definitely the very refreshing chia and mint lemonade.
6, 6a Calle Oriente
FONDADA DE LA CALLE REAL
Fondada de la calle Real is most definitely traditional Guatemalan food and if Antigua is your first port of call in Guatemala this place is a must.
It’s one of the best traditional restaurants in town where the waiting staff are dressed in local attire and dishes are just sublime. There’s a fab veggie choice alongside the meat/fish-lovers menu. The décor is rustic with beautiful stoned walls and floors, pottery and local crafts adorn the surroundings.
One of my favourites here, although very simple, was the cheese nachos with guacamole, beans and a Guatemalan Mojito, which is made slightly differently with less sugar but no compromise on the refreshing minty taste.
Fondada de la Calle Real
3a Calle Poniente Number 7
EL SABOR DEL TEMPO
This place is a traditional Italian and it came highly recommended by our hotel. We were advised to not just stick to traditional Guatemalan in Antigua as we would be travelling to more remote locations, where we would be served all the local classics so therefore Italian it was.
El Sabor del Tempo was literally a two minute walk from the hotel and has one of the finest selections of wine I’ve seen anywhere is Guatemala. If a country produces wine these guys have it. So without haste we ordered an Argentinian Malbec and accompanied it with a bowl of fresh pasta, which was cooked to al dente perfection. Additionally the restaurant is styled in a traditional Guatemalan building with peeling wall paint, Juliet balcony window seats and even has one of those old fashioned push button cash tills.
El Sabor del Tempo
3a Calle Poniente #5, Antigua
Being of Indian heritage I’m always a little dubious about eating at Indian restaurants back home let alone on the other side of the world. This place is a prime example of don’t let the reviews you’ve read cloud dictate any pre-conceptions. Ganesh is located a couple of minutes from Parque Centrale and is quite literally one of the most authentic Indians I’ve dined in, period!
The head chef, Sabi has spent time in India perfecting North Indian cooking and boy does it show. Most of the spices come from India, she makes her own masalas and paneer and even has coriander plants growing in the courtyard. The restaurant is beautifully presented with wooden artworks brought over from India.
We started with samosas, we opted for a matter paneer and Fish curry for mains with rice and naan. As mangos were in season Sabi suggested we try the mango lassi, which was simply divine. We finished with the cardamom kulfi and homemade masala chai. It literally felt like a taste of home in Central America. One of the most striking things about Ganesh for me was Sabi’s passion for her craft making it all the more special for us each time she came out to see if the dish tasted authentic. Top Antigua find me thinks!
4 Avenida Sur 1
We booked a private morning colonial walking tour of Antigua with Via Venture Central America through Imagine Travel (who we tailor-made the itinerary through) and chose to explore the city independently to gain a greater understanding of the colonial areas. The list is by no means an exhaustive one as there are other volcano hikes, day trips as well as the Choco museum and art exhibitions.
Tell me, have you ever thought of visiting Guatemala and did you know that it had such a
beautiful colonial city?