Travel Guide - Antigua, Guatemala
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since I travelled to Guatemala for Ebb & Flow’s first ever sourcing trip abroad! 15 years had passed since the last time that I had the great pleasure of exploring this beautiful country and I was absolutely itching to get back there for a new adventure. On January 9th we landed in Guatemala City and then it was just a short drive to Antigua (one of my all-time favourite Central American locations) where the sourcing trip began.
Surrounded by 3 large volcanos (Agua, Acatenango and Fuego) and some of the most breathtaking vistas you could imagine - this Spanish colonial town was once the capital city of Guatemala (1543-1776) until much of it was destroyed by earthquakes. Wandering the cobbled streets of Antigua feels like stepping back in time. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Antigua is still home to dozens of churches, museums and ruins that tell the story of its turbulent past.
Over the last few decades, a steady stream of tourism has gradually transformed Antigua from a backpackers pit-stop, to a bustling tourist haven offering great shopping and dining as well as top rated accommodation. But it’s Antigua’s unique blend of western comforts and vibrant Guatemalan culture that make it an easy favourite for budget travellers, luxury travellers and everyone else in between.
Where To Stay:
From Spa’s and luxury hotels, to more modest accommodation at guest houses and hostels, Antigua offers an abundance of options to suit all tastes.
BUDGET: Maya Papaya - luxe accommodation with a hostel price. Daily breakfast, fluffy duvet covers and lively bar/common areas make this a unique option for people looking to relax in beautiful surroundings while connecting with other travellers.
MID-RANGE: Las Camilas Inn - this is where we stayed and I loved it!! Super clean and the decor is charmingly, very typically Guatemalan. The staff were incredible and the views from the beautiful rooftop patio can’t be beat. Highlight from the second last night was sharing a bottle of wine on the patio while watching lava roll down from the peak of Volcan Fuego.
HIGH END: El Convento Boutique Hotel - centrally located in the heart of Antigua, this award winning luxury hotel features 26 uniquely styled suites (some with private balconies, open fireplaces, lounges or Jacuzzis), an intimate fine dining restaurant serving international cuisine as well as unique interpretations of local recipes, an outdoor pool and a stunning rooftop terrace.
What To See / Where To Shop:
CHURCHES AND RUINS: La Merced Church, Capuchinas Church, San Fransisco Church, La Catedral - step back in time to the tour the stunning baroque architecture and history of Antigua - don’t forget your camera!
CENTRAL PARK: this is the beating heart of Antigua and always bursting with activity. Grab an ice-cream cone from a vendor and spend some time taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling square.
VOLCANOES: adventure seekers can stop in at local travel agents (they are everywhere!) to book full day and/or overnight excursions to climb one of Antigua’s 3 mighty volcanoes. The smaller, and less challenging Pacaya Volcano (2,500m), offers beginners a more accessible option.
ARTISAN MARKET: tucked between the municipal bus station and the fruit and vegetable market, the thriving local artisan market is an absolute must! Brightly coloured stalls offer handcrafted treasures, Guatemalan textiles, traditional outfits, and so much more.
NIM PO’T: located under the iconic Santa Catalina Arch, this giant artisan market offers handicrafts and textiles from different regions all over Guatemala. Don’t miss the sky-high wall of hand-carved traditional masks!
Where To Eat:
Resist the urge to dine at 1 of the overly abundant and all too familiar American offerings (the gang’s all here: McDonald’s, Subway, Dominoes, etc) to explore Antigua’s incredible food scene.
RAINBOW CAFE: I loooove this place and first discovered back it in 2005. By day it’s a laid-back cafe serving fresh, uncomplicated meals (vegetarian and gluten-free options too) at very reasonable prices. By night, it transforms into a lively music venue. A backpackers favourite since 1992.
CAOBA FARMS: wowwy wow-wow!!! Located on the outskirts of Antigua (it’s a bit of a hike) this 45 acre, working, organic farm, offers delicious meals and fresh produce that’s been grown on site. So much more than just a restaurant, they also offer scheduled activities and Sunday Yoga, there’s a butterfly conservatory, an organic store and a farmers market.
SAMSARA: if your feeling in need of a nutrient boost…Samsara’s got you covered. This little resto-cafe packs a punch with a menu full of smoothies, bowls, soups and salads - all made from fresh, organic, vegetarian ingredients. I had the zucchini pasta and it was devine!
RINCON TIPICO: a local favourite and hidden gem - give this place a try if you want to experience authentic (and delicious!) Guatemalan cuisine.
Where To Drink:
There is no shortage of fantastic bars and pubs to keep you entertained all night long in Antigua - here are a few of my favourites from this trip.
THE WHISKEY DEN & COFFEE BAR: stumbling upon this unassuming cocktail lounge located in the El Barrio Night Market, quickly became one of the highlights of the trip. Owner, Alvaro, a whisky enthusiast and expert, provides locals and tourists alike, nothing short of a world class bottle selection + some of the best local coffee Antigua has to offer. Never had a Rusty Nail? Try one here!
CAFÉ NO SÉ: this candlelit bar is without a doubt, one of the very coolest spots in town. We found it quite by accident but were enamoured immediately. Dripping with art, swag and graffiti, it’s a local institution for the live music scene in Antigua. Tip: find a secret entrance through a hobbit sized door and you’ve found the mezcal bar in the back!
ANTIGUA CERVEZA: lord knows I love a craft brewery, and this one certainly did not disappoint. Founded by 3 best friends (I also love a good backstory!) this small but mighty cervecería offers a great selection of brews that are widely available around town - but taste even better coming directly from the source.
Next week I’ll be sharing our Travel Guide To Lake Atitlán!