I loved Antigua. I was sick and cold and itchy, and I still loved it. Here is what enchanted me about the old colonial city and left me wanting more.
I wrote a whole post on taking Spanish lessons in Antigua. Click here to check that out.
Hello beautiful! I am a mountain girl at heart and I really loved the geography of Guatemala in general. Since I was sick we didn’t do a whole lot of exploring outside the city (okay, we did none), but even looking at it from afar was wonderful.
Good food is basically always a factor in whether or not I love a place or not, but Antigua is unique in that we only ate out one meal in our week in the city. It’s the small treats we found between meals at our homestay are what have stuck with us.
Treat 1: “Mixto”
I had never seen anything quite like this dish before and I have never seen anything like it since. The “mixto” is a mutant concoction combining Central American type flavors with very American condiments. It’s like a college fridge dump that you make at 3 am when you are super drunk and hungry. Thick tortilla, covered in fresh guacamole, chorizo, onions, and cabbage and topped off with four sauces which we are pretty sure were ketchup, mustard, mayo and cheese. It honestly looked disgusting, but the restaurant was filled with locals drinking beer, munching on their mixtos and jamming out to a live xylophone band. Obviously we had to join in.
We found the “mixtos” by following the sound of sizzling meat, so I honestly have no idea where the small, unadorned restaurant is. It is worth looking for one of these babies though, and it remains one of the most memorable eating experiences of our Central America trip.
Treat 2: Cheapest avocados ever. EVER.
We paid Q3 (40 cents!!) for enough avocados to make this huge bowl of guacomole.
Treat 3: “Marshmallow fluff and buttery stuff”
Logan came up with that oh-so-clever name for the flaky pastry that won our hearts and snuck its way into our daily routine. I am not normally a pastry person at all, to the point where even the smell of cinnamon rolls or bear claws or donuts actually makes me feel ill. But we decided to stop by the panaderia closest to our homestay after class the first day for a post-class snack. And there they were.
These delectable rectangles consisted of a semi-crunchy, non-sweet croissant like dough layered with marshmallow-esque fluff. At only Q2.50 each ($0.30) it was no hardship to grab a few of these each day. We went so frequently during our week in Antigua that the women behind the counter knew what we wanted and pulled them out of the case when they saw us coming. I’m drooling thinking about them.
I should also mention that the food at our homestay was delicious. Our host mom was a wonderful cook and we treated to fresh made pancake/crepe things with fresh fruit for breakfast, homemade soups and stews for lunch and various rice and bean dishes for dinner. Logan particularly loved the homemade hot sauces and fruit juices served at every meal.
Visiting Old Buildings
Many of the old colonial buildings were destroyed in an earthquake in 1773, but their ruins remain scattered around the city and for a buck or two visitors can wander around the rubble, which is much cooler than it sounds. There are tons of these buildings in Antigua, and since the colonial city was built on a grid layout it is really easy to find gems if you know where to look.
Our favorite building we visited was Santo Domingo, which is an old convent that has been turned into a fancy hotel. The ruins exist in and around the newer parts of the structure and we loved how the old buildings were incorporated into the new. Non-guests are allowed to walk around the grounds (for free), where there are beautiful walkways covered with flowers and vines, bubbling fountains, and old crypts.
Mixing of Tourists and Locals
We arrived on Sunday and everyone was out enjoying the sunny day. The central part of the city is clearly touristier than the rest of the city, but on Sunday there were far more locals than tourists enjoying Parque Central and the courtyard in front of La Merced. It was awesome to share our day with laughing Guatemalan children and groups of chattering multi-generational families.
There are a couple markets in Antigua, the largest one being the local market selling everything from beans to shampoo to socks. This market is basically the local grocery store and since most tourists don’t need dog food or laundry detergent while on the road there are very few non-Guatemalan faces in the crowd. There are markets like this all over Central America, and visiting them is a great way to break away from traditional tourist activities.
With that obligatory backpacker “get off the beaten track” plug out of the way I must admit that I also love checking out touristy markets when I travel. I am not a cool, “I ONLY do non-touristy things” type of backpacker. We don’t buy trinkets because we travel with small bags and we have no room (or money) for random stuff, but I think it’s fun to look. Antigua has (at least) two cool markets selling crafts and textiles to the foreign masses. These are obviously less authentic that the local markets, especially since the only locals present are the ones working in the booths, but what can I say? They’re fun and I like them.
As I mentioned before, Antigua is conveniently laid out in a grid, so even travelers with no sense of direction will easily be able to get un-lost after some random wandering.
We really don’t go out when we travel, or when we are home actually, but since I was so sick and depressing to be around, Logan ended up going out with one of the girls from our homestay and a group of backpackers she had met. And he had a blast. Making me think, maybe we should go out more? Haha… unlikely. We are an old boring married couple.
Anyway, there is at least one cool bar in Antigua, Café No Se, which my physicist husband loved enough to write about.
Antigua is somewhere I could picture living. The size of the city seems perfect to me, the people are friendly (in my experience most Guatemalans are friendly), it is adorable and beautiful at the same time and there is a great mix of local charm and expat/tourist amenities. I know I’ll go back someday, the only question is will it be as a traveler or an expat?