What a fantastic spot Guatemala is to visit. Prior to visiting Antigua, Guatemala, we checked out our go-to internet research spots such as the US State Department website (Registering with STEP is a good idea if you are traveling for awhile outside the States), other government websites (Australia’s is helpful as an example or the UK), TripAdvisor, Lonely Plant, New York Times and travel blogs. Many of the articles lead one to think Guatemala is a very dangerous place due to gang violence and robberies. During a previous trip to Southern Belize, we noted that people were very vigilant and strongly cautioned us to stay away from the Guatemala border. We considered skipping Guatemala completely, but we are certainly glad we did not. There is no doubt that parts of the country may be dangerous, but our visit was quite different. And we fell in love with the people, the culture, the stunning scenery, Spanish colonial architecture, the food and the weather – especially the weather. After spending a month in Nicaragua and Panama where the heat and humidly was unbearable, the climate and higher elevation of Antigua was wonderful.
We flew into Guatemala City from Nicaragua. It was hard not enjoy Guatemala from the start. The weather was wonderful-roughly 80 degrees F and dry- as compared to the 95 degrees F and 95% humidity when we left in Nicaragua. The infrastructure in Guatemala was also more established which can be good and bad but in this case, it was good.
Antigua is this lovely town that is roughly a 45 minute to 1 hour ride from Guatemala City nestled in a stunning, lush valley surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. Four volcanoes make up this region that runs the width of Guatemala from the Mexican to Salvadoran borders. Three of these volcanoes, Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, are directly visible from Antigua. (Pacaya is the fourth volcano that is not visible from Antigua.)
Our plan was to stay in Antigua for roughly a week. We booked outings with Old Town Outfitters, one of the outdoor guiding companies in Antigua. Our week included some great excursions:
- Valley ride around Antigua (1 day)*
- Day hike to Pacaya Volcano (1 day)*
- An overnight biking, kayaking and hiking stunning Lake Atitlan (2 days)*
- An overnight hike and summit of Acatenango (2 days)*
- *More on these excursions in separate posts.
Antigua, a UNESCO site, was originally the capital of Guatemala. After the Santa Marta earthquakes in 1773, authorities decided not to rebuild the city again. Thus, in 1776, the capital was moved to Guatemala City. In addition to the volcanoes that surround the city, Antigua is beautiful town with well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches.
Antigua’s population (in 2014) was roughly 35K. We noticed more than a few gringos living in and around Guatemala. For example, Old Town Outfitters is owned by a guy from North Carolina, and a restaurant we enjoyed twice while in Antigua, Cafe Opera, is owned by Canadians. A flourishing expat community has evolved over the years likely due to the charm and the great outdoor activities close to Antigua- e.g. mountain biking, hiking, Lake Atitlan (and of course, the relatively low cost of living).
If you plan to visit Antigua, here are a few of our favorite spots:
- Rincon Tipico– Where the locals eat great grilled chicken with guacamole and potatoes.
- El Porton- Awesome Pepian, a local Guatemalan chicken stew.
- Cafe Opera– Great Italian food. Who knew you could find great Italian food and homemade, fresh pasta in Antigua?
- Como Como– Good international fare in a lovely setting.
- Hector’s Bistro– Fabulous steaks and beef bourguignon.
Expectations were very low going into the week in Guatemala especially after all the articles read about crime. But we had a fabulous week and really enjoyed Antigua as well as the Guatemalan people and we would highly recommend it to anyone thinking about a visit. Another place we will need to return as there are many other wonderful places to visit in Guatemala.