City Sights As I enter the walled city of Antigua and my car rumbles over the cobblestone streets, I make my way past the colorful low-slung walls hiding unknown treasures and feel grateful that Unesco designated this city a world heritage site, helping to protect the treasures not destroyed by hundreds of years of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods. I’m also thankful that Antigua has become home to numerous restaurants, endless boutiques carrying crafts from around the country, stylish hotels and historic sites that pepper the easy to navigate street grid. The city is a treat for the eyes, colorful and friendly. Locals mix with tourists and music fills the streets. High-brow design and chic clothing brands share the neighborhood with tourist wares colorful and charming enough to prove irresistible.
Arch and Crafts
An iconic symbol of Antigua is the photogenic Arco de Santa Catalina. On this street you can quickly familiarize yourself with Guatemalan handicrafts at Nim Po’t, a warehouse sized crafts store as well as a handful of other smaller but charming specialty shops.
Antigua is a city for strolling, and the city’s Central Park is perfect for people watching and admiring the surrounding colonial architecture. It’s also hard to tear your eyes away from the buxom mermaid fountain, a reconstruction of the 1738 original.
Casa Troccoli is equal parts house museum, wine store, restaurant, wedding venue and catering headquarters. Dating from 1898 this home and business is still family owned and faithfully and lovingly cared for. A visit to the historic store front is mandatory, and if you’re in the market for a top notch caterer or party venue, take time for a full private tour.
Spanish Colonial Churches
There are many churches, monasteries and convents scattered throughout Antigua. Some have been converted to hotels, galleries or museums, and all are worth peeking into if you have time. Earthquakes, plunder and neglect have damaged many of the buildings, so you are often visiting archeological sites.
At Iglesia de San Francisco: a peek at the vibrant and traditional colored sawdust carpets that fill the streets of Antigua during Holy Week (below left).
While there are many day hikes and excursions you can take from Antigua, one of the most adventurous is up an active volcano. Although you do need a guide, the walk is relatively low key – closed toe shoes and a day pack with water is all that’s needed. The highlight just might be the fumaroles where locals sell mediocre pizza at outrageous prices that are toasted over the live volcanic vents. Being able to say your pizza or marshmallows were cooked by heat from a volcano is worth the cost – and the hike!
Doña María Gordillo is worth the visit for the unusual and finely made traditional sweets set in a hundred year-old shop.
Colibri is a favorite textile shop in the center of Antigua – table linens, dinner napkins, wall hangings and these traditional patterned cocktail napkins (center, below) are hard to resist.
Hilosophy offers home décor that is made in their own artisan workshop – my favorite items are their abundant and colorful hammocks.
Make your way outside the gates of Antigua (take a taxi) to Luna Zorro, a boutique and studio featuring textiles and housewares that reflect the history and culture of Guatemala. The studio is inside a coffee plantation, Finca La Azotea, where you feel like you’re in a private estate. You can also take a workshop in dying or weaving fabrics, with lessons in their outdoor kitchen and plant dyes garden.
There are numerous small eateries in Antigua where you can pop in for a coffee, snack or light meal. Local merchants also sell fruit on the street corners, even a bag full of juicy mango slices!
Like many businesses in Antigua, Angie Angie’s modest store front belies a festive restaurant and courtyard within. Go for the pizza and small sharing dishes.
We visited the elegant Villa Bokeh hotel and restaurant just outside the city gates. Their large glass tent is perfect for Sunday brunch – or a wedding!
We enjoyed a traditional Guatemalan menu at the centrally located Posada de Don Rodrigo. The Pepián (traditional chicken stew) was a favorite – get a rooftop table to capture the view.
When you’re ready for the tranquil sound of birdsong and the cool of well-kept shade gardens visit El Convento. It’s a luxury hotel with a fine dining restaurant or casual menu in the garden.
For fine dining in an upscale, traditional Antiguan hotel, make a reservation to visit Mesón Panza Verde. Small and exclusive, you may find it difficult to find a table if you don’t reserve early.
Villa Bokéh is a colonial-style hacienda that lies just outside the gates of Antigua. It’s 6-acre garden and property is ideal for a luxury wedding or party. It’s 16 rooms and suites ensure you will have an intimate experience.
El Convento is picturesque and tranquil, while remaining in the heart of Antigua. Although a modern hotel, the rooms are unique and many face the lovely old convent walls.
If you’re visiting Antigua for a wedding, bachelor/bachelorette party or family reunion, Kuxtal Villas will house your group in luxury. See the article on Kuxtal written for the print version of World Bride magazine.
If you’re looking for a young, casual, modern vibe try Good Hotel. Minimal Dutch design and a courtyard that houses lounging areas, breakfast, lunch, dinner and a small gift shop will make you feel right at home. And the best part is that 100% of their profits go to support Niños de Guatemala, a foundation that provides 600 underprivileged local children with an education.
Wherever you turn in Antigua you will be delighted with friendly locals, great food, wonderful hotels and plenty to do. Refreshingly, you won’t find high rise buildings, chain restaurants or hotels. Stay within the walls of the old town for a long weekend immersed in Guatemalan culture, or venture into the nearby areas for hiking, , volcanoes and coffee plantations.
Photos by Claudia Hanlin and Caio Rodolfo