Arco de Santa Catalina and Last Night's Rain

Arco de Santa Catalina and Last Night’s Rain

Antigua Guatemala, literally, is the old capital of Guatemala.  After a few earthquakes shook the place up and destroyed a few thousand buildings, the seat of government was moved to Guatemala City and the old city was ordered abandoned.  Few people listened

A lot of those old dilapidated buildings were replaced, but many of the ruins of churches and convents are still there…  perhaps the Vatican was lacking in cash.

Everybody that backpacks through Guatemala spends time here.  The town is full of hostels and tourist focused restaurants and bars, which provides some great dining options, at a price.  After a ridiculously cheap 6 weeks in San Pedro, everything in Antigua seemed expensive by comparison

Hotel prices seemed sky high, at $50+/night.  The incredibly beautiful La Casa de Santo Domingo was $200+/night.  A few friends recommended a hostel or two, but the choices were either $30+ private rooms or beds in 26-person dorms.  Instead we found a guestroom in a private home on airbnb.com for $25 a night.  The house had a small courtyard and unlimited hot water was great water pressure, just a few minutes walk from the center of town.  We felt like we were in heaven

Courtyard of La Casa de Santo Domingo

Courtyard of La Casa de Santo Domingo ($200 a night)

Bells in Wedding Chapel at La Casa de Santo Domingo

Bells in Wedding Chapel at La Casa de Santo Domingo

True to our nature, we explored the food scene of Antigua and happened to see some of the local sights along the way.  Our first meal out was lunch at H Bistro, a small French place.  It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  Two lemonades, a salad, a potato & red pepper bisque, a steak sandwich, grilled duck, and a creme caramel for dessert, the total price was about $50, including tip.  This is definitely expensive for Guatemala, but is ridiculously cheap by International standards.  After eating this massive feast, we skipped dinner, although we returned several times in the following week.  After a chat with the owner’s, some of Winnie’s photos may soon be featured on their new website

Grilled Herb Duck with Roasted Grapes

Grilled Herb Duck with Roasted Grapes

Creme Caramel

Creme Caramel

We also enjoyed tremendously the food at Izakaya.  We had an eggplant miso dish that was incredible, with perfectly balanced flavors.  It was amazing.  But what would you expect with chefs from Nobu in London?

The impressive Volcán de Agua sits just south of town, but it was overcast our first several days in town and we never saw it.  Rather than admit defeat, we woke up at 5 am to beat the cloud cover and capture the city on camera in the morning light.  Of course, the following days were bright and sunny with the volcano on full display

Volcan de Agua and Morning Lights

Volcan de Agua and Morning Lights

Over the course of the next week, we roamed all over town.  We hiked up the Cerro de La Cruz to capture the view of the city.  We were warned not to go because bandits armed with machetes like to mug tourists, but during the day the trails and view points are monitored by police officers.  We had a good chat with an excessively friendly one on the climb up the hill.  In one sentence he mentioned that I was a bit overweight and that the water in the pools at Semuc Champey (our next destination) were beautiful…  “like your eyes.”  I’m not sure that he is correct on either account, maybe more on the latter than the former

City View from Cerro de la Cruz

City and Volcano View from Cerro de la Cruz

Ruins were sprinkled all over the city.  We had planned a visit to the ruins of the old San Francisco Church, but the rest we found randomly.  We mistakenly visited one by walking out through the secret entrance at the back of the public library, and enjoyed it tremendously for 10 minutes or so until we were kicked out for not paying the entrance fee.

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Main Courtyard of the San Francisco Church Ruins

In the ruins of the San Francisco Church, we met a large group of tourists from Guatemala City that insisted we take photos with each of them.  There were all kinds of hidden nooks and crannies, but apparently none of them are for indecent or disrespectful purposes.  Take note and plan in advance.  And somebody please notify the fountain in the town center.  If all else fails, rosaries are for sale outside, 3 for 5Q

Rules

Rule #4:  “This Place is Not for Indecent or Disrespectful Behavior”

Fountain at Town Center

Fountain at Town Center

Rosaries For Sale, 3 for 5Q ($0.65)

Rosaries For Sale, 3 for 5Q ($0.65)

Most of the other ruins had no access, but their facades were on full display.

Columns of El Carmen Church Ruins

Columns of El Carmen Church Ruins

We had heard that Antigua was THE place to be in Guatemala.  Many backpackers come here and then never leave.  We met people in town that had been there anywhere from a single day up to 12 years.  We found the place likeable, but not loveable

Overall, everything was overpriced.  Things cost a lot in New York and Paris, but you are in New York and Paris.  Antigua is just expensive

The old cobble stone streets are quite uncomfortable when taking a tuk tuk longer distances, and walking on many of the streets results in lungs full of car exhaust.  A few days here had me wishing for emissions testing

Back End of a Chicken Bus

Back End of a Chicken Bus

Outside of a few restaurants with great meals for $50, we found other fare lacking.  We found the street food we tried only passable, and didn’t find any mid-range restaurants that we would visit again.  Burger King, McDonald’s, and Subway seemed to be busy every time we walked by.  To be fair, the McDonald’s was the most beautiful McDonald’s on the planet

Mr. McDonald Hanging Out in His Garden

Mr. McDonald Hanging Out in His Garden

Our 8 days in Antigua were nice, and perhaps just a few days too long.

$:
Tuk tuk ride:  10Q per person (~$1.25)
Lunch at H Bistro:  $25 – $50
Large serving of ceviche served from a pickup truck:
Traditional candy served by sweetest old lady ever:  5Q ($0.65)

Local Candy Baron

Local Candy Baron

Arco de Santa Catalina

Arco de Santa Catalina

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