For many years capital of the entire Kingdom of Guatemala, which spread from Eastern Mexico right down to Costa Rica, Antigua holds the sort of regally crumbled feel you’d expect from a place of such significance, decomposed by time and an unhealthily large number of earthquakes.
The city also rests in a valley between three jaw-droppingly giant volcanoes, making it at times actually pretty difficult to take a picture without one of them lurking in the background.
There are those who will say that Antigua has become a little touristy, that kind of fate usually besets the more attractive places around the world.
It’s certainly true that gentrification has caused property prices in the centre to soar, driving locals further afield, however it’s still not hard to step off the trail, and the local market is probably the best place to do so.
On the city’s western edge you’ll find the bus station, packed with Guatemala’s famous chicken buses. Transport for American school children given a new lease of life with the sort of decorations you might expect if they’d been on Pimp My Ride.
Next door is the thriving mercado where you can pick up anything from live animals to designer gear of questionable authenticity and, perhaps most importantly, some delicious local food for less than a couple of quid.
Eating well is easy in Antigua with options for every pocket. At the cheaper end of the scale try Rincon Tipico for your choice of grilled meats or veg accompanied with rice, potatoes and tortillas – triple carbs – you certainly won’t leave hungry.
Sundays at Iglesia de Merced bring street food sellers, marimba performances (a xylophone-like instrument common throughout Latin American) and if you’re lucky a little show from Fuego as a backdrop too.
Push the boat out with a meal at Meson Panza Verde, where you can enjoy exquisite international dishes produced with excellent local produce. The freshest of tuna tartares with avocado is a must try, as are the succulent, fat and crispy coconut prawns with chilli sauce.
For dessert a light parfait punctuated with plump, locally grown macadamia nuts is worth saving some space for. Aside from the excellent food, a combination of delicately twinkling water features amongst cosy candlelit corners, plus regular live music make for one of the most opulent environments you’re ever likely to enjoy a meal.
If souvenir shopping is your thing, Guatemala surely boasts some of the best. Technicolour woven fabrics and a trinket for every eventuality fill the Artisanals Market, just across from the main mercado.
In that same area you’ll also find tons of typical sugary treats to buy, if you’re the sort who prefers to pack your suitcase with edible items – try the canillitas de leche (little milk legs) for a super sweet taste to take home.
Many stay for awhile to take advantage of the cheap Spanish schools within town. The Guatemalan tongue is relatively light on accent and spoken slightly more slowly than in surrounding lands, making it the ideal place to brush up on your skills.
Antigua also makes rests in the perfect position to explore a little further afield. For local flavour, villages such as indigenous Santa Maria de Jesus, which sits towards the summit of Volcan de Agua offer an insight into more traditional lifestyles.
Neighbouring San Juan de Obispo makes an ideal foodie day out with chocolate and artisanal wine producers to taste your way around.
The imposing, and highly active volcano, Fuego, puffs hazy smoke in the sky pretty much by the hour. Whilst those dreamy delicate clouds look elegant from the confines of the city, taking a closer look reveals the incredible natural power on show.
Hiking the slightly taller, but thankfully dormant, Volcano Acatenango gives a birds-eye view of the action, it’s one of the most popular activities in the country, and for good reason. Sunrise atop the mountain is bitterly cold but brings an incredible panorama which stretches as far as the peaks of Atitlan Lake, it’s got to be one of the most stunning ways you could welcome a day anywhere in the world.
For something involving a fair bit less exertion, the viewpoint from Cerra de la Cruz to the city’s north is the best place to take in a sunset. Views of the surrounding peaks and the city are well worth the short uphill climb.
Get your head down at Hostel Selinas, where you can choose from just about every sleeping arrangement imaginable – from glamping or dorms for the price conscious, through to attractive private rooms – all set around a stunning courtyard complete with hammocks, a bed hanging from a tree and even a swimming pool. Happy hour starts at 4pm, you’ll find me at the bar.
Tim enjoyed a meal at Meson Panza Verde, which offers gourmet dining in a relaxed but luxurious atmosphere, for further details and to reserve a table click here
Tim stayed at Selina Antigua, where you’ll find a choice of accomodation for every budget in a beautiful setting, for more information and to book your room click here