Help rewrite the guidebook by sharing a backpackers introduction to Antigua. Click here to share your description. If selected, a byline will appear with a link to your website or BF profile.
What to Do
This is an awesome beginner hiking tour to the top of the dormant volcano. It costs Q60 (although some will try to sell you for Q80) and it is about a 3 hour hiking trip. As soon as you get to the entrance, kids will try to sell you hiking sticks. You can get 2 for Q5. You don't really need the stick but it is useful. Horse taxi is optional. Once you get to the top, you get see lava rock/ash and an overview of the city from far far away. The coolest part is that you get to roast the marshmallow or whatever you have. Do bring water and snacks on this trip. Don't forget to dress warmly since it is cold at the summit. This is a must do in Antigua.
I am currently enrolled in a spanish school in Antigua Guatemala, they are everywhere and they make for a great opportunity to meet locals and others interested in learning spanish. included with my six day lessons (4 hours a day) is a private room, three meals a day and great conversations with my host family. Now i already know enough spanish to get by, i wanted more...and i got it! my teacher and i walk around the town sight seeing, shopping at the mercado and talking to each other(in espanol). this is a great way to get a guide around Antigua, learn or practice your spanish as well as feeling like a local. It is great to feel like a local while speaking spanish and learning the local culture, the experience alone is well worth the money (which differs from school to school). ask your hostel or shop online. UmmaGumma hostel got me started.
Antigua is known for its Spanish schools. I remember how daunting it was to select one from among the many choices. I ended up going with Cabaguil and continue to keep in touch with my teacher today. She is a wonderful person and a lot of fun. More importantly, she is still teaching. Try to get lessons with Aracely Alvarez if you can. To contact the school, email email@example.com. Cabaguil, which has since changed its name to Entre Volcanoes, charges $150/wk for 20hrs of Spanish lessons, and that includes food (every day except Sunday), accommodation, activities, Internet, study materials and airport pick-up. The school is located on 5a. Calle Poniente No. 6 just off parque central.
Located on 4a Calle Oriente, just 2 blocks west of the Parque Central, this new chocolate-centered attraction is totally worth a visit. For free you can wander their exhibit about the history of cacao and the processes involved in making cholocate, from bean to bar. They also often have small free samples of their excellent hand-made artisinal chocolate for tasting. But the best opportunity by far is their Q150 chocolate-making workshop. It's about 1.5-2 hrs long, and (when we did it) included: a guided tour through the exhibit, making your own traditional chocolate drinks by roasting, shelling, and grinding cacoa beans by hand, and pouring and flavoring your own molded chocolates to take home. Our guide was a charming young French man (fluent in Spanish and English) who was incredibly knowledgable and entertaining. Overall, the workshop was MUCH more informative, fun, and elaborate than we had expected. Really great activity for the price, fun for travelers of any age!
Where to Stay
We were in Antigua for a good bit of time, and since we left and came back we stayed at various different hostels. The best one by far was Hostal Antigua for Q50. It is on 5th Ave Sur, about two blocks from Parque Central, close enough to feel comfortable walking at night but far enough from the noise. The dorms were very clean and they even changed the sheets and towels for you daily. There is a nice terrace, which is also where the kitchen is and they have hot water and free WiFi.
Onvisa is a little nice place close to the outdoor market starting from Q40 dorm. We paid Q80 for a private room with shared bath. Their brochure claims they have cable TV and internet, but that was a lie. Luckily there's an internet shop next door that charges Q6 per hour. They do have hot showers and a nice little kitchen, along with a very friendly dog named Bobby. Most importantly there are no bed bugs!!! We would stay here again.
Pousada Burkhard is located on 3a Calle Oriente #19 on the complete opposite side of the market. You can walk there from the bus station (about 8-10 blocks), and just as you're thinking you're not going to make it, you finally do. For 110Q, you get a private with private bath. They have laundry service on-site and a small kitchen. It was nice and the cheapest option we found.
Most amazing little hotel in Antigua. It's called La Sin Ventura, it's on 5a Avenida Sur # 8 and it is just fantastic. The people are very friendly and the rooms and general atmosphere is great. You can go onto the rooftop which overlooks much of the main part of Antigua. I would also recommend maybe some earplugs, there is a disco underneath called the "Mono Loco" that can be heard at night in some of the rooms. It didn't bother me much but if you're a light sleeper it may bother you.
What to Eat
Coffee Shops / Tea Houses
Y Tu Pina Tambien is a legit coffee shop serving lattes, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, licuados, breakfast items, sandwiches, paninis, and salads. Great vibe, always busy. Y Tu Pina Tambien is located on 1ra Avenida Sur y 6ta Calle Oriente no. 22, 3 blocks east and 1 block south of the Central Park. They are open every day from 7:30am-7pm.
There's an amazing Libanese restaurant in Antigua that has great food and an amazing price. The place is called TAKY BARU and it's one block and a half from the Central Park.
Just ask were's Monoloco and once you get there, just keep walking (away from the park) straight and turn right on the first corner, it's on the right side, half block in.
Also here's a link for a map. https://foursquare.com/v/taku-baru/4fad5f12e4b027b7363d0029
Epicure, located just across the street from El Carmen, serves up a variety of deli sandwiches and other fresh foods. For Q17 ($2.20), you can get a tasty 6" salami and cheese sandwich. The bread, meats, and cheese are all high quality. This is one of our consistent go-tos for something quick, good, and reasonably-priced. The view of the El Carmen facade from the restaurant isn't bad either.
People go here for one thing and one thing only. FLAN. This place is known to have the best flan for the past 28 years. The flan is basically a mixture of dried fruit and flan. It costs Q20 and totally worth it. Do not make the same mistake that we did by ordering other things. We ordered the hamburger and chicken sandwich, and they are below average. The restaurant is located next to central park.
You've got to try the bread at Dona Luisa, a bakery/restaurant at 4a calle oriente #12, less than two blocks from the main square. My all-time favorite was the banana bread, though she does sell raisin bread, carrot cake and other desserts. If you want to splurge, the restaurant is good, and the atmosphere is nice and relaxing.
I would avoid the food at the market. Although you can get some adventurous dishes there (i.e., liver, fried pig feet, etc.), we generally did not have good experiences. Instead, you might look for street vendors near La Merced, the church near the Arch (day or night), or El Carmen (only during the day). On Saturdays, you can find tamales ( http://bit.ly/xrv3Pe) near the market in front of the pandeleria by the mercado.
If you´re looking for good tamales in Guatemala, it can be hit or miss. We did find two ladies in Antigua, however, who do it right. Look for two ladies standing next to each other in front of the pandeleria near the market with two baskets full of tamales (pork and chicken). Each tamale costs Q5-6. One is enough. The ladies are there only on Saturdays after 5:30pm.
Worth The Splurge
Although we ate tastier dishes at other restaurants in town, Hector's is the best value, and their portions are large enough to share. There are only a few dishes offered at this cozy restaurant with only 7 tables. Tastier dishes include the very rich chicken alfredo with homemade pappardelle (Q90) and the grilled duck breast (Q145) (the roasted grapes were insane). Can't vouch for the beef tenderloin, which came out rather tough, or the French beef stew. My mother's is better. If you want a seat, get there early (around 5:30pm) or later in the evening. If you're in Antigua on the weekend, consider forgoing dessert and grabbing a bunelo or atol ( http://bit.ly/zPLGhA) across the street in front of La Merced.
Where to Party
Drinking / Bars / Happy Hours
Food is ok, beer is kind of expensive, but it's worth it because the atmosphere is so great. Cafe No Se is one of those places with carefully-designed spaces where you can sit down and spend a whole evening. Known for the live music (check the Revue's live music calendar to see who is playing --> ( http://bit.ly/wPGUdv) and selection of illegal Mezcal, Cafe No Se is an excellent place to start or end the night in Antigua.
Where to Shop
Arts & Handicrafts
The old El Carmen convent, located on 3a Avenida Norte across from Epicure Restaurant, has a nice selection of arts and handicrafts. Many of the same items you can find in Chichicastenango can be found here with not much variance in price. The best time to go is on the weekends, when the indigenous ladies from Lake Atitlan and neighboring areas arrive to sell their huipiles, cortes, and fajas. The shopping experience at El Carmen is so much better than at the Mercado de Artesanias near the market, where most goods are overpriced and there is not much room for negotiation.
In Guatemala, textiles are unique to the region they come from. At Nim Pot, not only can you buy high quality textiles from every region of the country, but you can also see the dramatic contrast from region to region. Huipiles are hung throughout the store and are labeled by region. This is an excellent place to go to get an idea of what high quality huipiles ( http://bit.ly/zzrths) look like and cost before purchasing them at the market. From the Central Park, head toward the Arch. Nim Pot is just under the Arch on the right.
The only direct bus to Panajachel leaves at 7:00am. To catch the bus, head to Alameda Santa Lucia between Calle 4 Poniente and Calle 5 Poniente. It's a strange location as the bus is in a walled parking lot next to Farmacia Batres and across the street from El Tiendas de Pintura Volcan on Calle Principal near the market. For the best views of the lake, sit on the right side of the bus. Expect to pay Q36 pp.
When you cross the border at La Hachadura, there will be buses waiting to take you to Guatemala City or Antigua. The second-class buses (there are no publicos) cost Q45 and take 3 hrs, dropping you off in the town of Esquintla, which is still another hour and a half to Antigua (Q7). Though we didn't try it and can't attest to it, you could try catching a chicken bus to Antigua from Chiquimulilla to save a few quetzales.
Most travel agencies in Antigua can arrange a shuttle to pick you up at your ho(s)tel and drop you off at the international airport in Guatemala City. The trip takes only an hour and costs between $8-10, depending on which agency you go with. It's a quick, comfortable ride (shuttles seat no more than 15 people) and saves you the trouble of having to stay in Guatemala City.
Antigua - Oct 2011
Skip Guatemala City and catch a minivan from the airport to Antigua.
It has really become quite an upscale destination.....clean streets, chic shops, fancy restaurants, and manicured gardens. I suspect this is partly due to the introduction of tour buses full of cruisers on a day tour from their pacific port. Prices have markedly risen over the last decade. Accommodations start at about $15 for a single per night, food starts from $5-$6 and goes up from there. There are reasonable shuttles to surrounding towns and attractions if you wish to avoid the chicken buses.