Cobblestone streets lined with brightly colored colonial buildings, a jacaranda-wreathed central plaza, 16th-century ruins and with volcanoes surrounding it … Few cities in Latin America can match Antigua Guatemala (normally known as simply Antigua) for postcard prettiness. But this Unesco-listed metropolis is about far more than surface-level attraction and Instagram alternatives.
Founded in 1543 because the seat of Spanish energy within the area, it served as its cultural, spiritual and financial centre for greater than 200 years. The metropolis was largely destroyed by earthquakes within the 17th century however lots of the colonial buildings had been rebuilt and have since been renovated. The remnants of others dot parks and gardens throughout town.
Antigua Guatemala map.
Despite its historic significance and its significance for spiritual festivities equivalent to Semana Santa, Antigua will not be caught previously. There is a vigorous cultural scene and even its historic websites usually host free public occasions, such because the International Jazz Festival. With many eating places and bars packed into its centre, the foods and drinks scene can be one to be savoured.
Throw in a local weather that’s pleasantly gentle year-round and a low price of dwelling, and never surprisingly it’s turn out to be a magnet for expats and rich Guatemalan City residents wanting holiday houses. This has brought about points, with rising home costs forcing locals into satellite tv for pc neighbourhoods, however the gentrification of town has additionally resulted in enhancements to its infrastructure and amenities, together with roadworks to enhance the circulation of visitors and a brand new recycling programme.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Art at Santo Domingo Del Cerro
This (free) sculpture park devoted to the work of Efraín Recinos, the so-called “Guatemalan Picasso” is without doubt one of the finest locations to see modern artwork within the metropolis. In addition to 10 of his hanging blue-toned, resin-mosaic-tile murals are sculptures within the lush gardens, plus work by different main names of the Guatemalan plastic-art motion, equivalent to Guillermo Grajeda Mena and Dagoberto Vásquez. The park’s spotlight is El Triunfo de la Guatemalita, a sculpture of a girl perched on high of a clapped-out VW beetle, holding a torch aloft in her proper hand. The piece represents the artist’s adherence to beliefs of justice (the automobile belonged to Recinos within the 1970s and was burned in retaliation for his involvement in protests towards government repression). The park is inside the grounds of the five-star Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, which can be home to 5 artwork galleries that host modern artwork exhibitions all year long.
• 3a Calle Oriente #28A, casasantodomingo.com.gt
Cerro De La Cruz
Photograph: Kryssia Campos/Getty Images
Antigua was declared a Unesco world heritage website in 1979 due to its Spanish baroque-influenced structure and 16th-century colonial church buildings. The metropolis can be top-of-the-line saved examples of Latin American city planning: it was rebuilt after the earthquakes of the 18th century on a grid sample impressed by the Italian Renaissance, with streets working from north-south and east-west. Get a chicken’s-eye view of it by strolling as much as a park that overlooks town: Cerro de la Cruz (north of the centre). Ask a taxi driver to drop you on the backside: from there it’s a 15-minute stroll to the highest (resulting from previous muggings, there’s now a police presence from 8am to 4pm).
Learn to salsa
Salsa class at New Sensation dance studio
Antigua is among the many finest locations in Central America to study salsa and town’s undisputed dancing queen is Nancy Gudiel, who runs the New Sensation dance studio. Private classes are US$17 an hour, or cheaper when purchased as a bundle. The finest bit is taking new strikes out in town, the place watching locals spin and weave round awkward gringos is leisure in itself. With a band enjoying Wednesday to Friday nights, Las Palmas has the liveliest dancefloor.
Another main draw for guests are town’s Spanish language faculties – there are a whole lot of them. Don Pedro de Alvarado Spanish School has been working for nearly 4 a long time and classes are carried out in a flower-filled courtyard ($176 for 20 hours every week). The college additionally hosts salsa nights and communal meals. Just across the nook, on 1 Calle Poniente, is Antiguëña Spanish Academy, one other dependable decide, though eschew the spartan lecture rooms in favour of a desk within the close by walled backyard if attainable. Many faculties now additionally provide follow-up lessons over Skype for these who aren’t able to say adios to their trainer when their holiday is completed.
Shop for textiles and handicrafts
Nim Po’t. Photograph: Alamy
Local girls of their embroidered huipiles (blouses) are strolling ads for Guatemala’s textile heritage. It can take as much as six months to create these items; the region-specific weaving patterns and strategies talk the whole lot from birthplace and social place to marital standing and spiritual background. At the cavernous Nim Po’t close to the Santa Catalina arch, the huipiles, desk runners and woven homewares on sale are sorted by district, and the shop purchases instantly from the makers. There’s additionally an enormous vary of wood masks, carved sculptures and different trinkets. For fashionable vogue with a Guatemalan twist, go down the street to Los Colores de la Tierra, which sells vibrant bib necklaces produced from beads and recycled textiles. Over on 4a Calle Oriente #5, Uxibal boutique seems modern boots, sandals and baggage.
Colonial historical past
El Arco de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina arch). Photograph: Alamy
Antigua’s most photographed attraction is the mustard-yellow El Arco de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina arch), the final vestige of a 17th-century nunnery. It was constructed so the ladies might cross the road with out being seen and is just about reverse the Iglesia de La Merced, a baroque yellow church, inbuilt 1548 however restored in 1853. Its arabesque-patterned stucco is proof of the Moorish design pattern in Spain on the time. The connected former monastery can be price a glance (admission $2); stroll across the high of its thick partitions and see town’s largest fountain, which the monks used to farm fish in. Just a few blocks away is the 500-year-old Iglesia de San Francisco el Grande festooned with spiral columns. The website additionally features a small museum and the tomb of Saint Pedro de San José Betancur, who was canonized in 2002.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Posada San Pedro II
This posada is a fairly priced sanctuary a number of blocks south-east of the central park. Rooms are organized round a courtyard, whereas the decor leans in direction of dark-wood furnishings, uncovered roof beams and the odd spiritual icon. Guests have entry to a big kitchen and quite a lot of salons. This, mixed with the robust wifi (not all the time a given amongst accommodations at this value), makes it a well-liked possibility for long-term company. There’s additionally a sister resort on Avenida three.
• Doubles from $40 room-only, posadasanpedro.web
Mesón Panza Verde
This 12-room boutique bolthole has extra trappings than the typical Antigua resort, that includes an artwork gallery, yoga studio, heated pool and rooftop lounge. However, the true spotlight is its restaurant, overseen by Noé Sicán, certainly one of Guatemala’s most extremely regarded cooks. It’s the place to go for a romantic dinner.
• Doubles from $100 room-only, panzaverde.com
The 20 rooms right here deviate from the standard Guatemalan template of vibrant color in favour of Scandi-style minimalism and impartial tones. It could have a world really feel however the Good Hotel fosters robust hyperlinks to the neighborhood: all earnings are donated to assist deprived kids and solely native labour is used (and paid pretty). This charitable method mixes with the resort’s fashionable comforts, equivalent to rain showers, personal patios, regionally made toiletries – and nice tapas on the bar.
• Doubles from $120 room-only, goodhotelantigua.com
Photograph: Picasa/Maria Renee Recinos
This hostel, owned and run by Christopher Obrist and his US-born spouse Emily, is a good instance of town’s new crop of funds lodging. Similar to the Adra Hostel, Hostel Cucuruchos and Matiox, it gives a pleasant environment however not the relentless partying of many Antigua different hostels. Staff are useful and the dorm beds extra personal than common, because of curtains.
• Dorm beds from $13, doubles from $50, mayapapayaantigua.com
Earth Lodge, El Hato
Photograph: Alex Hopes
The meals served within the restaurant are hearty, wholesome and produced from native produce, the vibe is relaxed and the views from the guestrooms (some in treehouses) are superb. Many come to Earth Lodge to get pleasure from a meal and the vista, particularly on Sundays when there’s reside music. A personal driver will be organized for the 20-minute switch from city, though, be warned, the ultimate stage of the journey entails strolling 300 metres down a steep hill.
• Doubles in a treehouse from $50 room-only, earthlodgeguatemala.com
WHERE TO EAT
Wander by way of the primary market to the central meals courtroom the place you possibly can spend a couple of on typical stand-and-scoff mixtas (avenue meals) equivalent to pupusas (tortillas filled with recent white cheese and pork crackling) and cheveres (hotdogs topped with chimichurri – lime-juice-dressed cabbage and scorching sauce) or seize a stool at a stall for a extra substantial meal. At evening, go to Iglesia de La Merced the place distributors arrange store, filling the air with the aroma of the empanadas, chile rellenos (peppers filled with minced meat and spices) and doblados (tortillas full of cheese, meat and potatoes and topped with guacamole and salsa). For an indoor street-food expertise, head to the family-run Taqueria Doña Lupita. A plate of three tacos is a wallet-friendly $2.70.
Homestyle meals at Rincon Tipico
There’s no menu and choices are restricted at this conventional eatery however – at $four for lunch and $6 for dinner – it serves among the best-value comida tipica on the town. Dishes equivalent to pork adobado (tenderloin marinated with paprika and pepper) and longaniza (sausages threaded with mint and yerba buena) are sometimes on the chalkboard menu. Or go for the home speciality: roast hen and garlicky potatoes grilled over the firepit.
• 3a Avenida Sur #three, +502 5029 4647, on Facebook
Pepian at Los Tres Tiempos
Photograph: Al Argueta
One of Guatemala’s commonest dishes, pepian is also known as a Mayan curry. It is a wealthy, darkish stew of meat, tomatoes and toasted spices, thickened with nuts and seeds. You’ll see it all over the place from meals carts and behind tiendas (small outlets equivalent to La Canche Comedor) to fine-dining eating places. But the Guatemalan house owners of this vivid and breezy restaurant have taken pains to make sure their model is genuine, and excellent ($14.70). Eat on the rooftop terrace and wash it down with a tart tamarind margarita ($four.90) or the signature Quetzalteca Royale cocktail, a punchy mixture of white rum, hibiscus tea and champagne ($5.60).
• 5a Avenida Norte #31, +502 7832 5161, lostrestiempos.com
Bagging a desk at this cosy, candlelit restaurant close to La Merced will be tough (there’s solely house for 30 or so) nevertheless it’s price persisting: chef Hector Yuca seems pretty French-inspired meals. Along with steakhouse Las Antorchas, it’s the place to move while you’re craving a meat dish made with prime cuts. Try the meat tenderloin ($19.75) or the grilled duck served with roasted grapes and potato gratin ($22).
• 1a Calle Poniente #9, +502 7832 9867, on Facebook
WHERE TO DRINK
Café No Sé
This hole-in-the-wall is an establishment in Antigua and has parted many a backpacker from their reminiscences and weekly travel funds. In its candlelit nooks you’ll discover an attention-grabbing array of literary varieties (thanks partially to the connected bookshop, Dyslexia, the place in case you purchase a guide you get a free beer), musicians, oddball expats and locals. Aside from the nightly reside music, the primary attraction is Ilegal, the mescal produced for the home by three artisanal Oaxacan distillers. There’s a two-shot minimal within the specialist lounge, accessed by way of a fridge door. American proprietor John Rexer can usually be found occupying a bar stool; ask him about his early days working bootlegged liquor throughout the border dressed as a priest. Beers price $three.80, measures of mescal from $four.70 to $7.50.
• Avenida Sur # 11, cafenose.com
Sunset drinks with a view
Antigua Brewing Company
One of the fun of Antigua is kicking again at a rooftop bar with a beer or lip-tingling michelada (beer, lime juice and spices) and having fun with the views over the streets and volcanoes. There’s a quiet bar on the high of the Antigua Brewing Company with craft beers on faucet and a menu of rib-stickers, equivalent to pulled pork sandwiches ($eight.80) and quesadillas ($eight.80). A glass of its Fuego IPA prices $5.40. The Lava Terrace Bar & Burgers on four Avenida Norte additionally has a big rooftop space, though be warned reggaeton will be pumping in any respect hours and it’s a magnet for occasion folks come 5pm. For cocktails, Café Sky is a low-key, well-priced possibility above a tiki bar and hostel (attempt the Cojito – a coconut-flavoured mojito, $four.50)
Cocktails at Coffee Shop San Simón
Owner Jose Mario “Chema” Aguirre has assembled an amazing workforce of bartenders at this tiny, misleadingly named cocktail bar. Tell them what you want they usually’ll combine you one thing (cocktails price round $three.40); in case you’re feeling courageous, ask for one thing made with cusha, a neighborhood spirit produced from fermented fruit. San Simón joins onto the identical courtyard as one other common watering gap, Cantina Royal, which has a enjoyable atmosphere and sometimes reside music.
• four Calle Oriente #5, on Facebook
Wine at Casa Troccoli
Photograph: Roberto Sacasa
The decor of this swish bar and restaurant harks again to the times when it was a common retailer (opened in 1903). On the bottom ground there are a couple of tables however the majority of the house is for an emporium-style wine and cigar store. If the window seats are taken, head by way of to the courtyard or upstairs to the fairy-light strung terrace. Pick out a bottle of wine (costs vary from $17 to $24). The creamy mushroom and parsley bruschetta ($6) and chorizo-spiked four-cheese fondue ($eight) are tasty choices.
• Cnr 3a Calle Poniente and 5a Avenida Norte, on Facebook
Dance till the early hours at Las Vibras de la Casbah
For a giant evening out this split-level disco is the place. It’s the place touring DJs play when on the town. Local beers (Gallo, Moza) price $three.50 and cocktails $four.75, whereas bottles begin at $54. Fuel up with the home tacos: recent shrimp, heaped with guacamole and spicy pico de gallo, and rounded off with selfmade chipotle sauce.
• 5a Avendia Norte #30, lasvibrasantigua.com
Way to go
Flights from London to Guatemala City contain one or two stops and can be found with BA, Aeromexico, Delta and United. It takes below an hour to succeed in Antigua from Guatemala City’s La Aurora airport. Arrange a shuttle bus at one of many kiosks within the airport or pre-book a switch with Adrenalina Tours or Transport Guatemala; the journey prices round $15pp. Hotels can prepare personal transfers