Antigua, Guatemala is one of the best kept secrets in the United States. When we go there, we see plenty of tourists and some of them are Americans but mostly college age. It is definitely under-publicized. Americans don’t usually have Guatemala in their top tier of travel locations.
The architecture and the setting within volcanos is magnificent. The architecture is well preserved Spanished Baroque style and is quite unusual for this part of the world. It has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.
From the Unesco Site – Antigua Guatemala is one the earliest and outstanding examples of city planning in Latin America in which the basic grid plan, dating from 1543, has been maintained. Its religious, private and government buildings are outstanding evidences of Spanish colonial architecture in Antigua.
We go because it is a fascinating setting plus it has a lot of great bars and restaurants and plenty of markets where you can purchase local handmade stuff.
How to Get There
We fly into Guatemala City and rent a car. There are plenty of well known car rental places near the airport. Regardless of how low the rental price looks and there are some good deals, expect to pay about twice that when they hit you with the required auto insurance. See my writeup on Guatemala City for more information.
The toughest part of renting a car is navigating out of the city. Guatemala City is a maze of traffic circles and congested traffic so I would highly recommend bringing a GPS with you.
Alternatives to renting a car are …..
1) Taking the Chicken Bus which may offer some interesting insight into the local culture I am not sure of the cost but I expect it is super cheap or
2) Taking a cab which runs about $25 to $30 and is 45 minutes to an hour
3) Taking a shuttle directly from the airport which is about $10 per person and takes about an hour
I would definitely go with a rental car, option 2 or option 3. Chicken buses are usually American school buses that were purchased at an auction when they reached a milestone of 150,000 miles or so. They are painted in blinding colors and are known to be very slow and a little untrustworthy on the road.
Things to Do in and Around Antigua
– Antigua is a great town to walk around and observe the architecture. We enjoyed hanging around the Town Square and people watching. There were travelers from all over the world. It seems that Antigua is particularly popular with Europeans.
– There are fabulous restaurants with bars all over Antigua and I’m sure they are changing all the time. One of the ones we particularly liked was the Almacen Troccoli. From the outside, you have no idea how unique and beautiful it is on the inside. It is a wine bar, but you can buy whatever beer and liquor you may want. The food was excellent.
The second place we would recommend is Epicure. The owner is a dynamic former architect/engineer who retired to Antigua but has founded a school near the ruins of Iximche about 45 minutes away. He is very good as an owner/operator of a restaurant. He spent quite a bit of time greeting and conversing with guests. We ate there for breakfast and dinner and the food and drink were outstanding.
There is one place that we have stayed twice now that is top notch. It went up significantly in price the second go round which was not a surprise. The Meson Panza Verdez is like waking up in the set of a movie. Everything about it is first class. It is a European boutique style near the plaza with a restaurant/bar. The restaurant received the Medal de oro Award as the best in the country and the hotel is acclaimed by Fodors.
A second place that is economical (for Antigua) is the Posada San Sabastian. This family type quirky hotel/guest house is decorated with antiques of all types. It has a neat layout with a rooftop garden and courtyard. We paid about 65 bucks a night.
Iximche Mayan Ruins
Iximche near the town of Tecpán is about 35 miles from Antigua but worth the drive. There are some nice views of volcanos along the way.
In case you are wondering, here is a shot of an ATM in Antigua. The conversion rate is currently one US Dollar per every 7.9 Guatemalan Quetzals. ATM’s seem to have reached every corner of the world and usually accept Visa and Master Card and many major bank cards.