Trip Report (1/3): Antigua
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Nov 30, 2012 8:12 AM Last Post By: Vagabond_Bill
Nov 28, 2012 6:38 PM
Trip Report (1/3): AntiguaI got back last week from 11 days in Guatemala. This was my first time in Central America, though I've spent a fair amount of time in Mexico and South America. We didn't have time to wander much off the main tourist trail (Antigua, Tikal, Atitlan), and there's plenty of information on line already about these three places. I'll try to focus this report on things that were new, or surprising, or not quite what we expected.
Antigua: 3 days
- Our first surprise came outside the airport. Our ride wasn't there, and so we had to brave the masses of touts outside. The surprise was, this was easy. I'm so used to seeing the worst of a country at an airport - mob scenes full of hustlers and con artists. Instead, people were helpful and social, and we chatted with a couple guys while we waited for our ride. This was a cool welcome to the country.
- We stayed at Chez Daniel, a hacienda on the southeast side of town. The owners, Marleni and Daniel, were super helpful and informative; this was a good choice for us. I liked that we were a bit away from the central park, in a more local area. It was only a ten or fifteen minute walk to the central area. I can highly recommend this place.
- After reading the reviews I was expecting Antigua to be a party town overrun with American students - so it was another nice surprise to find that this was not the case at all. The town definitely swelled with visitors from the City on the weekends, and Sunday evening it felt like there was a mass exodus. It was definitely a weekend holiday town, but most of the visitors seemed to be Guatemalans from other parts of the country. I liked that.
- While Antigua was nicer than we expected, we got a bit restless after three days there. I hadn't realized how much of the city was in ruins. It only has half the population it had when it was the capital, and there are the remains of churches, convents, and monasteries on almost every block. We spent a good 3/4 of a day touring them, and then felt that we had had enough! Convento de las Capuchinas was the most interesting, followed by the museums at the Casa Santo Domingo. El Sitio has rotating exhibits; we saw a series of watercolors by Salvador Dali based upon Dante's Divine Comedy, and a photographic exhibit that dealt with the violence of the past couple decades.
- The photo exhibit, and a profile of one of the martyrs in a church, were the only indications we saw that there had even been a genocide in the recent past. This was strange ... in other countries with tragic histories even a casual visitor is made aware of them (Mexico, Argentina, SE Turkey come to mind). Here it was like there was a great silence: there was a lot of information on the Mayan and colonial eras, and then it was as if nothing had ever happened in the 200 years since.
- We did a day hike on the Pacaya volcano. This was fine, and a nice way to get out into the countryside. We couldn't go the actual summit because of rock slide hazards, but the trip was still well worth it.
- Another visitor insisted visit Pastores, a town outside Antigua where they make boots. He said it was an actual "gay village," whose residents came together after being exiled from their own villages. We did pass through it on a bus trip ... and it didn't look very gay to me. Or that interesting, unless you were shopping for boots.
- Food wise, we tried to eat local. La Cuevita de Urquizu was the standout, with big pots of pepian, kac-iq, and other dishes out front. You can select your sides by pointing, which makes like easier! The pepian at the Fonda de la Calle Real was the best we had the whole trip, we had chiles rellenos twice for breakfast at Rincon Tipico, and an excellent but pricey chicken stuffed with huitlacoche at Frida's.
- We also had a chile relleno plate lunch at one of the market stalls at the Iglesia de San Francisco, which was delicious. The only other street food we had was in front of La Merced: grilled corn (kind of scrawny looking corn, but good), a deep friend thing made of bananas and black bean paste (delicious; I have the name written down somewhere!), and tostadas (also tasty). We never had issues eating street and market food, and the level of hygiene seemed high overall.
- We were usually in bed by 10pm, so I don't know about the night life, though it was nice to have a beer at sunset at the Sky Bar. Frida's advertises a gay night the last Saturday of each month. We weren't there then, but I think it would've been interesting. Most of the gay life seems centered in Guatemala City.
- I don't recall a bad meal in Antigua, though I got brave at the Fonda de la Calle Real and tried a pork liver stew. It was a bit to strong for my taste, but I was a good boy and finished it.
- We spent an additional afternoon in Antigua (thanks to a broken bus) as well as our last day. It started to feel familiar! My ATM account was hacked, so we were on a pretty tight budget at the end, and stayed at Hostel La Sin Ventura. I was worried from the reviews that it would be a party hostel, and it was above some awful place advertising nachos as big as your head, and showing American football on widescreen televisions ... but it turned out to be pretty nice. It's in an old stone building, the rooms are big, and the staff was friendly. It wasn't as personal as Chez Daniel, but it was a fine budget option. However ... noise did echo down the stone halls, and it would only take a few party people to make the place super loud.
Overall impressions: Antigua was a fine town, and made a good base. I can see why students would like to study there. It's definitely worth a few days, but it wasn't horribly exciting or dynamic. I don't think I'd make it a destination in and of itself, but it was a great place to become acclimated, and recover from jet lag.
Nov 28, 2012 6:53 PM
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