Landing in the warm, vibrantly colorful paradise of Guatemala after leaving a cabin in the Cascade Mountains in northern Washington that had 10 feet of snow on its deck felt like coming back to life.
Sound dramatic? Then you must not be as allergic to cold winters as I am 😉
After pausing for a moment on the sidewalk outside of the airport to let the warm air defrost my frozen bones, my first objective was to find a taxi to take me to the cobblestoned town of Antigua, about a 45-minute drive away.
Transportation and safety in general can be a bit sketchy in Guatemala, so the best option after arriving at the airport is to find an INGUAT-approved taxi to take you to your destination. (You can expect to pay ~$10 for a shared ride from the airport to Antigua.)
My “INGUAT” taxi was a large van that sat at the airport curb until the driver collected enough passengers to make the trip. I was the only traveller with no reservation for a place to stay in Antigua, so I sat in the back seat as the van bumped slowly over the streets dropping passengers off at various hotels until I was the only one left.
The driver looked at me expectantly, his smiling face sweaty and slightly mystified. He’d asked me numerous times over the course of the journey where, exactly, I wanted to be dropped off in Antigua, and I’d merely shrugged as I tried to settle on a place online that had decent reviews for a good price point.
The days leading up to my flight from the Cascades to Central America had been a bit of a chaotic whirlwind, and my brain was lacking its normal thinking and decision-making capabilities.
“Casa Cristina,” I told him, making a random choice from the list on my phone. He looked relieved that I wouldn’t be spending the night in his van, and moments later deposited me out onto a side street around the corner from La Merced.
There is no shortage of places to stay in Antigua, but I loved everything about Casa Cristina from the friendly staff to the incredible views from the rooftop patio. Located on a quiet street near the main attractions in Antigua with private rooms for just $20/night, it was ideal. The first photo in this post is from the rooftop of Casa Cristina… see, incredible! One side overlooks the beautiful Iglesia La Merced, and the other faces west towards with a volcano as the backdrop.
Antigua is a mixture of quaint charm and elegance, with colorful homes lining its ancient cobblestone streets and tree-canopied plazas loud with the laughter of children chasing pigeons and local Mayans selling their wares.
I spent three days exploring Antigua (and Volcan Pacaya) before heading on to Lago Atitlan, and although there are an endless number of things to do in the colorful town, the following are my top “must-do’s” while visiting Antigua:
- Eat street food from a stand in front of La Merced
Through the afternoon and evening you’ll see locals and tourists alike lining up to eat from the food kiosks set up around the La Merced plaza. Cheap, delicious, and an essential part of any visit to Antigua.
*Helpful tip: to aid your digestive system, anytime you’re eating street food in any foreign country… actually anywhere in the entire world including your own country… look for the food stands with the most traffic coming through, and particularly notice if there’s any that locals are avoiding. Longer lines mean higher rates of “food turnover,” which means food spends less time sitting in the sun before making it into a belly.
Hike Volcan Pacaya
I’ll do a separate post on hiking the Pacaya Volcano, but it is located just a short distance from Antigua so is an easy morning/afternoon activity (depending on the time of day you choose to go) during your stay in the town. It is illegal to enter the park and hike on your own because of safety issues, so the only option is to hike the volcano as part of a tour group. This made for a hiking experience that was very different from what I’m accustomed to, but it was interesting 😉
- Get a Crepe at Luna de Miel
I’m not going to give an explanation here… just do it.
- Attend a yoga practice at Earth Lodge
This epic eco-lodge and avocado farm is located just 8k’s from Antigua but feels like another world.
- Spend an hour at the Plaza Mayor (Central Park)
Between the pigeons, the street musicians, and the colorfully-dressed Mayan woman with their wares balanced on their heads, there’s so much to see!