At the end of my trip to Guatemala to speak and teach at the FIT conference, our gracious hosts took us on a day trip to Antigua. Antigua was the second capital of Guatemala, 12-by-12 blocks of colonial architecture and Baroque style cathedrals and churches. After it suffered from an earthquake in the 1700s and many of its structures went to pieces, the capital moved to Guatemala City, where it is now. Antigua is a popular destination for tourists, who can walk amongst the ruined cathedrals and enjoy local food. If you ever get the chance to visit it, here's what I recommend.
Where to go
- El Tenedor del Cerro: This little collection of museums and restaurants sits atop a hill, where you can see three of the volcanoes that surround Antigua (2 active ones!). As you walk around and enjoy the mosaic murals and sculptures, parrots from their sanctuary will happily land on your shoulder and tweet away.
- Cerro de la cruz: Before venturing into Antigua, drive up for a view from the cross. You'll get another vista of the volcanoes (a straight on view of "Agua", if there are no clouds) and a birds-eye view of Antigua. You can also see the first capital of Guatemala from there, if you squint and look for the white church near the base of the volcano.
- Las Ruinas: You can wander around giant blocks of cathedral, now the home for beautiful sprouting flowers, and wonder how magnificent they once were, back when the cathedral actually had a roof. Or, if you're like me, you can count the number of times an enamored visitor has proclaimed their love by etching it into the walls, and wonder how many of them actually stayed together.
- Sereno: A restaurant that doubles as a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, thanks to a rock-studded cave that looks beautiful inside when lit up by tiny white lights.
- Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo: Another popular spot for weddings, home to an open air cathedral surrounded by ruins. They cover the fountains and grounds with hundreds of candles each night, and if it's a wedding night, *thousands* of candles, which I was lucky enough to witness. The grounds is also home to rather noisy parrots and a chocolate shop.
What to eat:
- Dulces tipicos: Translated literally, they're the "typical sweets", and they're candies and pastries that are part of the Guatemalan tradition. You will need to pace yourself to try all twenty-something of them, or pick and choose - I tried the sweet coconut bar (a bit too sweet for me), the coconut macaroon (yum, just right), and a macaron-like almond cookie (also yum).
- Chocolate: Guatemala is home to many chocolate and coffee farms, so you'll find multiple local chocolate shops while walking around Antigua. In fact, you may want to skip eating normals meals and just stick to sampling chocolates. You can try different exotic mix-ins at ChocoLala, like chocolates with rum, ginger, or papaya, or go for more classic chocolate at Guatemala Chocolates, or even go for a chocolate-making class at ChocoMuseo.
- Steak: You can eat steak the Guatemalan way at Casa Santo Domingo - with guacamole (no tomatoes!), frijoles volteados (bean puree), salsa, and platanos. You'll have to enjoy it with a red wine from Chile, not Guatemala, because it's too hot for them to make local wine, but hey, the Chile wine is highly enjoyable.
- Ron Zacapa: The native rum of Guatemala, you can drink this straight (if you're into that) or mixed with Sprite and ice. Once you do, you'll likely find yourself buying a liter to bring home for your friends to try. Or you'll just find yourself drunk.
Disfruta-te de Guate!
*I wrote this after reading United Airlines "Hemispheres" during take-off, so, uh, if this sounds too much like an airplane magazine article, blame the fact that I can't use electronic devices on airplanes during take-off.