If you ever travel to Guatemala, chances are at some point you will come to the city of Antigua. So after spending nearly a month in this great country, it was a fitting end for us to finally make our way to this town before heading South to Nicaragua. From what we heard about Antigua, we thought it may be a bit of a tourist cluster, but we didn’t find that at all. Instead, we found a very charming city with beautiful streets, towering old churches, charming town squares, all with a nice volcano backdrop.
Sure, there are tourists, travelers, and expats lingering around, but it was refreshing to find we were definitely the minority and Antigua was not at all this tourist-mecca we thought we’d find. Instead we were able to practice our new Spanish skills conversing with locals much more than anticipated.
We simply enjoyed walking around Antigua and admiring its charming architecture of both of old buildings and even older buildings.
You can easily wander around for hours and stumble into a number centuries old churches and other structures.
Adventures Around Antigua
Of course, we had to do something adventurous while in town, so why not another volcano hike? Volcan Tulcamulco nearly killed us and Volcan San Pedro wore us down a bit but was very manageable. It was now time for our third volcano trek and our first one on an active volcano. Volcan Pacaya was said to be a challenge. But we must be old pros now, because this was just a walk in the park for us. We hiked up passed the forest line until the trees gave way to rock and ash.
Although it is still active, the lava flows have stopped, or at least stopped for the time being. In fact, the lava was still flowing as recently as a few months prior to our late February 2014 visit. Instead of lava we witnessed a steady stream of steam come from the volcano’s cone and occasionally an eruption of ash. It was an impressive site and left us all only slightly on edge, not knowing whether or not the volcano was going to suddenly decide to spew lava again.
Eating Around Antigua
There are several restaurants, cafes, and bars scattered throughout the town. We went to the raved about La Fonda de la Calle Real (meh) for a final fix of Guatemalan cuisine. But our favorite meal in this city with good restaurants was instead the simple yet delicious papusas (a Salvadorian dish made from thick corn tortillas and stuffed cheese and other fillings) from the woman at the small stand one block North of Parque Central.
Speaking of food, we spotted our first McDonald’s since leaving US, and it was the nicest McDonald’s we’d ever seen in our lives, complete with beautiful outdoor gardens with volcano views and a separate espresso & pastry bar. Wow, Antiguans do McDonalds way better than the US does McDonalds!
Drinking Around Antigua
There are many options for drinking around Antigua (and we visited a few). Our favorite place for a pint was definitely Hops & Tales (see more about them in our Guatemala beer review). But we also really enjoyed Cafe No Se. It was a fun atmosphere and had some live music for a while, which attracted a good-natured crowd. But what was really interesting about this place was the ‘secret’ mezcal bar in the back. We first learned about mezcal when drinking around the Yucatan and this is the first time we’d seen it since. The bartender alluded that this Mexican liquor wasn’t procured entirely legally, which is why its only served at the secret back bar. To get into this area, find the small refrigerator door on the wall. Its not really a door to a refrigerator and instead leads to the mescal bar. We had as much fun sneaking into the secret fridge door entrance as we did with the mescal.
Next stop: Leon, Nicaragua!