After arriving in Guatemala City (or Guate) as all the locals refer to it, I immediately cancelled my fake return ticket. For those who I haven’t told me return ticket strategy, here’s the background. Most Central American countries have very old laws stating that anybody entering the country must have proof of onward travel, though none of them have checked for this for many years. Most airlines don’t care either, but some airlines (Spirit) will not allow you on your flight without a return plane ticket on some airline. In order to get around this, I went onto Continental.com the night before my flight, booked a return ticket, and cancelled it as soon as I got through Guatemalan customs. I found a coffee shop with internet in the airport while I waited for my friend’s flight to arrive and canceled the decoy ticket online.
Arriving in Antigua I couldn’t how incredible the city looks. Once you get off the highway, all the streets are cobblestone, the buildings are all hundreds of years old having been painted and repainted over the years. When arriving we asked to be dropped off in the Central Plaza where we knew that
Me in front of church next to hostel
there would be many hostels within walking distance. Having no idea which one to stay at and not wanting to rummage through the backpacks in the middle of the city we just started asking all foreigners that we came across what they thought of their hostel. Settling at a place called Hostel Dionisio we hopped in a dorm with 5 beds, the other three occupied by a German couple and a guy from Canada who started travelling at 65 and has been on the road for 3 years less about 9 months in Canada.
After getting our stuff settled in the room, we started out walking about the exploring the town and looking for some local food. We made our way through several churches that had been destroyed by seismic activity hundreds of years ago but had been rebuilt since. Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala before a large earthquake effectively leveled the city. After that they moved to capital about 30 miles east where the land is more stable. This has created a town in which the architecture has changed very little over the years while some of the churches have been rebuilt and others have been
left in ruin. We found it more difficult than expected to find local food not catered toward the many foreigners that were there. We finally found a place suggested by a local where we ate for 53Q - about $7.
Later at the hostel, one of the girls told us we could find cheap local meals in their market. As we spent about 35 minutes walking around there that day, we were sceptical. The next day we went around the market picking up a couple things for the trip. While walking through the vendor stalls, we saw a little Guatemalan woman carrying a Styrofoam plate of food that looked to be exactly the comida tipica we were looking for. We went in the direction from which she came and after a couple minutes found another woman with another plate letting us know we were on the right track. We came across an area where the stalls formed a ‘T’ intersection. We looked right and left to see a large amount of white smoke filling the stalls to the right. So we headed off in that direction and found about 20 stalls providing local meals and us the only two non locals. We settled on one of the stalls and had a filling meal with a soda for all of $2.
That night we went out to eat with a guy in our hostel from Italy. We found another place around the block from the hostel where we ate for $3. After that we all grabbed a beer and hung out on the town a bit before deciding that we’d seen enough of the city that we would be ready to head out to San Pedro on Lake Atitlan the next day.
Overall, Antigua was a very beautiful place though it seemed to cater too much to foreigners such that its culture could only be described anymore as ‘backpacker’. Everywhere you looked were backpackers and all the restaurants and shops around catered to them. I can see why so many people stay in the city for months at a time as the climate is wonderful, the meals are cheap, and for a Latin American city, the amenities are plenty.
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