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Published: January 29th 2022
I first arrived at Guatemala City airport from New York, not sure what to expect or do when I arrived. It was initially a bit confusing with regards to lines for checking your PCR test result and passport before officially going through immigration. Not sure what that was all about. After leaving immigration, there were two stands I was already looking for: Money and SIM card. The SIM card was easy and totally worth the purchase, my 4GB plan easily lasting the whole trip. However, the money exchange was a complete rip off - I recommend trying to find a bank ATM, preferably in Guatemala City or even the airport for better exchange rates.
Anyway, after getting my bag, I saw a kiosk for a shared shuttle to Antigua. Initially, I was willing to pay for a taxi, but I saw one girl already sitting their waiting and knew they would send the shuttle once 3 people were on board - I think it was $15. After waiting only about ten minutes, the guy told us he would send the two of us solo in a car, so we did! The driver was nice, but his English was minimal, so
I got to practice my Spanish; the girl thought I was good, but really it was very basic! I asked him about the Christmas festivities, which he said were muted due to Covid, but that New Year's was going to be the big party. It was a long drive to Antigua, lots of traffic, but pretty scenery.
Once we arrived, he dropped me at a hotel, which was adjacent to my airbnb, but I was not sure which one. I texted Luke that I had arrived, and at the hotel, I turned right, but soon Luke was behind me calling my name - I should have turned left! it was set in an alleyway with a large door onto the street, but once inside, there was a lovely little courtyard and the alley was covered by a plastic roof, letting in the last of the day's light. The apartment itself was super adorable, just like the photos, with a wrought iron curved stairway to the loft bedroom and bathroom, a basic-stocked kitchen, a sitting room, and was very tastefully decorated.
Soon after we unpacked and caught up for a few minutes, and I changed, we went to explore
a bit. We walked to the Central Park, which was lit up with Christmas decorations and was busy with people. We looked for a place to eat and wound up at a semi-fancy taco restaurant, which was good. We got a shared taco platter and a couple of mango margaritas while catching up, mostly about his adventures in Central America over the last two months! Then we found a rooftop terrace bar where we got a couple more drinks and chatted some more. It was very cool - there are like multiple bars surrounding a courtyard, both downstairs and upstairs, with lots of options. We just stuck with the margaritas. Then we grabbed a bottle of wine and some snacks on the way back to the airbnb, drinking a little more before calling it a night.
The next morning, we wandered around town a bit more, taking some photos before it got too crazy busy. Then we looked for a place to have breakfast. There were a few cheaper locations with limited options, but ultimately I made my 'demands' - I wanted the rooftop terrace to see the view. He teased me about being demanding (I really never am),
but I knew he thought it was a good choice. The food was ok, but the courtyard was adorable and the view was amazing. Not only did we get a clear view of the giant Volcan Agua which towers over the city, but we could also clearly see the Volcanos Acatenango and Fuego from where we were. We could even see Volcan Fuego erupting every twenty minutes or so. I was in heaven!
Afterwards, we spent much of the day shopping. Yes, really. There were so many artisan markets with 'homemade' souvenirs (some authentic, some clearly not!) and we needed to do some Christmas shopping for the secret Santa we had coming up. It was really cool to go into the shops - they were vocal but not really pushy, which I liked. And there was so much to choose from! I wanted one of everything: table runners, dishes, paintings, etc. First, I needed some sunglasses, which I quickly got at the second, larger market. This area was more of an actual market that locals use, which sell practical products in addition to another artisan market tucked away. He teased me again as this is my 'worst nightmare' -
walking in a very crowded area with lots of noise (bells on bikes and ice cream trucks, loud music, people yelling, cars and motorcycles all over the place, etc). But after getting my glasses and he got a chain for his cross to replace one that had previously broken, we toured this other market which actually seemed to have more authentic homemade crafts. I wound up buying two leather purses - not cheap, but not out of the norm, what I would typically spend in Italy on their leather purses actually. We had lunch at a vegan restaurant - I was very full from only half my meal and was a bit tripped out by the hippy-dippy music videos playing, but otherwise it was very cool. City tour
Later that afternoon, we met with Claudia, our guide for a free walking tour of Antigua, along with a couple from Poland. We met at the Iglesia de la Merced, where Claudia explained some of the history and politics of Guatemala. From there, we wandered down the gorgeous streets while she gave us more history and understanding of the area. This included a lot of what we had already figured
out, such as the courtyards - from the street, it seems so unassuming, but you should always walk into the main, open doors and the interiors have courtyards, most of which are either a pleasant area to chill or have stores, or shops, or pharmacies, or restaurants. We walked into the courtyard at the old Santa Catalina convent, founded in 1613, and destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. There was also a large open artisan shop which had truly authentic (and expensive!) wares, including the shirts the men wore, but all prices were fixed - no haggling. We also went to the Chocolate Museum in the central part of town where they told us the process on how chocolate was made, even giving us a couple of samples. We finished our tour at the Franciscan Church which houses the remains of the Saint Hermano Pedro, who is revered here as a saint. The church itself has been destroyed by earthquakes many times, and the tree dedicated to the saint appeared to have died, but looks like it has started to regrow during Covid. Pilgrims still come to see Hermano Pedro's resting place.
After the tour, we went to a
rooftop bar for a couple of drinks. It was above a liquor shop (where we found Amarula and Bailey's), and there was no one up there but us. The first night it was pretty cloudy, but tonight was a bit better and we could see Fuego occasionally - we were so excited for the next day's adventure!. Later we found another vegan restaurant in a courtyard for dinner, where there were a few other restaurants. The outdoor seating for the restaurant was full, but the waiter told us we could sit a like a little bar set up right next to the interior fountain - very cool! I got a falafel wrap, again, huge! I could not eat it and Luke just had a hummus bowl, so he wound up eating half the wrap. I really liked this whole eating environment in Antigua - so many options and interesting atmosphere. The whole town in general just had a great vibe.
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