One Night (Was Enough) in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

I spent my last night in Guatemala in Antigua. My flight back to the U.S. was at 1 p.m. the following day and I didn’t want to make the 4 hour bus ride from Xela the same morning. (Antigua is just 45 minutes from the airport.) Plus, I was departing during Independence Day weekend, and every single Guatemalan I spoke to told me to get out of Xela as early as possible to avoid getting caught up in all the parades. And I figured I might as well see one more place in Guatemala.

So early on Saturday morning, two PLQE friends, Viradeth and Laurie, and I took a shuttle to Antigua. The ride went smoothly and we passed many small Independence Day parades in towns along the mountain roads. We also caught a glimpse of Lake Atitlan which, unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit this trip.

Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan

Although I’d planned to spend my last night in Antigua for a while, I had a feeling I wouldn’t be too crazy about the place. I’d heard that it wasn’t the best place to learn Spanish because there are so many gringos and everyone speaks English.

My hunch proved correct.

“Tourist trap” is the best way to describe the place. Sure, it’s gorgeous. It’s way prettier than Xela, with beautiful, historic buildings and cobblestone streets flanked by volcanoes. It’s the quintessential colonial town that exists in every Latin American country, the one that guidebooks always dub “the crown jewel” of the place.

Santa Catalina Arch

Arco de Santa Catalina

But because of its beauty, tourists flock there and the city caters to them. Antigua has tons of shops, cafes and restaurants, but nothing seems authentically Guatemalan. It kind of feels like Disney.

We had a Guatemalan lunch of rice, beans and tortillas at a nearby restaurant whose name I can’t remember (and couldn’t find online). The food was plentiful and delicious, but I’d been so spoiled with great homemade Guatemalan food from my host moms, that it didn’t quite stack up—especially the tortillas!

Afterwards, we walked around snapping requisite photos of old churches and buildings. The streets were so crowded with tourists that I just couldn’t get into it, though. I don’t think Viradeth and Laurie could, either. After about an hour, Viradeth went back to the hostal to take a nap and Laurie left to wander on her own.

Catedral de San JosГ©

Catedral de San JosГ©

La Merced Church

La Merced Church

My friends from PLQE, Jenny and Kathy, had told me that when they were in Antigua, they spent an afternoon at Hotel Antigua‘s pool. (For $10, anyone can purchase a day pass.) That seemed like a much more appealing option, so I spent an hour there chillaxing and watching the clouds move across a nearby volcano.

hotel antigua

Avoiding the touristy streets by spending an hour at Hotel Antigua’s pool

In the evening, Viradeth and I went on a quest to find a restaurant that served Guatemalan food and didn’t resemble Applebee’s. (We figured we HAD to have local cuisine for our last meal in the country!) But it took a long time. We walked up and down nearly every street. Finally, we settled on La Fonda de la Calle Real, which is right in the heart of tourist central, but the only Guatemalan place we came across. The food was actually really good, especially the pepian y pollo.

And then, since it was our last night in the country, we hit up a few touristy bars. In true gringo style.

Our hostel, La Sin Ventura, was actually one of my favorite parts of Antigua. It was a block away from Parque Central and single rooms were just $18/night. Mine was spotlessly clean, with a double bed and private bathroom that had hot water and good pressure—a luxury I hadn’t experienced in two weeks. It was definitely the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed at. We did find out why it was so cheap, though: at night, the bar downstairs is hopping and you can hear people in the hallways.

la sin ventura

My room at La Sin Ventura Hostel

The next morning, I was ready to leave Antigua, but not Guatemala. Two weeks was just not enough time there.