Antigua, Guatemala

door

Despite the cold, we enjoyed Semuc Champey so much that one night easily turned into four. It was really refreshing to feel completely off the grid, without any communication from the outside world, in a beautiful setting high up in the mountains. We met some incredible people and spent the rest of our time there hiking, reading, and hanging out. The locals who live nearby make their own dark, grainy chocolates and every 5 minutes the cutest little girls came up to us singing “chocolates chocolates, dos por cinco!” They weren’t delicious, but it was hard to say no to such sweet faces. We asked one 7-year-old where she goes to school and she told us that there are none in the area—they don’t have any formal education.

When we were finally ready to move on, we boarded yet another shuttle, this time heading for Antigua. The drive wasn’t too bad, and small city proved to be a welcome burst of urban activity when we arrived. We checked into Hotel Jacardanda, an adorable and spacious place just far enough away from the hustle and bustle.

cerro cruz

Antigua is a lovely vintage town. Very few buildings are taller than one story, and intermittent church ruins sprinkle the city blocks. It’s also extremely difficult to navigate because the streets have no signs and they all look the same. We joked that 90% of our total time in Antigua was spent aimlessly wandering around. Our motto, when trying to find a specific location, was “when you think you’ve gone too far, you’re almost there.”

The most astonishing aesthetic of the scenery was, for us, the massive and intricate doors everywhere. These little rundown concrete buildings— all coated with chipped paint in only yellow, red, or blue—sported the most magnificent thick wooden doors.

We hiked up to Cerro de la Cruz for a view of the entire city and Agua Volcano.

On the shuttle ride from Semuc Champey, Meghan sat next to a girl, Kassie, who told us about a bar crawl that Monday at the Terrace Hostel so we decided to check it out. It ended up being pretty wild. We met a ton of travelers and party people and went to all the fun bars around town. It was a blast!

flowers

Of all the cute restaurants in town, our two favorites, by far, were Rainbow Café and H Bistro. Rainbow Café had all the random foods we craved—most importantly, hummus and pita! Kyle couldn’t get enough of their Greek Chicken and Meghan and I loved their homemade soups. Better than the food was the scene inside—every night they had varied live musical performances and they provided lots of board games to play at the table (this is where we turned into Scrabble addicts.) The other place we absolutely loved was H Bistro—a tiny hole in the wall that only seats about 20 people. This was much nicer than our typical meals and a major treat for us, but totally worth it. The food was delicious—Hector (H) runs everything in the joint and whipped us up a roasted tomato and gouda appetizer, filet mignon, mahi mahi, shrimp, and even a couple perfect vodka dirty martinis which we’d been craving since we left San Diego.

There are 37 volcanoes in Guatemala—many of which you can climb—so we decided to hike Pacaya, an active volcano close to Anituga. The hike wasn’t too difficult, although it was pretty much straight up a dusty rockslide for most of the way. Local boys rode up behind us on horseback, waiting for someone to tire and pay 10Q for a “taxi” (which a couple people actually did.) When you get about halfway, the ground changes from dirt and boulders to ash and porous volcanic rock. It was a weird sensation to trek along over crunchy, black, hardened-lava.

picaua

You’re not able to climb all the way to the peak, and we didn’t get to see any actual lava, which was a bit disappointing; however, we had read online that you can roast marshmallows over the hot rocks toward the top, so we came prepared with s’mores materials! We made some new friends and together we stacked pastel marshmallows on twigs we had picked up along the way, stuck them under lava-filled stone before smushing them into graham crackers with chocolate. I must say, those were the best s’mores I’ve ever tasted! We decided that from now on, we only want s’mores made from volcanoes.

The way down the mountain was quite steep and we actually skied down the black rock in our tennis shoes. By the time we got to the bottom we looked like dirty little ragamuffins and had black boogers for days.picaya sun

The last—and probably most astonishing thing we encountered in Antigua—was the main marketplace… I’m not even sure I can do it justify in description. From the outside, there is no way to gauge the depths of the craziness. In fact, when walking down the main road, it would appear to the untrained eye that there are 2-3 lines of outdoor stands, much like a typical farmers market. But there are several openings where you can duck inside and once you commit to going in it’s a whole other world and down the rabbit hole you go!

The inner workings of this marketplace are an overwhelming labyrinth of stalls teeming with everything you could imagine from phone chargers, winter coats, nail polish, fried iguana, DVDs, vegetables, Batman book bags, etc. There is no marketrhyme or reason (as far as we can tell) and once you make a couple turns your chance of an easy exit diminishes rapidly. We got lost in there for hours at a time, just perusing the myriad tchotchkes and food items (most of which were intriguing and nauseating at the same time.) We ended up on the butcher strip, lined on both sides with strung-up animal carcasses, which was unsettling for us vegetarians. Kyle said he kept turning corners and ended up in the same Hello Kitty school supply section. It was so visually enthralling that we each went back several times to just look around and search for random items (which we almost always ended up finding.)

Overall, we loved Antigua and felt comfortable in the little antique city, but, as always, it was time to move on to our next adventure….

Posted on by Erica Duncan in Guatemala

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