Antigua is the old capital of Guatemala and as the seat of the Spanish colonial government, was once the most important city in all of Central America. Once the third largest city in all of Spanish America, Antigua served as Guatemala’s capital city for more than 200 years until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Modern Antigua (a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site) is a peaceful, partially restored colonial city. Quiet cobble-stoned streets, rebuilt stucco homes with heavy, beautifully carved wooden entrances. It is a short 45 km from Guatemala City on a lovely winding road.
My driver dropped me off at the G Adventures Antigua office aka Gemma’s apartment where I would be spending the next few days. Her apartment is located in a beautiful colonial building with a perfect view of the cities famous volcano. Gemma was not home when I arrived as she had spent the last few days in San Jose Costa Rica for work. I enjoyed a quick shower and hit the streets just as the sun was itching to set. I spent the next two hours wandering around the cities many cobblestone streets. I started at Parque Central where I tip toed through the cathedral and enjoyed a lively brass band in front of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. Like every square in Latin America, there was a beautiful central fountain (spouting mermaids) and a gaggle of beggars and sellers of tourist trinkets. The city is full of dilapidated cathedrals which form a historical patchwork throughout the city. Just as the sun was setting I arrived at the cities famous Arco de Santa Catalina which glowed through the warm evening breeze.
I ate dinner at La Fonda de la Calle Real which is considered one of the best Guatemalan restaurants in the city. The ambiance was adorable featuring a central open air courtyard and hanging angels. I ordered a bottle of the countries famous Gallo beer and an entrée which featured: chile relleno with ground beef, refried beans, refried plantain, farmers cheese and rice. I scooted back to the apartment and fell into bed for a quick nap before Gemma arrived. We were both wiped so we spent the evening chatting before passing out.
The following day would be a busy one! We woke up to a beautifully sunny morning. Gemma took a trip to the gym and in the meantime I decided to poke about Iglesia y Convento de Nuestra Senora de la Merced a few minutes walk from her apartment. We reconvened at the apartment and set out for a busy day of touring. We started our morning together visiting her favorite local coffee shop Tretto Caffe where we both enjoyed latte’s made from beans grown on the outskirts of the city. We then marched to local favorite, Cafe Condessa for breakfast. We ordered a strawberry yogurt smoothie (in a massive bowl of a glass), mug of coffee, Huevos Guatemaltecos (scrambled eggs, chopped tomato and onion, toast, refried beans and fresh fruit) and Pancakes Andres (oatmeal pancakes with cup of fruit, banana, strawberry, blackberries and thick sweetened cream).
After breakfast Gemma walked us to Casa Santo Domingo, an old convent which now operates as a restaurant and hotel. We then popped into another cathedral (their names all start to escape me, there really are so many!) where we were fortunate enough to watch a local couple walk down the aisle (aka we arrived at a wedding uninvited). Once the wedding bells had stopped ringing we set out for an arduous hike to the cities famous look out, Hill of the Cross. I huffed and puffed and wheezed my way to the top. The lookout features a massive stone cross which stands directly in front of one of the cities volcano’s allowing you to take in a brilliant view of the bustle below. Once we had caught our breath we ran back down the hill to meet our transfer for our Filadelfia Estate Coffee Tour. The coffee plantation is located only a few minutes outside of the city. The two hour tour was a crash course in everything coffee. Our guide started by showing us how the beans are grafted together in the nursery, followed through with plant growth and bean picking to cleaning drying, cherry (husk) removal, roasting, grinding and bagging. At the end of the tour we enjoyed a hot cup of Guatemala’s finest espresso. As you can imagine we were exhausted after such a busy day running about. We decided to treat ourselves to a one hour massage at Mayan Spa. I was pummeled and slapped and left covered and dripping in oil. We ran back to the apartment to shower ourselves, waddling like a butterball turkey through the streets.
Once we had put ourselves back together again we marched to Gemma’s favorite restaurant, Hectors. This hole in the wall, tiny restaurant is run by a little Guatemalan man with a big personality. We started our meal with a bowl of mixed olives, fresh bread and a bottle of Casa Solar Tempranilllo from Spain. We enjoyed Beef Carpaccio (olive oil, lime juice, capers, red onion and parmesan cheese), Beef Tenderloin Sandwich (sweet potato fries and house made ketchup), Grilled Duck Breast (potato and carrot dauphinoise, roasted grapes and creme fraiche) and Papardelle alfredo with fried Portobello. After a satisfying and robust meal we hit the streets for a night of drinking, dancing and merriment. We started off at the cities famous Irish Pub which was full of expats. After a quick drink we headed to Gemma’s favorite watering hole Cafe No Se which is famous for its Illegal Mezcal. The bar is dressed from head to toe in art and a local musician played his guitar throughout the evening. There really is nothing more romantic than a Spanish song and candle light. We visited one last bar (at this point the name escape me) which was more of a disco/club full of dancing locals. I could not help but laugh as I appeared as a giant beside all of these 4 foot tall dancing Mayans. With the sounds of latin beats running through my head we fell into bed in the wee hours of the morning.
The following day we enjoyed a hung over breakfast at Dona Luisa Xicotencatl located in a massive colonial mansion. Gemma ordered a vegetarian omelet topped with sprouts and I ordered the Toree de Huevos (2 eggs, ham, cheese and English Muffins). After breakfast we grabbed a chicken bus bound for Chichicastenango. On our way we happened upon an incredibly loud (read jovial) Christmas Parade which was an unexpected and rather laughable surprise.
I arrived back to Antigua after my adventure on Lake Atitlan in the late afternoon. Gemma and I spent our last night in the city enjoying a delicious meal at Bistro Cinq. This French restaurant is one of the best in the city and has a charming ambiance and stellar service. We ordered a glass of Negroni and Mojito to wet our pallets. Our feast consisted of: Iceburg Wedge with bacon, blue cheese and apple vinaigrette, Macaroni and Cheese with bacon, Steak Frites with Bernaise, Beef Bourgogne, Mayan Chocolate Pot de Cream and Profiteroles with caramel ice cream and warm dark chocolate. The following morning I would be waking up early for my flight to Panama City.