We found a great Air B&B for a good price and figured an apartment in the city would be a nice place to SLOW DOWN and spend a few days. We really enjoyed NOT driving for those 3 long days at the lake and thought 3 more days (with secure parking, good Wi-Fi, and air conditioning) would be nice. Plus Tyler needed to get some more client work done.
The drive only took 3 hours (up that CRAZY mountain road) so despite sleeping in, packing up camp, and saying our long good-byes; we still made it to Antigua by early afternoon.
Driving in, this city kind of reminds us of San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. Surrounded by mountains (and in this case volcanoes), this city has the same colonial-style architecture and cobblestoned streets.
The New York Times did a really great article titled “36 hours in Antigua” which really helped us make the most out of our short time here. While we didn't do everything on the list, we thought we’d review what we DID see, and add in our own recommendations.
Sunday, September 4th
1. Apartment in the City
Find our apartment, get the tour of the place from our wonderful host, unpack the car and look for a place to eat (we’d eaten breakfast on the road – homemade San Marcos la Laguna Peanut Butter and Jam on homemade bread).
We stumbled upon this tiny little pizzeria which, like most restaurants in Antigua, doesn't look like much until you get past the store front and out into the courtyard. Beautiful foliage, sunny weather, and a stone oven made for a great late lunch/early dinner. We had hummus to start and Tyler ordered a beer. Then we each ordered a pizza. Tyler’s was prosciutto, arugula, and mozzarella. Meg had pesto, tomatoes and spinach. We spent 247 Quetzal, about $32.93 USD.
Monday, September 5th
3. Breakfast de Tipico
Here is where we followed the NY Times' guide and headed to breakfast at El Portón. Walking up, we were NOT convinced this was the right place. Sure it was a Monday, but there was no one outside cooking tortillas on the grill and very few people dining inside. Nonetheless we sat down at a picnic table in the dark front room and the owner walked up. Without being handed a menu, she very quickly asked “Dos Desayuno con Café?” so we just said “Si” and she walked away as quickly as she’d approached.
We exchanged looks… we have no idea what breakfast entails but we just agreed to two of them. Almost immediately, she's back with two small cups of off-white, warm, milky liquid with spoons and two coffees con leche but no sugar. Eeek. I’m not so sure about this...
It. was. DELICIOUS. The porridge was sweet and spicy (think cinnamon and nutmeg) and the coffee was SO smooth and yummy (either the milk was flavored with sweet vanilla or it was just the best coffee EVER).
Minutes later she brings out a basket full of small, warm, homemade tortillas and two plates with scrambled eggs, runny black beans, and fried plantains. So we shoveled it all into the warm tortillas and had the most incredible breakfast tacos.
Maybe it's a disgrace to foodies everywhere, or maybe we’re just creatures of habit, but for the next two mornings in Antigua, we ignored all other breakfast recommendations and ate ONLY here (even on our way out of town, knowing we had a border crossing that final day).
The whole experience took less than 30 minutes. And the best part? We paid 35 Quetzal (tip included). That’s like $4.66 USD for 2 people!!
This is the #1 item under “Things to See in Antigua” on Trip Advisor… and we understand why. It’s actually a hotel, but it’s been beautifully landscaped and holds a number of different museums and colonial ruins. They have a great little chocolatier and the walkways are lined with feeding stations for large, colorful Parrots. We were lucky enough to witness preparations for a wedding later that evening. Absolutely stunning.
5. Shopping for Souvenirs
Next, we accidentally stumbled across a number of artisanal shops (something we usually don’t have much interest in) and realized this too was on the NY Times' list of must-sees. Sure enough, the colorful textiles, traditional clothing, and woven goods near the Santa Catalina Arch began to wear us down and before you know it, we’re shopping for gifts. Meg was drawn to some of the hand-made leather purses but ultimately we settled on more practical things… like brightly colored, hand-woven stuffed animals for our nieces and nephews back home (they were just too cute to not buy). Three stuffed animals and one pair of baby slippers :) for 125Q ($16.67 USD) – we felt it was totally worth the money.
6. Studio Y
Then we headed home for a late lunch and while Tyler got some work done, Meg did the laundry and later found her way to a yoga class (her first in weeks). This was also the first time we’d split up (halleluiah!) since we got in the car together over two weeks ago. Luckily for Meg (and Tyler), the yoga class was in the old ruins, LITERALLY right next door to our apartment, so she was able to walk to the 6pm class alone.
For 40 Quetzal ($5 USD), a lovely gal named Mercedes led a group of about 12 of us through a pretty traditional Power Yoga series. The class was packed, and judging by the amount of English being spoken between yogis (and by the instructor) I’d say the ratio of expats to locals was 80/20. So one joyful hour, quite a bit of sweat and a really peaceful attitude later, Meg headed back to pick up Tyler for dinner.
We decide to forego the $60/person tasting menu suggested by the NY Times but settled on their “Courtyard Dining” recommendation instead. We’re positive the experience at Angeline is worth a visit, but it’s simply not in our “lifestyle” budget for this trip. Maybe we’ll try it out next time we “vacation” in Antigua.
While Micho’s still wasn't cheap, it was closer to our desired price range for an upscale dinner in Guatemala. For an avocado Margarita, a passion fruit Margarita, the baked Brie appetizer, Lamb Sliders (for Tyler), the Fish of the Day (for Meg), and a lemon cheesecake (also for Meg), we spent 451Q or $60 USD. Exactly what the NY Times said we would.
Tuesday, September 6th
After breakfast at El Portón AGAIN, Meg took another 9am Yoga class at Studio Y while Tyler worked. Then we wandered the town and eventually went searching for a place to get good views of the city (knowing that we were opting out of the Volcano climb).
8. Café Sky
Per our nifty NY Times article we heard Sky Bar was a good place to see the city so we’d planned on dinner here. First we grabbed a couple of green juices from one of the (surprisingly plentiful) juice and smoothie cafes. While enjoying our drinks and looking out the window we noticed Sky Bar was right in front of us! And it didn’t really look like the place we wanted to have our final dinner. So we walked up to the third floor, grabbed a beer, and enjoyed the views before the rain set in.
9. The Worst Grocery Store Experience EVER
Now with time to kill before dinner, we decided to walk around a bit more and scope out some menus. Idle time was apparently a big mistake for us because we passed a specialty health food store and what better way to kill 10 minutes than tempt oneself with additive-free groceries?
Even Tyler (who would normally NEVER admit to this) agreed that a few healthy grocery items would be a good use of our time and money. So we each grab about 5-6 items and head up front to check out. The clerk says '824Q' in Spanish, Tyler hands over the credit card, stops…...... calculates the conversion rate on his phone AS SHE’S SWIPING THE CARD, looks at Meg with actual PANIC in his eyes, shows Meg the phone (simultaneously yelling at her with his eyes while pointing frantically/incessantly at the figure on his phone – 121 USD - that's lunch for a week), and he grabs the bag (yes, only ONE bag) and walks out.
What follows is Meg laughing uncontrollably, as Tyler sternly asks her what just happened. Despite annoyingly always stating that, “there’s no better investment than your health” even Meg knew we’d been severely over charged for these already expensive American health food brands that are even MORE expensive in the middle of small-city Antigua, Guatemala (something that in retrospect, should have been quite obvious). After a pathetic, failed attempt to return these items (with no luck) we spent the rest of the night sulking, and negatively adding up all of the 7-course dinners, handmade leather purses, and Guatemalan massages we could have afforded had we not just spent $121 dollars on 2 granola bars, a bag of chips and some goji berries and dried mango. It was so ridiculous that even Tyler was laughing with Meg by the end of the night and we can easily say lesson learned. We’ll be eating goji berries every meal for a week.
*I’d like to note that this store is still a GEM and we have no hard feelings/we wish them all the success in the world. We were just a little shocked (especially being on a budget). But if you want a great place to find all of the “Whole Foods” brands you love, with all the right vitamins and nutrient-dense foods, this is a great place to stop.
We kept dinner that night RELATIVELY cheap but still had a sit-down meal. The quality came as a surprise because we chose it randomly while sauntering back toward our apartment, defeated from our grocery trip. We can’t even remember the name of the spot but we had a few beers afterward with some expats living in Antigua and went to bed early.
Wednesday, September 7th
The next morning, we parked the car on the street on our way out of town and had breakfast at…. YOU GUESSED IT! Then hit to road to San Miguel, El Salvador for our 3rd border crossing (and from what we’d heard) into the most dangerous country to date.
Then again, we’re finding out it’s always ‘the NEXT’ country that’s the ‘bad’ one… never the CURRENT country. Funny how that works ;)
See you down the road!
Meg + Tyler