Why did we come here? Here’s another place in Central America I had not heard of. After doing some research and, more importantly, needing to leave the US because of visa restrictions, we decided to visit this little UNESCO-recognized colonial town. It just so happened that the month we wished to visit fell on their biggest month of the year, the grand Holy Week – Semena Santa. But there is more to Antigua then just Easter. Here’s a quick run down on this quaint little town.
We found our house on Airbnb and got it on special for $1600 for the month including utilities, cable (Spanish), wifi and cleaning twice per week. It’s in a gated community on the outskirt of town called La Gravileas. 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 stories with a garden smack-bang in the middle of it – open to the sky. Unbelievable. The bedroom has no curtains and despite the bright light of morning the view of the volcano is phenomenal.
The security is super strict and you have to pass a secured main entry gate, then a separate security guard just to get up to our place. Then before you can enter there is another gate leading to 4 houses and ours is inside this complex. We have special passes to get in the gates, but visitors need to check in and tuk tuks are not allowed in.
The house is about 15 minute walk from town, but then another 10 minute walk from the gate.
The bottom floor has 2 living areas, a dining area, a laundry nook, bathroom and kitchen. Upstairs has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a sitting area with TV. It’s a magnificent place and I’ve fallen in love with it.
My only complaints would be the downstairs gets cold, we don’t spend a lot of time down there, but if we had brought warm clothes this probably wouldn’t be an issue, plus there is a fireplace down there and it’s great in the heat of the day.
Also I would love curtains cause my kids are waking up very early.
The walk to town is a bit long for our kids, so we ended up with a scooter too, which made this much easier.
Well you know how we got here, via the boat, taxi, minivan, luxury bus, mini van trip from Belize. And we will be leaving by a rather expensive flight out of Guatemala City; they don’t do cheap flights here like in South East Asia, but what about getting around?
Antigua is small enough that you can easily walk around. However a taxi or tuk tuk is recommended at night, because of the crime rate. In saying that we have walked at night with no issues at all.
We live slightly out of town in a gated residential community, which while walkable for 2 adults is a bit of a trial with 2 kids.
Taxis in Antigua are plentiful and if you cannot find one simply walk to Central Park and in front of the magnificent cathedral you will find a taxi rank. Rates can cost anywhere between 30Q to 50Q (AUS $3-$6) for anywhere in Antigua.
The alternative to a taxi is a tuk tuk. The motorized bikes are here in Guatemala as well as Thailand! Fancy that. Tuk tuks cost less and will set you back about 15Q – 20Q (AUS$1.50 - $2.50). If you can fit in a tuk tuk go for that method. However tuk tuks aren’t really a “proper” method of transport and are banned from Central Park. They will drop you about 2 blocks away and you can walk the rest. In our community they are also banned and so a taxi will get us door to door, where as a tuk tuk will get us to the main gate.
In the end we decided to hire a scooter to do some zipping around on. The roads are bumpy and no one is going very fast around here so there are no helmets. When driving with the kids max speed is about 20km/h, by myself I've managed to get to about 50km/h. I have driven the two kids to school, which is two blocks from the main gate, but otherwise we take a taxi for a family alternative.
The scooter is great for one person. Josh and I have travelled on it, but since he has to take up the whole seat to fit his long legs on it’s not a comfortable ride. He also has trouble driving the kids, just because of the legroom. You didn’t realize how tall he really was, did you?
There is a small supermarket in town, way down the road that Bagel Barn is on before the markets. It’s great for processed food like pasta, noodles, etc & your toiletry/cleaning products. There are rumours that the produce is not fresh so we avoided buying meat, dairy or fruit & vegetables there.
May I also not recommend the roasted chicken store next door; the chicken was bloody and not cooked when I got home to eat it for dinner.
There is many Walmarts in Guatemala City so when we first arrived we headed there and did a month’s “stock up” shopping expedition. We got meat, dairy and everything we needed. It was huge and we spent quite a time in there. They also have an iPhone charging station conveniently at the front so when your phone goes flat you can plug it in and still call your driver for collection (hint hint).
On the streets of Antigua you can find ice cream and snacks. My kids love the ice cream for a measly 25 cents. Just be careful because it may not be made with purified water.
The restaurants are touch and go, we went to a lot of bad ones and some good ones. Check out my eating post for more information on where to eat. We have actually spent more time eating at home here then anywhere else on our travels, but when the meat ran out from Walmart we’ve been going vegetarian. A whole new ball game!
The kids attended a little daycare right near us – Antigua Day Care Center with Lissette Villela (5400 1994). 30Q (AUD$3.74) per hour for 2 children. It is not a school, but a drop off day care for any hours between 8am – 3pm, no notice needed. There is no learning so Mia was slightly bored with the “crèche” set-up, but my 2 year old loved going to just play. We ended ups ending Mia with some letter books so she could practice.
Most of the teachers only speak Spanish so the kids learnt a lot of Spanish while there, even though most of the other kids were bilingual.
Their favourite day was the last day when we brought a cake in to celebrate Caius’ birthday, boy were those kids impressed.
I can highly recommend Lissette; she truly loves the kids and was almost in tears giving them hugs as they said final farewells. Lisette also runs a program for underprivileged kids in the afternoon so it’s a great place to take any donations, clothes or toys you may want to leave behind.
We have friends here who have been subjected to the crime. Bag slashing where thieves collect the fallen contents, outright thievery, distraction thievery and then, of course we were pickpocketed too.
Before and after Semana Santa we never felt unsafe. We were wary, but had no issues. We didn’t go out late at night with our kids, so daytime and before 9pm were no problems. Just be on your guard and vigilant when wondering the streets. Josh often walked home after dinner while I took the kids on the scooter and he never had any problems. I guess thieves usually target women (or shorter, less-intimidating men).
The city is steeped in history. Around every corner is a 16th century church, or ancient ruin. It’s really beautiful. The streets are made from cobblestones, which isn’t the most comfortable for vehicle transportation or walking ground, but so pretty nevertheless.
It’s set out in a 12x12 grid format centered around the Central Park in the middle with a massive cathedral on one side, City hall on one, a palace on one and a line of banks and restaurants on the other.
From there you can walk down most streets and find food, markets and things to do. It really is a walking city and you will only discover the hidden treasures if you are on foot. What looks like a small doorway could house an amazing restaurant or a whole warehouse of markets.
How much time should one spend here?
We stayed for 6 weeks and by the end of the 3rd week I was ready to go. It’s a small town there is not a lot to do here compared to other larger cities. But if you visit the surrounding areas you will find plenty more to see and do. We did miss swimming, public playgrounds and cinemas - I haven’t seen a movie since USA and I’ve got the “shakes” from that. In saying that, there are several restaurants that hold movie nights if you feel like seeing something without the kids while in town.
It’s a great holiday destination for families and singles alike. I’d suggest you do a walking tour when you first get there to get a good feel for the town and it will help you to better plan your activities I'd also suggest you search for a Spanish tutor before you come, in order to really immerse yourself in your experience. A scooter can help you get around a bit faster (sometimes), but if you’re fit then walking is an easy option. So the final question: worth a visit? Yes, most definitely.