It’s about 2 weeks since we returned from the lovely holiday in Guatemala and Mexico and I am pleased that the number of reminders I have received from my friends to update my blog has been more than SMS New Year wishes. That is some record. So, here I am trying to remember guatever I can. Actually, with Guatemala, I have to admit that is not very difficult.
From the terribly cold streets of New York, we landed in Guatemala City on the 22nd of November and the weather was hardly the point of discussion. Just the fact that we could remove our thermals made everything seem like sunshine to me. Immigration has never been easier, considering this was the first country we were stepping into, which did not require Indian’s to carry a visa. Infact, when we tried to talk to the immigration officer about this, he assumed we were Diplomats. (Come on… I’m wearing my dirty red sweatshirt and Roy is carrying a backpack that looks like it has been beaten to death and still they think we are Diplomats in Guatemala. I love it already).
Whizzing through immigration, we landed up in the backseat of our first Collectivo ride. Collectivos are white mini vans (kind of the size of those Tata ambulance vans) that ply you from city to city, intra city et all. You will find them all over Guatemala and Mexico. We heard that Guatemala city has nothing much to offer the traveler, unless you want to see armed guard outside any building. We drove straight to Antigua.
Antigua is a travelers delight. Take some of the oldest looking colonial ruins, put them together amidst 3 volcanoes and clear blue skies, the European charm of Cobble stone streets, the indigenous touch with the people who sell colourful woven garments, hot local food served straight from earthenware in quaint restaurants and the strongest damn coffee you will get, that is Antigua for you.
Walking around the little town and riding the Chicken buses in and around Antigua, within the first 2 days of my holiday, I felt as though I had experienced what most travelers would get to see in a few weeks. Currently faced with this extremely difficult task of cherry picking my favourite pictures of Antigua, I’m reliving those 3 days. I hope this photographic journey below takes you on a virtual trip.
(Tip: The first thing to do is to pick up an Antigua city map from any hotel reception or travel agent. It’s a simple grid structure and you criss cross till you have covered everything).
Unesco World Heritage Antigua with the natural setting of Volcano Agua in the background.
The oldest Cathedral in Antigua. The construction of this cathedral began in 1545 and it was demolished around 1668. They rebuilt it around 1680 and it was demolished again by an earthquake in 1773. Walk through the ruins and you really feel transported back in time.
Looking at the blue skies through the arches is mesmerising.
Apart from ruins, you have beautiful churches like the one below – Iglesia la merced.
Just across this church is Antigua’s very own Dhobi Ghat. This little public pond is where a lot of people do the laundry.
The Arch of Santa Catalina is one of the most famous and certainly one of the most photographed colonial monuments in Antigua. This used to be the entrance to the Santa Catalina monastery which was destroyed in the Earthquake as well.
If you are not visiting the ruins or walking through historic arches, what every little street offers you is colourful picture perfect houses or quaint flower pots. A photographer’s delight.
All the walking makes you hungry – stop by a place that serves you Comidas Tipicas – local food. We went to this place called La Cuevitas de la Urquizu, recommended by the receptionist at the hotel we were staying at. You get to pick 1 main gravy and 2 salads and they give you rice and tortillas to go with it. Let me not forget the pickles. We ordered a chicken and a pork dish just for the variety and left the restaurant 2 hours later, a few pounds heavier.
Do not miss a visit to the bus station in Antigua just to check out the queue of colourful buses. Old American school buses painted and polished, you do not want to miss a ride. Just buy a ticket to the nearest Pueblo and hop on. We bought tickets to Ciudad Del Viejo. The seats on the side can only take 2 people each but 3 people squeeze in with their butts literally sticking out in the aisle area. You have to squeeze in and find a spot amidst all the healthy Guatemalans 🙂 There is free entertainment depending on the driver you get. One way, we had a driver who was into Reggaeton and the other guy was into sad love songs. Either way, this is an experience to remember.
Do not forget to visit the Artisan’s market, not too far from the bus station. You may find the main Artisan market a little touristy. But, there are many other less popular markets in and around the city. Try on a Huipil – that’s a traditional Guatemalan dress. Just take in the colours. If you want to buy something, I would recommend the beautiful cloth belt called as Faja’s and the Cafe de Guatemala gunny bag.
Not being far away from the coffee belt of Guatemala, I would recommend a visit to one of the coffee farms nearby. Azotea is a lovely coffee farm, that houses a couple of museums on coffee production, ancient Guatemalan instruments and textiles. A 3 hour trip (free pickup and drop from the Parque Central) is well worth it. I was delighted to see that I have been to 6 out of the top 17 coffee producing destinations in the world. (That makes is very easy to plan the next coupe of trips).
And.. it is my dream to own every type of coffee device. Currently, I have a poor collection – Italian espresso maker, French press, American coffee maker (the worst), Brazilian cuador and a South Indian filter. It’s time to invest.
And, if you fancy just a strong cup of Guatemalan coffee in town, I would recommend this little coffee shop (Y Tu Pina tambien) which serves what is called “Hard on coffee”. The good karma tip box on the counter was one of the cutest things I have seen, a pleasant break from the tip crazy time at New York.
And.. finally, for some interesting night life, I would only recommend heading to the local Pena – Pena del sol latina. Buy yourself a Gallo beer and a plate of Nachos with Guacamole. If you are lucky, you’ll catch the local Guatemalan band. If not, you’ll witness some Cuban musicians. Either way, there is nothing better than sinking into a Latin America with good music and good beer.
On this good food note, I hope to leave you with a taste of Guatemala. The main course is yet to come. Keep checking here for more.