There are quite a few companies dotted around the city offering tours, and you’ll probably be approached by young men touting for business in and around the Parque Central. The tours offered seem to be much the same everywhere – coffee plantations, local villages, canopy zip-lining, volcano hikes. I had read good reviews of the tours offered by Antigua Tours, run by an American ex-pat, Elizabeth Bell, who has lived here since the late 1960s, so we chose to book a tour of nearby local villages with them and were not disappointed. Their tours typically take small groups of between four and eight people, but on the afternoon we went there were just the two of us, so we got a personal tour for the price of a group one - $35 per person. The tour took us to three villages, all rather different (see my Off the Beaten Path tips) and lasted about two and a half hours (it is advertised as three but I think having only two of us made it a little quicker). Our guide, Victor, spoke good English and was very informative. Having been born in the first of the villages he had lots to tell us about growing up in the area and about how local people live outside the city.
Tours start outside the company’s office (see below) and we returned to the same spot, although Victor did offer to drop us at our hotel if we preferred.
The three villages are marked on the map on the Gringo’s Guide website. Note that confusingly north is at the bottom on this map!
ChocoMuseo is the new cacao and chocolate museum in Antigua, Guatemala.
I took the 2 hours chocolate making class which was great fun and where I learnt everything about cacao and chocolate. In the end I could take my chocolate creations with me. The museum is free and pretty interesting but the workshop is definetely the thing to do in Antigua Guatemala.
For another sample of modern-day Antiguan life, once you’re done with the market head over to the bus station just behind it. I’ve written elsewhere about the colourful so-called chicken buses, and if you’re interested in seeing and photographing some, this is the place to do it. And what a lively spot! Rows of buses are lined up waiting to leave for various destinations, with the ayudante or conductor of each calling out the destination for the benefit of those passengers who cannot read. Around the edges hawkers on small food stalls call out their wares, enticing travellers with tempting food for their journey. Watch out – buses are coming and going all the time, and reversing in and out of their parking spaces; the drivers will pay scant attention to you. You don’t want to be hit by one while grabbing yet another colourful photo, great though these photo opportunities might be.
I have read elsewhere on VT that this area of the city could be a bit unsafe, especially for females there alone, but I have to say that I didn’t feel threatened at any point, even when Chris and I separated to take photos in different parts of the parking area. Obviously you need to keep your wits about you and in particular look out for pickpockets if caught up in a crowd waiting to board a bus, but I certainly don’t have any qualms about recommending a visit here, even if you have no need or intention of actually catching a bus!
The Casa del Jade is in a reconstructed 16th Century house. There is a small Jade Museum on one side of the shop. All 58 pieces are replicas, but they are still very interesting to look at. The originals are 4,000 years old.
It is quite possible to look at the displays in the museum and then leave without buying. (I didn't do that, however.)
Casa Santo Domingo is a modern hotel built amid the ruins of the 16th Century Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo. The old colonial buildings now house a number of museums:
Colonial art, Archaeology, Pharmacy, Contemporary art, Handicrafts, and my
favorite -- a special exhibit of old pottery paired with modern glass with the same theme. The art glass was from all over the world, and the pairings were well done. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in that room.
The entrance fee (40 quetzales) gets you on the grounds and into the museums.
Hours: 9-6 most days; 11:45-6 on Sundays
The Museo Casa del Tejido is a very interesting Textile Museum that shows the local dress of many different Mayan groups, as well as demonstrating the art of weaving.
They also serve as a sales outlet for a large artisan’s cooperative. There are over 1000 artisans in the organization, and a lot of beautiful work is on display. It isn't just textiles. I thought the prices were reasonable.
La Casa del Jade
The day before I went to Antigua, I met an American tourist who said she did not like her Antigua tour because they brought her to museums and then a jade store where she felt pressured to buy. In China, I did visit a jade store and there may be that “feeling like you have to buy”, but if you say “NO” several times, they get the message, hehehe…
But I was glad my guide brought me to this store because I wanted to buy something for my wife. I believe there are about 2-3 major jade stores though, but I only went to the La Casa del Jade. It is not just a store but also a museum and a place where they teach you about the jade business.
The store itself is in a historical house from 1527 called the “ELJAULON” (a place for planting corn) which was destroyed by the earthquake of 1976. The Jade store was founded here Gerald Leech in 1977, and he aim to restore this building continues.
The Mayans saw jade as the Stone of Eternity, the Stone from the sky or as the Stone symbol for Eternal Love – jade being considered more valuable than gold. Jade was sometimes placed in a person’s mouth at death, so that when the spirit is leaving, it takes that piece of jade as a passport to heaven (I heard stories of corn being placed as well in the mouth at death).
Guatemala (along with Burma and Russia) has lots of JADEITE which is the preferred of jades, compared to the NEPHRITE which had a waxy texture. JADEITE has a very bright and lustrous polish.
I was met by the saleslady “Mercedes” who showed me the different kinds of jade (there’s the green, and there are also other colors like white, purple and even black). She showed me how a Mayan mask was being made all with jade, although the original mask she said had only the “earrings” as real jade. Real jade can be differentiated from the fake one by scratching with a knife.
So, I went to their showroom and looked for a suitable necklace for my wife who likes “big stones”. A lot were small pieces of jade, but finally I did find one necklace with nice heavy circular orbs of BLACK JADE pearls alternating with tinier gold orbs. Awesome.
It may be pricey from hundreds to thousands of dollars, but they do have discounts and when they give you a price, that is what you pay and there is no more tax. I paid with American Express.
This hotel has won several awards – being dubbed as the best hotel in the whole of Central America. Aside from being a wonderful hotel with amazing grounds and scenery, the family that owns the hotel finances the restoration of the precious archeological structures on which the hotel is built.
The Convento Santo Domingo was the largest monastery in Antigua founded in 1542 and destroyed by mid-eighteenth century earthquakes. The historical site which had been pillaged for construction materials was purchased by the rich Castañeda family that created the current 5-star resort and museums. I read that entry costs about $5 (?), but when I was there I think my entrance fee was included in my tour (?). I did not even notice the entrance desk when I was there.
And the Castañeda family has done a great job at restoration --- the place is basically a botanical garden that you can enter for free. There are even these humongous colorful parrots in the gardens, and trellises with unbelievably beautiful hanging flowers.
And for guests, you can eat on the tables outside and enjoy the view of the distant volcano.
Weddings are held here and are expensive (about US$150,000 according to my guide), and I did get to see the reception area which had a very nice center table topped by artistically hanged curtains (I don’t know how else to describe it). Apparently, there is another hill/mountain which is also part of the hotel complex which is another favorite reception area for events.
The restaurant looks great and if I had time I would have eaten there. But my guide brought me through this tunnel-like museum – where they even have a video of the Mayor of Antigua talking about the city (I actually saw the lovely secretary of the current mayor eating lunch at the Municipal House). It is interesting though to have an underground tunnel here in Guatemala because there are earthquakes here…and actually you can see on the tunnel floor some cracks possibly from earthquakes.
Overall, the family who owns this place has done such a great job and truly a hotel worthy of its awards. Antigua also has other great hotels, some of them small boutique hotels which is near to everything. So, you really won’t run out of choices as to where to stay (different budgets), but this hotel is one you have to visit even if you don’t stay there.
The school of crist was established in 1543 by the Franciscan Order. The original structure was damaged numerous times by earthquakes. The current chirch was built in 1728. This church along with Merced have the largest Santa Semana processions.
This famous Latin poet and author is Antigua's most famous citizens. He lived in the 1700's and although his greatest works were produced while livign in Italy, he is still remembered here with this monument, which is also his final resting point.
The Cloisters of La Merced were abandoned after repeated earthquake damage. Today you can visit for a small fee. The Cloister has one of the best preserved fountains of all the church ruins of Antigua
This is one of Antigua's most ornate and largest churches. Its still widely used today (although the Cloisters are in ruin), and is one of the central points for Santa Semana celebrations. The original church was built on this site in the mid 1500's, but was rebuilt many tiems due to earthquake damage. The present structure dates from 1767.
Antigua is a great base for adventure sports. I used a local company to book my Pacaya Volcano hike and off-road mountain biking. Both activities were awesome experiences.
The company is Old Town Outfitters and I was pleased with their services. They have several adventure activities on offer for the beginner as well asfor the seasoned adventurer. Many are day activities; several are multi-day.
I found them to be competitively priced and reliable. The staff speaks fluent English (some are from the States) and are friendly and knowledgeable.
Drop by and pay them a visit if you need your fix of kayaking, biking, hiking, climbing or any other adventure activity.
Very interesting village tour organized by a Women's Collective.
Learn about local culture and history and see incredible handicraft skills up close.
I have worked quite extensively with this village and have really grown to love it.
This is more of a locals plaza as most tourists hang out at the larger Parque Central. The plaza has a series of nice, tall palm trees and has major attractions Iglesia de Santa Clara and the Public Laundry on its east end and the very beautiful Sociales Obras de Hermano Pedro on the west end. In the plaza stands a carved stone cross that was given to the city by their sister city in Spain, Santiago de Campostela. In the early evenings local food carts set up shop along the southwest corner and cook up great street food.
Really beautiful and small. Close to parque central but not in the center of things. Nice...more
On a business trip we stayed at the Palace Hotel Dona Leonor. I really liked the decoration of the...more
An incredible atmosphere transports you to the colonial era, we provide everything that needs...more