Antigua might strike you at first, as it did me, as something of a museum piece, but you only have to walk a few blocks from the centre to discover that “real” life happens here too. The market on the western fringes of the old town is totally non-touristy and is a great place to explore when you’re saturated with beautiful colonial architecture and artistic ruins. Here is the place to come to see how local people live here – how they shop, what they eat, how they travel around (the bus station is just next door – see separate tip below). If you’re discreet with your zoom lens you can get some great candid shots, but we also found people happy to pose, in particular a young man collecting for the local voluntary fire brigade who posed proudly in his uniform for Chris in return for a donation of a few Quetzales.
You probably won’t be buying many souvenirs here, or gifts for the folks at home (the rather sterile Mercado de Artesanias (Craft Market) next door is the place for that. But you could still pick up a bargain if shopping for more basic items. Chris got a very practical cotton hat for 30 Q (about £3) – just what he needed for our later visit to Tikal, having forgotten to pack one. And there are batteries for your camera or electronic devices, torches etc too, if you’ve forgotten those. Food too – even if you’re a bit dubious about some of the street stalls the delicious little local bananas are safe and make a tasty snack.
Many churches in the town of Antigua, Guatemala. My 15 year old son Branden and I took a private mini-bus tour guide from our hotel in Guatemala City, about 45-60 mins drive from the Westin Real Hotel.
I only learned after we got back that Antigua Guatemala Coffee is sold in our local Starbucks, how cool is that, we were there!
The Jade is very nice there as well. We purchased several pieces there.
Yes, all the markets sell more or less the same stuff, but each market tends to have the best selection of local landscape paintings, so if you're looking to buy a painting depicting Antigua and looming Volcan Agua, then I recommend you get it here. Lots to choose from, and if you arrive late in the day when the market is closing up, you can get a fantastic deal (I was offered a mid-sized painting for 40 quetzales!).
When you've had enough of the elegance of Antigua, it's time to check out the market. The market is situated at the Western end of town, near a particularly raucous bus terminal. The market is particularly colorful on Saturdays in the morning. The area behind the market, where the best looking buses are parked, seems a bit iffy safety-wise. This is where I got the only odd looks I received in my whole trip. I would not advise a female traveler to explore the area behind the market alone.
There is nothing to buy there for travelers (the souvenir laden Mercado de Artesanias is next door). And you have to "steal" your photos a bit, if you see what I mean. Do buy one CD by Fidel Funes, king of the marimba, to play back home on a cold commute. The CDs look bootlegged, but they work.
HERE IS A PLACE TO LOOK IN WHICH YOU'LL FIND FOOTBALL SHIRTS, SHOES, PIRATED CDs ETC. ONE AREA OF THE MARKET IS WHERE TO LOOK WHEN WANTING TO BUY SOUVENIERS TO BRING BACK HOME ESPECIALLY COLOURFUL PRODUCTS (SUCH AS TEXTILES AND CRAFTS) HAND MADE BY THE MAYA.
As I said on my Guatemala page, shopping is one of the most popular activities for visitors, and the beautiful array of native arts and crafts are moderately priced although the visitor is well advised to do some bargaining and not pay the first price asked.
The markets in Antigua are excellent. Since tourists converge on the city during the weekends, the best time to shop is on a weekday, when prices trend lower. Generally offer merchants a third of the price first given and barter from there. Weaved crafts, stone carved chess sets, and wood carved nativity scenes are among the bounty of wares available. On the town square, look for weavers of cotton threaded bracelets who will weave your name into their product as you wait (perhaps three minutes).
Particularly popular are the brilliantly colored and uniquely patterned fabrics, ranging from jackets and dresses to belts, blouses and blankets, or wodden masks, old looking cast irons, flutes, mayan artefacts, bracelets, quilts, etc. Market days are wonderful!!!! you gotta not miss that (usually best times are weekends, of course)
I've gotten those tiny brainds on my hair before in Vegas for $40 and/or California at Universal City Walk for about $30.... In central plaza Antigua Guatemala, I only paid Q.5 (five quetzales) Which is less than a dollar!!!!!!! amazing!!!!! She was quick too! it was nice seeing her work it.... lot better done than in the States too!