Candy painted facades, cobbled streets, tree lined squares and lush courtyard dining make Antigua, the Colonial town ringed by Volcanoes one of the most charming towns I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. This World Heritage Site was once the Nation’s Capital until a slew of devastating earthquakes forced the Government to move the Capital to the concrete sprawl of Guatemala City, less than an hour away, and the disparity between the two couldn’t be clearer. Antigua makes it easy to simply sit back, and take in the splendour of ancient times.
Raise your eyes above the low rise skyline of Antigua in any direction and you’ll face one of three imposing Volcanoes that cradle this little Gem. (One of these we climbed and roasted marshmallows on top of..but we’ll come back to that) Antigua is small, only 41k and you can scarcely turn a corner without seeing something wonderful and beautiful and incredibly local. Among the preserved, colourful town lie some pretty impressive 17th and 18th century ruins, somehow managing not to feel out of place at all, which the locals of tens et up market stalls inside of, only adding to the whimsical feel this town emits. We arrived late at night after our torturous crossing from El Salvador and woke to the stunning view of fog covered volcanoes in all directions…literally, every corner you turn is a photo op. (and lets be honest, chicks love photo ops) Days in Antigua consist of strolling the picturesque streets and eating and drinking your way through the surplus of adorable cafes and courtyard restaurants. The four of us, after months of pretty shitty pot coffee, stumbled onto the holy grail of coffee. Like game changing coffee. There’s a place called The Refuge and let me tell you, the barristers there know their way around an espresso bean. It’s pretty famous for its cold press and slow drip and it looks like something out of Frankensteins workshop but it is seriously divine. So good Britt had the barrista making her second coffee before her first had even cooled.
Coffee in hand, we made our way to Casa Santa Domingo, a converted old Convent that is simply a breathtaking paradise. Its half ruin, half reno, with original parts of the convent laying alongside a 5 star dining experience, making it the perfect mix of Art, culture, history and whimsy. The Grounds are immaculate, boasting 5 different museums, spas, a chocolate factory and an imposing and insanely impressive church with regular mass sessions echoing through the grounds. I’l be honest, we came in search of this place to see the many giant colourful Macaws that are perched throughout the grounds (they’re gorgeous) but we came away with so much more. Including a new haircut from a little Guatemalan lady (Straight bob was rather difficult and I came away with an edgy jagged look)
The four of us (we’re still with Mike and Emma at this stage) decided it would be rude of us not to climb a Volcano while in Antigua. So off we went at the crack of dawn (not without our prized coffee, of course) to hike up Volcano Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s most active volcano. The hike itself is relatively easy (I’m blaming 5months without training for the near asthma attacks) but isn’t helped the the half dozen young Guatemalan boys on horses taunting us in an attempt to buy a trip up on their trusty steed. “Hey, you okay? You look so tired. You not gonna make it. You better get horse” And damn if we didn’t try and control our breathing and not give in to the bloody horses. Once at the ‘top’ (I use the term loosely as you actually can’t get too high since the last eruption) the evidence of the latest activity is pretty prolific. You stumble through Lava rock and dust and kind of feel like you’re walking on Mars or some such (fine, I’ve never been, but it’s what I imagine.) But then you’re THERE and the Volcano is THERE spewing gas and volcano-esque stuff in all it’s Volcano glory. There’s lava, actual lava and our guide whips out a bag of Marshmallow (I told you we’d come back to the gooey deliciousness) and we toast our Marshmallows like kids on school camp in the warm Lava rock hide-holes. I had to (very reluctantly and with great regret) pass on my newly toasted balls of goodness to Britt to eat after suffering from weeks of the most horrendous bacterial infection/gastro affliction. Two weeks and two courses of Antibiotics and eating not much more than crackers (WHY aren’t I skinny yet?!) meant Marshmallows were off the menu. Anyone who knows me and my sweet addiction can sympathise with how difficult this move was for me.
But alas, Marshmallows cooked on Lava weren’t in my future, but Britt did her sisterly duty and took 5 off my hands and we headed back into town for more coffee. All the coffee. This is becoming a problem. After a few days in Antigua (don’t fret, we’re coming back) we jump on a little bus to head to lake Atitlan, a huge lake a few hours from Antigua that is ringed with Volcanos (If you’re gathering, Volcanos are kind of Guatemala’s thang) and a few hours turned into a few hours more. There’s an upcoming political election in Guatemala and if you travel anywhere in the county you’ll undoubtedly be caught up in the road block and political demonstrations and protests. No one seems to actually be able to tell us WHAT they’re demonstrating, but road blocks are ubiquitous and can be anywhere for an hour to 8. (This is when the worry sets in at the project of hours on the side of the highway with the bacterial infection…) Luckily we’re let through after 2 hours or so and we arrive at the Lake in time for a nice terrace sunset. Unfortunately, we’d heard a lot of hype about the lake and we we’re quite unlucky with lots of inclement weather during the entirety of our stay, so we we’re pretty disappointed. With bad weather, all there is to do is eat your way around the village and get drunk on box wine in our rooftop spa in a rainstorm. You can’t knock boxes of Clos until it’s the only wine at your disposal. So after a few lazy days we’re off… we met a German on our bus who convinced us to change our route and travel with him North into Guatemala paradise and we farewell Mike and Em after a super fun 3 weeks (you get mighty close sharing dorm rooms with someone for 3 weeks and three cases of Gastro… Em, you’re time is coming I Promise!) who are staying in Antigua for Spanish lessons and Britt and I squeezed in-between Gabriel the German for the long 10 hour (I’m looking at you, Political roadblocks) journey to Semuc Champey.
Next instalment: Brit breaks two toes, bridge jumps and caving by candlelight. (Gastro gone, if you we’re wondering.)