Every time we come to Antigua we never intend on staying long; it’s a tourist hub, where you are expected to pay tourist prices, with no beach or lake, and not a whole lot to do if you don’t plan on taking Spanish lessons. But all of sudden it’s been 5 days and we wake up from the easy pace, gorgeous views and perfectly cool weather to plan our escape. The hostels here are superb and competitive. If you can’t find a bed for under $10usd that includes a substantial breakfast and/or kitchen use — keep looking.
The town itself is something to be admired, and in many ways, very unlike the rest of Guatemala. The streets are clean and cobble-stoned, and the entire downtown area is preserved and protected in a way that only UNESCO Heritage sites seem to be. Tourism is Big Business here, making it an easy town to visit, short or long term. There are a large number of foreign transplants living in Antigua; recent college grads and recent retirees being two of the larger segments of the expat population. You’ll find them in the Central Park, in Cafes, in Bars. Mix in the tourists and travelers from all over the world, and with so many people to meet and strike up a conversation with, it’s easy to understand how Antigua can begin to feel a little like home after just a few days…
Money: There are plenty of ATMs surrounding Antigua’s Central Plaza. However, given that these ATMs in particular have developed a reputation as hotspots for card scammers, our recommendation is to find and use an ATM inside of a bank for withdrawing cash. At the northeast corner of the central park, if you head one block east on Calle 4, toward Avenida 3, on your left will be a bank with an ATM inside the building, and an armed guard who will open the door for you. A word to the wise, however: There is no separate room for this ATM, meaning it is only open when the bank is open… which means before 5pm Monday through Friday, before noon on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday. If you’re going to be in Antigua over the weekend, plan ahead. And while we feel safer about using this ATM, rather than those at the park, it’s still always a good idea to check your bank account regularly to make sure your card has not been compromised.
Getting Around: Antigua is a walking town. With grid streets and a Central Park, it is an easy town to navigate on foot. There are plenty of taxis around Antigua’s Central Park, but if you’re sticking around town, a tuk-tuk will get you where you need to go for a cheaper price. Generally, prices are Q15 for a ride anywhere in the town Center. (The tourist price is Q15, that is.) But that’s during daylight hours. At night, the prices are at the whim of the driver. Ask if the price is Q15 BEFORE you get in the vehicle, and don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay more. It’s worth bargaining, or waiting for another ride. But keep in mind, there are not as many drivers out at night.
For destinations just outside of town, such as to Caoba Organic Farms, expect to pay Q20-Q25.
Reading Material: Being a hub for expats and foreigners, Antigua is home to two publications geared towards an English speaking, foreign audience.
La Cuadra offers a great “Insider” section with information on Antigua, and one of the best hand drawn city maps that we’ve seen anywhere. If you’re traveling now, check out their website for information, or look for a copy of their print edition in Antigua. If you happen to be at work, sitting in front of a computer, we recommend spending the rest of your day reading La Cuadra’s online articles. (BorderTramp is not responsible if you are fired for taking our advice, or if you decide by the end of your day to put in your two weeks notice and start traveling the world.)
REVUE is geared toward a more general and perhaps older audience than La Cuadra. Covering all of Guatemala, REVUE has it’s home in Antigua. You can pick up a free copy of their publication in several cities in Guatemala, or flip through page by page PDFs of their magazine online. Though full of advertisements (it is free, after all) each issue boasts a collection of interesting articles, beautiful pictures, and a Datebook with events happening throughout the month in and around Antigua.
And of course, for the rest of our information on tramping through Antigua, check out the links below: