Antigua can be described in one word: charming. The former capital city is filled with adorable streets, friendly locals and picturesque facades. Despite its widespread popularity with tourists, Antigua still feels like a quaint colonial town with lots of charm and character.
Sam & I only had 48 hours in the city, wanting to fill our visit with as much as we could. Out of all the places in Guatemala, this was the city I knew the most about prior to arriving because it is an Instagram darling. Lots of bloggers and brands I follow have visited and posted beautiful photos. The entire city was named a UNESCO world heritage site, and since has seen an explosion in annual visitors.
We arrived in the morning of our first day, giving us a full day to explore. Our hotel was located on the main street (5A Avenida Norte) and we easily did a self-guided walking tour of the central town area. It is do-able in a few hours since the parque central is quite compact, grabbing a quick latte at Cafe Condessa before we started our tour — you won’t be disappointed with their organic Guatemalan roasts.
We took in most of the famous sites including the Santa Catalina Arch, the Merced Convent & Church, the Santiago Cathedral, Las Capuchinas ruins, the Parque Central and the San Agustin Church. Antigua is cool in that. No matter which street you turn down, you’re bound to run into something old, picturesque or cultural – maybe even all three at once! There lots of advertisements for paid tours of the city, but with a guidebook of the city, there’s no need!
One of the highlights of our walking tour was the Santo Domingo Church & Convent on the east side of town. Restored to its 18th century glory, it is now a hotel, church, museum, restaurant, bar, and gardens. As you wander through the expansive complex, you feel like you’re walking through history. It’s incredibly beautiful, airy and natural on the inside, and then you enter into the beautiful gardens. With the sunlight streaming through the pergolas, you’re bound to be impressed. I would recommend going during the day and at night, because it feels completely different.
The restaurant inside Santo Domingo, El Tenedor de Cerro, is a great spot for a date night because they offer a traditional yet elevated Guatemalan menu in a historic and romantic venue. We opted for an 8 course tasting menu (for only $40!!) that turned out to be the best meal we ate on the entire trip. A few highlights from the meal include a delicious red bean & pumpkin soup served with pepitas, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs served with a blue-cheese au gratin potatoes and a four-piece dessert which included homemade raspberry sorbet, dark chocolate mousse and a honey poached pear. This is a must-visit if you’re into food!
We started off the next day at the adorably hip “Y Tu Pina Tambien”. If there was a place where cool, young Antiguans hang out, this would be it. Run by a pair of 20-somethings, this cozy coffee shop and cafe that offers tasty brunch food as well as live music and local art.
We continued to wander around the city exploring by foot after brunch, this time taking in all of the interior courtyards the city hides behind the colorful facades. Because Antigua was a Spanish outpost, it has lots of traditional Iberian architecture. You’ll notice interior courtyards on nearly every block!
Our AirBnb host recommended that we just go in any open door that we found, and that’s exactly what we did, much to our pleasure. Lots of the courtyards have little restaurants, cute fountains and small mom & pop shops to check out which you wouldn’t initially notice from the street. One such courtyard is just off of 5 Avenida Norte which houses the tasty restaurant “Los Tres Tiempos”, a local designers clothing shop and an art gallery.
We made our way west to the Mercado Artesania to see some local handcrafts & art. Although it’s not as big as the ChiChi market, the artesania market is still pretty impressive. I oogled at all the bright textiles, oil paintings and leather handbags. I was pleasantly surprised at the hassle-free shopping as well– the shopowners are pretty tame and don’t really bug you to come into their shops like I have experienced in other countries.
We ended our second day in Antigua with meal at modern Guatemala gastronomy restaurant, Michos. Small on the inside but with a nice outdoor seating along the courtyard, this place is getting experimental with some of their flavor combinations. And I loved it! Highlights from this meal include roasted garlic and avocado, baked Brie with papaya and prosciutto and lamb sliders with a flavorful jalapeño and feta spread.
Before heading out of town the next morning, we enjoyed one last relaxing meal at Fernandos Cafe. Also with a private interior courtyard, we ordered the crepes and fresh vegetable juice while working on a little puzzle. This is my kind of brunch!