It was at 6am that we bid farewell to Lanquin and it was a morning fairly typical of our time there.
Crisp of temperature with many low clouds dotting the surrounding valley, so in truth, a wonderful way to start the day.
Lady luck was possibly smiling on us this morning (or perhaps most other travellers were still drunk or hungover), but our shuttle for the approximately 8 hour journey to Antigua only had five passengers in total.
This meant that what could have been a rather uncomfortable squeeze of a trip, was a little more tolerable. It also meant our packs were not strapped to the roof, a fact for which we were most grateful when we encountered rains on the outskirts, as we approached Antigua itself.
Sarah had done a little research in advance, so we did have a few potential hostels in mind, so after getting our bearings, we made our way to La Terraza (through some light drizzle) to find ourselves a room for the night.
Welcome to a wet, or at best very damp Antigua!
First business to attend to was the now, almost ritualistic indulgence in a meal after a lengthy bus ride, and for this, we settled on a restaurant set in a gorgeous old colonial building, La Fonda de la Calle Real (which we later found was in our Lonely Planet guidebook).
What this wetter, cooler weather did offer us, was the perfect opportunity to indulge in a bottle of red wine with our meal, the first such opportunity since our time in Mexico’s San Cristobal.
After indulging in lunch and the entire bottle of wine (two delicious chicken dishes, Gallina Criolla and Gallo en Chica) which, given that the wine arrived before the meals, it is very likely it went straight to our heads, it was time for a little wander.
Antigua is a very flat city, built with something of a grid system making it fairly simple to navigate. The most necessary thing to be aware of being the propensity of the street names (which all appeared to be numbered) to alter slightly dependant on their geographical location.
It did catch us out on the odd occasion, where we may have been searching for 4a Calle Sur (South), only to realise we were on 4a Calle Norte (North)!
After checking out a few churches and streets, the drizzly rain got the better of us and we retired to our hostel to recharge for the following day.
Our only dorm room companion happened to be a young Englishman who was all set for a 2 day hike (where he would be lugging 18kg of gear) up the Acatenango volcano.
The problem for him, which also became a problem for us was he decided on the eve of this trek, it would be a grand idea to get on the booze, eventually turning in at some stupid hour.
This meant that when his alarm went off at 5am, it only took him 5 minutes to finally rouse from his slumber (we were understandably very happy with this). But it got better. You see, he also thought that as he was suffering, so it would be a swell idea to hit the snooze button not once, but twice!
You may have guessed it, but by the time we were into his last snooze, we were both inwardly hoping that he missed his trek!
When it came time for us to actually begin our day, we had two goals in mind.
Breakfast and to find a new hostel in which to stay.
La Terraza was by no means cheap, it also lacked kitchen facilities and to top it off, many other guests had partied hard into what we considered sleeping hours, so we thought it best we find new lodgings.
We kicked things off with a breakfast of a Cinnamon Scroll, Choc Chip Muffin and a latte each which, for those who know us, is highly unusual (the coffee, not the sweet cakes).
It didn’t actually take us long to find a new home as well, and we were promptly booked in for three nights at the well located Hostal Antigua.
Our day of exploration was broken only by the need for us to check out of hostel number one, and drop our bags off at our new home (at least for a few days).
Antigua was easily the most stunning Hispanic colonial city we’d visited since central Mexico, so it was an easy task to simply amble its cobbled streets.
The sound of song during the morning lured us into an evangelical church where we may not have shared their faith, but we certainly couldn’t begrudge their joy.
Evidence of the cities turbulent past (Antigua has suffered many earthquakes over its almost 500 year history) was evident in many places we wandered, with many aged, crumbling walls holding on for dear life.
We made our way to Antigua’s Choco Museo (Chocolate Museum) which served us well for both shelter from the inclement weather (it was raining at this point when we finally found it), as well as a little sweet treat.
There was no pressure to buy anything, however there was plenty of encouragement to sample their wares (they have a room that documents the history of chocolate as well as workshops where you can make your own chocolates), so we did as we were told.
As usual, the chocolate and coconut rate well with both of us, but a chocolate tea they offered was a delicious surprise.
The highlight for the day was something that hadn’t weathered the shocks this city has suffered. In fact it was ruined by earthquake as far back as 1773, and that is the cities cathedral.
Only partially rebuilt (the front portion now stands as the cathedral), a short wander through the grand ruined portion gives one a sense of what once must have been one of the world’s most impressive churches.
Skeletal like columns gave way to open sky, and in some sections, archways have tumbled from the ceiling, providing even more light (and exposure to the elements).
It didn’t take long to wander around, and there was a small entrance fee and the need to avoid the odd large puddle, but it was a really impressive structure to explore.
We found ourselves what we thought a reasonably priced volcano trip for the following morning (Volcan de Pacaya, not a 2 day ascent up Acatenango) before calling it a day.
True, we did later catch up for a quiet drink and a huge plate of Nachos with a couple of English girls (Lizzie & Nicky) we’d met back in Mexico, and you can read about the following mornings volcano adventures in the next post.
In fact both of our next two days in Antigua were broken up by excursions to nearby locations (the second was to a coffee plantation), but by no means did we neglect the city itself.
The Mercado was a little disappointing, full of tacky tourist souvenirs that really weren’t our thing, however it did give us a chance to check out the bus station which was right next door.
The term ‘station’ is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, however it is certainly where the infamous Chicken Buses congregate so it was nice to finally get up close and see a few of them in their brightly coloured glory.
Our hostels kitchen and communal area was on their rooftop terrace, and towards the end of the week the weather finally cleared a little giving us the chance to see some of the volcanoes that ring the city.
By this time we’d also booked an additional night, although unfortunately it was the weekend, so the dorm room rate had climbed by $20.00 Q per person.
It also meant that a sunny morning awaited us on our final Antiguan morning, meaning it was also the perfect time to make our way up to the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), as the name suggests, a hill with a cross that we hoped would give us some nice views of the city.
What started as a fairly standard stroll to the hill became a bit of a mission, as despite knowing where it sat in relation to the town and its Parque Central, we couldn’t find a path that lead to it!
Thankful, eagle eye Sarah again came to our rescue, spotting a city map which showed us the route we needed to take and we were on our way.
A short time later, and with the sun still shining, we were able to take in Antigua from above.
Our timing was close to perfect, for as we turned our back on the view, the clouds rolled in and before long, the daily rains had arrived.
We stocked up on a final loaf of Banana Bread from Dona Luisa (we went through about 3 of these loaves during our Antigua stay. It was perfect for breakfast) for our journey the following day’s journey to our next destination, Lake Atitlan and whittled the afternoon away with a few beers and cooked lunch (which meant leftovers for dinner).
With Sarah feeling a little unwell on our final morning, I spent it shopping around for a good value shuttle to San Pedro la Laguna, eventually finding a decent price for a 2pm departure and we were on our way.
* We shopped around, rather than simply pay for the shuttle offered through Zephyr hostel (which was $125.00 Q per person) finding another local operator no more than a 5 minute walk distant where we purchased our shuttle tickets for $80.00 Q per person!
* To visit the ruins of the cities cathedral, a small doorway through the once grand entrance (5a Calle Oriente) provides access, and a small fee of $8.00 Quetzales per person gives you the run of the place.