Cobblestone streets? Check. Lush central square for lazy, midday lounging? Check. Picturesque surroundings set against a panoramic view of three stunning volcanoes? Check. Combine all that with great food, unique shopping opportunities and a plethora of chic places to stay, and you'll understand why it was love at first sight for us in Antigua.
Where to sleep
We loved the stylish, yet charming rooms of El Convento (from $190), a stunning hotel in the heart of Antigua. High ceilings, exposed brick, Jacuzzi tubs and our own private garden were exactly what we needed after a long day of exploring.
We were equally impressed with the D'Leyenda Hotel (from $100, including continental breakfast). With only six rooms (three with a fireplace), attentive staff and a rooftop Jacuzzi, it's an appealing boutique option.
If you're looking for a bright, clean budget option, try Posada Juma Ocag (from $18). Friendly staff, charming rooftop terrace (the perfect place to watch the sunset over the volcanoes), free Wi-Fi and comfortable rooms make this a great place to stay in Antigua. It books up fast so call ahead if you can.
Where to eat
Make a stop at Rainbow Cafe to meet other travelers, catch some live music or listen to a lively lecture on Guatemalan culture (every Tuesday) in the open-air setting. The food is eclectic (think everything from curries to stir-fry to salads) and well-priced (mains from $3.50). Drinks are expertly blended and bursting with fresh, local fruit. Bonus: There's a used book shop up front if you're in need of new reading material.
For a more intimate experience (or romantic rendezvous) head to Bistrot Cinq, a stylish French-inspired bistro with a cozy setting and menu featuring classic dishes like steak frites, roasted chicken and beef bourguignon made with local, organic ingredients.
Restaurante Doña Luisa Xicotencatl (4a Calle Oriente 12) is a great place for breakfast or a light lunch. The bakery sells several types of bread and the courtyard patio is the perfect place to relax or take a break from the midday heat. Try a sandwich on the house-baked bread and don't leave without grabbing a slice of the addictive banana bread. Yum.
What to do
There's nothing quite like roasting marshmallows over flowing lava. And might we add, marshmallows never tasted so good! An Antigua must is the moderate and scenic hike up Pacaya, an active volcano roughly 1.5 hours from the center of town. Views from the top are breathtaking and the aforementioned marshmallow roasting really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
A biking and coffee tour is also not to be missed. Not only will you get to ride through gorgeous trails in and around a working coffee plantation (and discover how the stuff in your cup gets from the ground to the pot), you'll get to taste several varieties of the end product. You can book both the volcano hike and coffee tour though Old Town Outfitters.
If you're not hiking, biking or otherwise working up a sweat, meandering cobblestone streets, taking in the sparkling surroundings, wandering through one of the many stunning cathedrals, or experiencing the hustle and bustle of the daily market are all unforgettable ways to experience Antigua.
Where to shop
Wander through the Mercado de Artesanias (4 C. Poniente and Alameda de Santa Lucia) to get your fix of local crafts, textiles, carvings and other interesting souvenirs for friends back home.
Pick up (or at least drool over) some exquisite jewelry at Joyería del Ángel. The pieces — from bold and chunky to simple and elegant — are all unique, eye-catching and worth a browse.
Make sure to stop by La Antigua Galeria de Arte for an intimate gallery experience, featuring stand-out works from artists all over Latin America and some from Europe and the U.S. The well-displayed works are housed in a gorgeous colonial-era home. We dropped in a few times to soak up the colonial atmosphere and admire the interesting works on display.
Pack your bags and join us next time when Frequent Flier jets off to Paris to live like a local.
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