For YEARS our family has hosted dozens of friends and family and given them the grand tour of this tiny country that packs a big punch. Always the same places, always the same order, and always so much fun. Since I was 8 years old, it was my mom and dad taking us around and being the tour guides and I loved it so much and was always so proud to show off the country we called home. This year, it was OUR turn to take down friends, to show them our favorite family spots, and it was wonderfully sweet and nostalgic to experience this role reversal. It was one of the most memorable trips we've ever had there and the company couldn't have been more wonderful. I wish I could take you all with us but until then, this will have to do.
So without further ado, here is the Holmes/Findlay Signature Tour of Guatemala
One of the greatest parts of traveling to Guatemala is its close proximity to the States. Only a 4 hour flight from LAX, 2-3 hours from Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and just a couple hours from Miami. We love that the time difference is always within an hour of us here in Salt Lake too, so no jet lag issues.
where to stay and where to eat
We usually take the red-eye from LA so that we can take advantage of our time there. We head straight to Antigua, which is about a 45 minute drive from the GUA airport. Antigua was one of the early capitals of Guatemala and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Charming doesn't do it justice. You can't help but fall in love with the cobble stone roads and the towering and ominous (though inactive) volcano that looms over the city and its colonial ruins. Brightly colored walls, amazing cuisine, and firey bouganvillea vines welcome you at every corner, and 16th century original wooden doors with gold knockers shaped like lion heads are an instagammers dream. You can walk everywhere here in Antigua (or if you're daring, rent a mo-ped!) and it's a shopper's dream.
Ideally you'll spend 2 nights here. There are several hotels we recommend but the two we love most are the Posada de Don Rodrigo which is right in the heart of the city and the Casa Santa Domingo which is right at the city's entrance.
First, the Posada. If you want to experience heaven, go here for drinks and "boquitas" (appetizers). On Sundays they have a live marimba band (a typical xylophone-like instrument) and the band members wear their local attire which is colorful and beautiful. My favorite go to drink is the "Limonada con soda"-- it's the best in the COUNTRY and it's a sweet lemonade with soda water and it's nothing short of refreshing and fabulous and life-changing. Order some refried black bean and guacamole "nachos" and you're gold. They also have a great lunch and dinner menu filled with typical treasures. I recommend the Tortilla soup, the Plato Tipico (steak, black beans, and "platanos" which are a sweet banana that is fried. Sprinkle some raw sugar on them and thank me later).
The rooms here are all very quaint and comfortable. They have hand made, multi-colored woven blankets on the beds and locally made mahogany furniture. The staff is SO friendly and the location couldn't be better. No pool, spa, or gym here but honestly, you're in Antigua to explore so it's never been an issue for us. Rooms average around $150 a night which is on the higher end BUT it's because the hotel is one of the city's most beloved locations and it's an experience. The gardens are beautiful and one of my favorite things to do is go down early before breakfast and watch the lovely women make their hand made tortillas on the outdoor stove.
Now, if you want SUPER LUX and want to feel like a princess, then the Casa Santa Domingo is for you. It's a little pricier, about $300 a night in high season but worth the splurge (low season you're closer to $150). The hotel is actually a remodeled, original 16th century monastery. The walls are 7 feet deep, the grounds are nothing short of breathtaking with REAL LIVE PARROTS everywhere, fountains, ruins, gorgeous tropical orchids hanging from above and rose petals decorating the hallways. I LOVE THIS HOTEL and so does every single person who visits. The pool is fabulous, the gym is lacking but does it's job, and the food is divine. You get gorgeous unobstructed views of Volcan Agua (that huge volcano I mentioned) and it's also very close to the local markets."
There are local markets at every corner and some are even in the shadows of the ruins of old 16th century churches that were destroyed during an earthquake. The shopping is great and of course, yes, you can negotiate but we've learned over the past several years, that what these people are selling is WELL WORTH every penny they ask for since they are hand made. And of course, many of these talented vendors live in poverty and what saves you and me a couple bucks, means dinner for them! So... that's my take on buying from locals!
SAN FRANCISCO GRANDE
A favorite spot to visit and just about a 10 minute walk from anywhere in Antigua are the ruins of San Francisco grande. You can climb throughout this beautiful 16th century church and although the roof is missing, you get glimpses of just how magnificent the building was with fountains, and beautiful tile work, and of course, gorgeous vistas. It's definitely not to be missed.
The pilas are a favorite because on a Saturday morning there's a good chance you will see locals gathering here to wash their clothes. It's the local laundry-mat and you see how Guatemalans have washed their clothes for centuries. The pictures you take here are always amazing because the lighting never fails you and the reflection in the pools is always breathtaking. Don't miss the local fresh fruit vendors that are never far from here-- you can't go wrong but we Findlays never miss out on fresh mango with lemon and "pepitoria"-- crushed pumpkin seeds.
CERO DE LA CRUZ
At the top of the hill that overlooks the Antigua valley is a huge cross that stands as a protector for those below. The views are nothing short of majestic and if you stick around for a bit, the clouds will breeze by and you'll get the best view of Volcan Agua, the picture-perfect volcano that hovers over the city. It's a fun run up the hill for those who want a good workout or you can drive up, too.
All in all, you can spend hours getting lost in this quaint little town. It's very tourist friendly and walking around at day or night is common and perfectly safe. The food is delicious, the people accommodating, and you'll want to take a picture at every corner. It's not often you find a city with so much original Colonial architecture and the way it's blended with the local colorful fabrics, food, and culture makes it totally unique and truly a place not to be missed.
Liz and The Albion Team