October 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Last stop in Central America was in the land of the Mayans – Guatemala.
There are only 3 countries in Central America that are known for their ancient Mayan ruins: Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico.
Unlike Honduras, however, Guatemala has a lot more interesting activities to offer.
As it was my first time in Guatemala, I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
By now, I had been on the road, jumping from bus to bus, and traveling non-stop for a month straight, so I was ready for some R&R.
I had heard a lot of amazing things about this one place called Antigua, so I thought I’d give it a try, and perhaps spend the last few days in Central America here.
From the city, it’s about a 45 minute bus ride on a chicken bus. The bus drops you off at the bus terminal, which is the last stop, located near the market place on the edge of town.
From there, it’s about a 3-5 minute walk into the center of town where you can find plenty of lodging options. Antigua has a wide range of accommodation options, from boutique upscale hotels to budget, hole-in-the-wall rooms with no view.
The first hotel I checked into was run by a local Guatemalan family. The place was small and dusty, but went for $12 for a bedroom with a private bath. I thought, why not give it a try.
The place is a dump. Avoid it.
For a few more dollars, why not check into Hostel Qachoch. Clean, sunny, and breezy, this hostel is located 2 minutes from the central market. For a double bed with a shared bathroom, we paid $14 total per night.
Amenities include laundry, free internet and Wifi, and free usage of the kitchen.
The staff will also accompany you to the market if you need some help bargaining.
The town of Antigua, paved with cobbled stoned roads, is a feast for the eyes.
It is home to beautiful ruins of colonial churches scattered throughout the city. Serving as the main seat of the military Spanish governor for over 200 years, the city still shows strong remnants of Spanish influence, most notable in the architectural details of the colonial churches.
The following are a few of the main buildings to check out.
- Cathedral of San Jose
- Palacio de los Capitanes
- La Merced Church
Don’t forget to visit the market place, which opens early in the morning everyday and starts to break down at around sunset.
Stacked with stalls selling everything from hand-made decorative candles and Guatemalan souvenirs to DVDs and high-fashion clothing, the market place is a shopper’s haven.
Tip to the wise. Never settle for the first price that the merchant quotes you.
When bargaining, halve whatever price they give you. For instance, say you spot a hand-woven traditional Guatemalan blanket, and the merchant asks for $15.
Start your price at $7 or below. Chances are, if the seller is a good and skilled salesman, he or she will playfully bargain with you until you come to a reasonable price closer to half of what they originally asked you.
And if they don’t want to bargain with you, simply walk away. Because there are plenty of merchants who will. You don’t want to end up being one of those dopey tourists who pay full price for something that isn’t worth much to begin with.
If you’re up for a short hike, walk up to the Cerro de la Cruz, which offers a spectacular view of Antigua from high on top.
You are encouraged to accompany the police who leave for the hill top once or twice a day. Check with the tourist police the day before to get the exact schedule.