Last updated: 09:00 PM ET, Wed May 13 2015

Opinion Home | Tales From the Leap

  • Shannon Wolf | May 13, 2015 9:00 PM ET

    Antigua, the First Stop On My Long-Term Journey Around the World

    Antigua, the First Stop On My Long-Term Journey Around the World

    Overlooking Antigua with new travel friends from the top of Cerro de la Cruz — also known as “Hill of the Cross” (all photos by Shannon Wolf)

    I had arrived in Guatemala City from Toronto after a long day of unforeseen issues such as misplaced baggage, missed connections, and incompetent airlines but I eventually arrived in Guatemala City nearing midnight. I pulled out my Spanish phrase book and asked a taxi attendant in broken Spanglish if there were any more shuttles to Antigua. Unfortunately there weren't, so I forked out $40 for an hour-and-a-half taxi ride to the colonial city of Antigua instead of sleeping across uncomfortable airport chairs for the night.

    Day 1 and I already blew my budget. Lesson learned: Plan for the unexpected.

    The second we entered the cobblestone paradise from the rough and dirty city, I forgot about my nightmare of getting here and my eyes lit up at what was around me. Even in the darkness, I was automatically in love with Antigua’s colorful architecture, beautiful ruins and Volcán de Fuego in the distance. Upon arrival at Tropicana Hostel, my head hit the pillow instead of venturing out because in a mere 6 hours, I would be hiking up Volcán Pacaya to roast vegetables over lava!

    For any of you who are looking for a good introduction to Central America, Antigua is a great place to start. From Mayan ceremonies to volcanic eruptions at sunset, it has everything you need and then some!

    Weather: Hot in the day, chilly at night

    Best Accommodation: Tropicana Hostel (70Q/night)


    • Incredibly comfortable bunk-beds with soft pillows and cozy blankets

    • Each bunk bed is equipped with a privacy curtain, storage locker and outlet!

    • Chill-out room equipped with a book exchange, flat-screen TV, movies, and an L-Shaped couch for those days you went a little too hard and want something reminiscent of home.

    • Outside pool with lots of seating/lounging

    • 2 outdoor lounge areas with tables and hammocks

    • Large rooftop patio overlooking Volcán de Fuego and Antigua

    • Moderate bar/restaurant area with the best breakfast I have ever had

    Cheapest Hostel: Hostal Antigua (50Q/night)
    If you’re just looking for a quiet place to rest your head, this is it. Personally, I felt I was walking on eggshells the entire time so I only stayed for a night but they have good Wi-Fi, a small kitchen, basic amenities, mediocre staff, and travelers who keep to themselves.

    Cheapest Food:

    • Street tostadas cost under $1 and are filling

    • The market: sells incredibly cheap fresh fruit and vegetables

    Cheapest Alcohol: 

    • The supermarket (called: La Bodegona) — It is incredibly cheaper than the convenient stores (called: tienda).

    Best Bars/Clubs:

    • Café No Say: for live bands and cool atmosphere

    • Reilly's: for dancing the night away or playing pool

    Hidden Gems:

    • Hops & Tales Bar (3 Calle Oriente #19): small expat/local bar with live bands and the only place to find craft beer in   Guatemala.

    • La Reunion Golf Resort: the BEST views of (the erupting) Volcán de Fuego, and mountain ranges at sunset

    Enjoying a cerveza at La Reunion Golf Resort while watching Volcano Fuego erupt

    Fastest Wi-Fi:

    • Cafe Condesa: buy a coffee for 13Q (bottomless), and use Wi-Fi all day on their patio

    • McDonald's: has a really nice terrace (ask McCafe staff for Wi-Fi password if you don’t want to buy anything).

    • Bagel Barn: the Wi-Fi is worth the cost of a coffee or bagel. (super fast here)

    Bank Machines: 

    • DO NOT use the ones with a lion head on them; many travelers have had their cards scammed here.


    • Rent a 4x4 to explore Antigua and surrounding towns (to stay on budget, do this with fellow travelers).

    • Macadamia Nut Farm/tour: if you rent a 4x4 or moped, you can attend this for free at any time, and it is an easy/beautiful drive.

    • Choco Museo: Try their free samples of chocolate treats and tea while learning about the history of chocolate!

    • 2-day hike to Acatenango (the highest volcano in Antigua) for the most spectacular views.

    • 4-hour hike to Volcán Pacaya: Easier hike than Acatenango — you get to roast marshmallows over lava.

    • Hill of the Cross (Cerro de la Cruz): An easy (and FREE!) 5-minute hike that will take you to the top of the hill with a cross (hence the name) with a beautiful view of Antigua. Make sure to go for sunset!

    • Sunset at Café Sky: Great place to watch the sunset, skip the food as it’s expensive. Not many people know         about this location. Found out thanks to a local!

    • Take a cab to La Reunion Golf Resort where they have an infinity pool, the BEST views of Volcán de Fuego, and     the most magical sunsets you’ve ever seen that will be the highlight of your time in Antigua. Security will give you a   bit of a hard time when trying to enter but tell them you just want to have one drink there and then stay until             nightfall. Note: bring someone who speaks Spanish to talk to the guards.

    • Attend “Burning of the Devil” on December 7 and watch the town erupt into a gigantic festival of dancing, partying,   and street food after they light a dummy devil on fire in the town square. (note: arrive EARLY or you won't see a thing. Starts at 6 p.m., be there by 4 p.m.). Take a walk through the fruit market and keep walking until you’ve hit what we like to call “where to find your stolen clothes” — bins upon bins of thrift-heaven. You can buy vintage clothes for as low as 1 cent! And it is incredibly easy to barter! If you want to get your shopping on, Guatemala is the place to do it!

More Guatemala


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Shannon Wolf Tales From the Leap

Shannon Wolf Shannon Wolf is a freelance photographer and writer, traveling across the globe with an open itinerary and no intent of stopping. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she left behind a fast paced life to truly live and not just exist in an attempt to inspire others to follow their bliss. At age 26, Shannon has visited 20+ countries on four continents around the world. She has travelled overland by chicken-bus and tuk-tuks, hitchhiked by fruit trucks and through islands on horse and buggy. She has slept in the jungles of Nicaragua, on benches in London, secluded hidden beaches and she’s only getting started.
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