I have really fallen in love with Guatemala! We’ve spent eight nights here, and we are so sad to leave. We had heard stories from people that made us feel a little nervous about our visit, but it really could not have been more wonderful.
When we arrived at the Guatemala City airport from Costa Rica, we easily changed some money, passed through immigration, claimed our bags, and went through customs. There were no crowds and it all went quite smoothly. Once outside, an information kiosk was quickly located, and we were directed to a booth offering shuttle service to Antigua, where we had a few nights reserved at a small, family-run hotel. We had been advised to get out of Guatemala City and head to Antigua as soon as possible, but had not arranged the recommended private transportation in advance. I had read enough online to feel safe taking a taxi or shared shuttle upon arrival, and the lady at the booth called back an almost full shuttle that had just departed so that we could hop on. There was a lively, international crowd of tourists almost filling the shuttle to capacity, but there was just enough room for Jon and Daisy to sit up front with the driver while Mic and I squeezed into the two remaining seats available in the van. We kept up loud, animated conversation with our American, Australian, and Mexican travel companions during the entire 90 minute drive to Antigua.
We arrived at our small hotel in Antigua, La Casita de Roca, a bit before dark. It was a little off the beaten path, in a quiet, residential area close to the historic downtown. Our hosts spoke no English, but we were able to determine that they had no record of our reservation (made and confirmed using Hotels.com). However, the room we had wanted was, in fact, available. We gave the young lady at the reception a few moments to get the room ready, and she then led us to a small but charming room furnished with two double beds. It was the only room of the five in the hotel with a private bathroom, so we were glad it was still available for our stay in Antigua!
After a bit of settling in, we asked an older gentleman downstairs which way to go to find some dinner. He directed us into downtown, and the walk through narrow, cobbled streets was beautiful and quick. After about eight blocks, we were in the thick of downtown, surrounded by pedestrians, chicken buses, old buildings, markets, shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, motorcycles, and dozens of people selling their art and souvenirs on the sidewalk. I thought it was wonderful!
We found a nice little Italian restaurant, El Teatro, with a menu entirely in Spanish, and sat out on the patio to order our meal and some white wine. It was delicious! We enjoyed ravioli, steak with Argentinian chimichurri sauce, risotto, and a BLT for Daisy. The server spoke no English, but was patient with our attempts at communication and conversation in Spanish. There were very few other patrons, so she spent some time chatting with us about our kids and our travels and her own children. It was lovely and, in just the few short hours since our plane had landed, we had already started feeling a uniquely warm welcome in Guatemala.
After dinner, we wandered through town for a bit, visiting the central plaza and making a stop at the supermercado for some food supplies. The hotel offered guests use of the kitchen, so we wanted to have a few items on hand in order to prevent too many expensive meals out. The nighttime walk back to the hotel was quiet and peaceful, and we felt very happy to be in Guatemala.
On Friday morning, Mic was scheduled to present to students and staff at the Green School Antigua, a bilingual, international Montessori school just outside of downtown. We were able to walk there in just under 30 minutes, and we were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful, active campus where the school community is dedicated to environmental sustainability. Mic was scheduled to present to about 70 lower elementary, upper elementary, and secondary students in an outdoor classroom. As usual, she did a beautiful job presenting her book and sharing her stories about growing up with autism. The youngest students had a hard time staying focused, but the majority of the group stayed engaged and asked great questions at the end! We got a tour of the campus following the presentation, and Daisy found some new friends to play with.
After leaving the school, we checked in with the Lighthouse students to show them Antigua. They had done a bit of research and were quite interested in seeing the colorful, crowded chicken buses driving through town. After our brief check in with Ojai, we walked through the historic district to seek out the highly recommended Fernando’s Kaffee. There, we had fabulous coffee drinks and a hearty breakfast of savory crepes, sweet crepes, empanadas, and fried eggs with beans, onions, and tomatoes. Delicious!
We next explored a few shops and then checked out ChocoMuseo, where we learned about the history of cacao and chocolate making, and signed up for some classes taking place the next day.
Tired after all of our walking, we grabbed some pork from the market and some fresh-made tortillas from a roadside stand. Back at the hotel, Jon and Daisy used the kitchen to prepare some amazing pork tacos with fresh salsa and guacamole!
On Saturday, we thoroughly enjoyed our morning classes at ChocoMuseo! Mic and I took a class on the history of chocolate and, as part of this class, got to make dark chocolate bars that we flavored ourselves; I made one with cinnamon and coffee while Mic made one with peanuts and sea salt. We also learned the process for making three different Mayan beverages using roasted cacao beans. We got to roast the fermented and dried beans, cool then, shell them, then grind some of them by hand and others with a manual grinder. We used the shells to make a delicious cacao tea, and then used the ground beans to make two different hot chocolate beverages- one spicy, one sweet.
While Mic and I immersed ourselves in chocolate, Jon and Daisy participated in a Guatemalan cooking class at the station right next to us. Their group made a traditional dish of Chicken Papian, which includes a red sauce made with tomato, pumpkin seed, chilis, and other spices. They also cooked vegetables, made a guacamole, and made a dessert of fried plantain balls filled with chocolate. It was pretty amazing!
After our classes ended, we decided to hike a short distance up to a view point, Cerro de la Cruz. The walk up was a little tiring, but the view from the top was worth it!
Back in the city, we made arrangements for a Sunday tour of the nearby Mayan ruins at Iximiche, and grabbed pizza and salad for dinner at another Italian restaurant, Napoli D’Rino. It was more of a hole in the wall compared to our previous dinner out, and the service left a bit to be desired, but everything was very tasty (even after the young server dumped half our pizza on the table and on Daisy’s arm).
We got an early start on Sunday, our last day in Antigua, in order to visit the nearby post-classical Mayan ruins at Iximiche. While the excursion was a bit pricey (for us), it was definitely worth it to have a private car and private tour of the site with a knowledgeable guide. It was a beautiful spot with a fascinating history and I feel like we all learned a lot from the tour and the small museum. It helped make up a little bit for the fact that we couldn’t make the long trek to Tikal on this visit.
Sunday evening was spent at the home of one of the administrators of Green School Antigua. Elisa’s apartment turned out to be just around the corner from our hotel, so, at her invitation, we enjoyed a beautiful dinner out on her patio on Sunday night. There, we talked, ate, and sipped wine while admiring lovely views of the volcano and the night sky. All in all, it was a fabulous way to end our visit to Antigua! The following morning, we said goodbye to our kind hosts at La Casita de Roca, and headed out, in our shuttle, on the long and winding road to Lake Atitlan, where we spent the rest of our week in Guatemala.