In my first tryst with Latin America, I’ve found myself joyfully lost amidst the cobblestoned streets and quaint colonial houses of Antigua in Guatemala. I feel like I’m still in a dream, as I gaze out at the surrounding volcanoes while lying on a hammock from the rooftop of my bohemian apartment. I’ve had conversations entirely in broken spanish, indulged in hand-rolled corn tortillas stuffed with frijoles (black beans), sipped some of the world’s finest coffee, marvelled at the colourful traditional dresses worn by many Mayan women, and well, quite simply fallen in love.
Behold, a glimpse of one of the most charming cities I’ve been to:
1. ANTIGUA, ONCE THE CAPITAL OF GUATEMALA
during the colonial rule. After it was rocked by multiple earthquakes, the Spanish rulers decided to move the capital to the current day Guatemala City, which is now a sprawling metropolis – full of cars, people and economic contrasts, much like Indian metros.
2. THE HERITAGE OF ANTIGUA REMAINED
when the Spanish left; development came to a standstill, leaving its cobbled interiors and colorful one-storey buildings that have stood the test of time. In 1979, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and found a place on the world map.
3. LIFE IN THE BY LANES OF ANTIGUA
in the backdrop of three volcanoes that surround it, is laidback. And despite it being Guatemala’s most visited town, I hardly saw other travellers during my time there.
4. CHICKEN BUSES ARE THE MOST POPULAR PUBLIC TRANSPORT
so called because of the way people are packed in like ‘chickens’! On my own rides though, I didn’t think they were half as packed as buses get in India. For 1-5 Quetzales (8-40 rupees), these buses take you everywhere.
5. MY AIRBNB APARTMENT IN A LOCAL NEIGHBORHOOD
6. PERFECT MORNINGS IN ANTIGUA
saw me swinging on my hammock with a view of the neighborhood, with Spanish music pouring in from the neighbors’ homes.
7. EATING AT NONDESCRIPT LOCAL HIDEOUTS ( BETTER PICTURE?)
that seemed frequented by locals is what I enjoyed most, even though there are plenty of quaint expat-run cafes. In the former, I was always welcomed shyly but warmly, and fed hearty, fresh, cheap and delicious meals.
8. GUATEMALA IS THE HOME OF CACAO
which was first cultivated by the Mayans, but not made into chocolate until the colonial rules introduced dairy. Ironically, all the finest cacao had been exported out of the country until recently. I could sample delicious handmade chocolates in little chocolate shops across Antigua.
(Photo by Jose Moreno; I don’t have the patience to photograph chocolates!)
9. MAYAN WOMEN OFTEN WEAR TRADITIONAL CLOTHES
; there are 22 indigenous Mayan communities in Guatemala. The ones that live closer to or in Antigua were often subjugated by the colonial rulers and could either follow their own traditions or join society at the lowest rung. Deciding to do the former, they have managed to retain much of their culture, language and clothes – flowery blouses, long skirts, colorful beaded hair or headgear – to this day.
10. DISCOVERING ANTIGUAN NEIGHBORHOODS ON A BICYCLE
Luckily for me, I could borrow a bike from my Airbnb home and pedal around the neighborhoods of Antigua far from the bustle of El Centro where all the action is. Most colonial houses have courtyards and hammocks.
11. WHERE MODERN MEETS TRADITIONAL
Chains like Subway, McDonalds and Burger King are located in traditional buildings with just a sign on the side!
12. THE PERFECT PACE OF LIFE
makes Antigua a perfect place to stay a few days, getting accustomed to speaking Spanish and eating tortillas in Guatemala!
Has Guatemala made it to your bucket list yet?
Next stop: The pristine village of San Jose in Peten, where I’m staying with a Mayan Itza family and studying Spanish.
Any contributions to my travel fund (in kind or otherwise) will be highly appreciated!