Explore the colorful colonial streets and bask in the majestic volcanic landscapes of Antigua, Guatemala through the eyes of photographer and avid explorer Sara Hini in our latest Savor the Journey field trip. Reporting live from Antigua, read Sara’s notes below on the best places to recharge, snack, soak in the views and live like the locals in this inspiring Central American city.
This fall, I made the decision to embark on an independent journey to Central America – no plans, no itinerary. I randomly picked a country off of the map, bought my plane ticket and that was it! I had no idea where I was going to sleep the first night, and told myself that I would go with the flow and follow the opportunities that would (hopefully) come to me. And let me tell you, Guatemala has been so good to me so far.
I was immediately invited in by the people, the landscapes, the food, the streets, the music, the colors and the culture, (okay…and the cheap tequila). It’s probably for all of these reasons that I’ve been here for two months already – just enough time to get to know the area and to discover some great off-the-grid spots.
Antigua is a great way to start your trip and slowly immerse yourself in Guatemala’s energy. Some areas can be pretty touristy but the scenery makes up for it.
Once you touch down from the airport, stop to refuel at Y Tu Piña También (it means “and your pineapple too”). Located on a gorgeous street across the way from the infamous Cafe No Sé club, this quant coffeehouse serves not only java and house cappuccinos, but also a bomb breakfast ALL DAY! It’s heaven for breakfast lovers.
So you want to avoid the crowded touristy places and get some rest? Spend a relaxing day at the Earth Lodge – a mountain lodge and avocado farm with breathtaking views. The food is fresh, they have live music and you can practice your Spanish with the staff. That’s all you need!
Next stop – the unforgettable Lake Atitlan – one of the most beautiful lakes in the world surrounded by colorful Mayan villages and breathtaking views of Antigua’s volcanoes. The best way to surrender yourself to the landscape and soak in the beauty of Lake Atitlan? Try kayaking; the nearby coastal town of San Pedro la Laguna rents kayaks for less than $2/hour, ensuring your trek is a memorable 365 degree experience.
For the ambitious traveler, it is also possible to hike all the way to Lake Atitlan by beginning in Quetzaltenango (Guatemala’s second largest city). The trek is breathtaking, albeit challenging, yet the city is full of likeminded adventurers and hikers. Quetzaltenango also boasts a number of longer 3-5 day hikes through cloud forests, valleys, high altitude grasslands, river gorges, volcanoes and remote mountains villages. Every hike proves an insane adventure, but also the perfect way to truly see the country’s landscape and experience the culture through the eyes of a local.
Here in Antigua, forget about restaurants. Street food is the way to go – street food all day, everyday, everywhere – ceviche, tacos, nachos, fresh, guacamole, tostadas, burritos, churros and everything in between for less than $3 a meal. It’s the only way to try a variety of guatemalan dishes and socialize with the locals.
Simply strolling through the Guatemalan streets will uncover a trove of hidden stores and and colorful street vendors. From blankets to traditional masks, everything here is handmade and you can watch the artisan locals weaving or painting as you pass by. Grab a pineapple or a watermelon to go from a local market (they will even cut it for you if you ask) and buy some spices to bring home.
Guatemala is rich with history and boasts activities and interests for every traveler – and I’m far from being done discovering this country.
– Sara Hini