Antigua Beyond Volcan Pacaya

by  Jessica Festa | Mar 18, 2014
Antigua / Simon Dannhauer/iStock

Most travelers in Guatemala head straight to Antigua for the Volcan Pacaya, the area's most popular attraction. But there's much more to explore in and around the city. From learning the art of chocolate making to immersing yourself in artisan culture to enjoying free live music shows, Antigua has a little bit of something for everyone. Here are a few simple suggestions to help you plan your trip:

Classy, affordable hotels
While Holistico Hostal tends to attract backpackers, its private rooms are great for cost-conscious travelers who have grown out of dorm accommodations and want lodging that's a notch nicer. Dorms are $10 USD per night, and private rooms start at a reasonable $25. All rates include breakfast, WiFi, water, coffee, tea and a welcome drink.

For an affordable hotel with a historic feel, Hotel Casa Antigua offers 22 rooms outfitted with antique furnishings and Guatemalan accents, located two minutes walking from Central Park. Rates start at $49 for a single room, wifi included. You can also get breakfast for $5 extra.

A chocolate museum, salsa lessons & more
Guatemala is well-known for its quality chocolate. Spend a few hours getting your sweet fix of chocolate history and trivia (and, of course, free samples) at the ChocoMuseo, which brings ancient Maya's cacao culture to life. Here, learn how the Mayans worshipped the cacao tree (including naming it the “food of the gods”) and also consumed it for its aphrodisiac properties. If you have a particularly strong sweet tooth, we recommend enjoying a chocolate fondue in the courtyard or making some treats of your own in a two-hour chocolate workshop.

From the chocolate museum, make a right and head toward Central Park. On the corner, you'll come to Exposicion de Artesanias Guatemala, where you can immerse yourself in a world of Guatemalan artisan culture. The market boasts plenty of local handicrafts, jade, metal works, and food products to peruse and ysdyr, if not buy. Tip: the fruit wine and chocolate station, which offers complimentary samples, is toward the back.

What’s better than learning salsa in Guatemala? Doing it for free. Complimentary classes take place each day at 5 p.m. at Gloria y Moi Dance Academy, where you’ll learn one of the country’s most popular dance forms for an active dose of local culture.

Traditional eats
Antigua’s impressive restaurant and nightlife scene can be pricier than other cities in Guatemala, but not all is lost. At Cafe No Se, local musicians hum and strum in a cavernous, graffiti-covered space. It’s dive-y, but still a reliably fun way to meet other travelers. If trivia is more your style, The Ocelot Bar offers a mix of old and current tunes, a daily happy hour from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., and weekly trivia nights on Sundays. And at Reillys Irish Tavern, cheap food and drinks are on the menu like $7 steak sandwiches, $3 beers and tequila drinks and $2 mixed shots.

Ask any local where you should go for a cheap and delicious lunch and they’ll most likely reply, “Rincon Tipico.” Look for a Guatemalan woman making fresh tortillas by hand at the entrance, then step into the aromas wafting from the restaurant courtyard. Service is speedy, and for about $2.55 you can choose between popular meals like chorizo, chicken milanesa, and churrascuro with salad, rice, tortillas, and homemade blackberry drink. You’ll leave full – as will your wallet. (For for morning treat, breakfast is only $1.90). Address: Located at 4a Calle, #3

An easy daytrip
Roughly six miles from the city center, Earth Lodge in El Hato Pueblo provides the perfect opportunity for escaping the city.  You'll need to drive part of the way and do a bit of walking, unless you opt to use one of their transportation partners. At this hotel-avocado farm hybrid, anyone is welcome to enjoy farm-to-table meals, drinks at the laid-back bar, morning yoga, outdoors sports, and more. You don't have to stay the night to make use of the hammocks and board games or go bird-watching among beautiful views of the Agua, Acatango and active Fuego volcanoes. If your trip includes a Sunday, don't miss the barbecue with live music.

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