Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Destinations: Antigua & Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting at the main plaza in Antigua watching couples cuddling, locals mingling and tourists exploring. Antigua is a very pretty colonial city, and we decided to make it our first stop of our Guatemalan adventure. It is completely different from Viejo San Juan. For starters, it doesn't have a Payless Shoe Store. However, and what a tragedy it is, Antigua does have a Subway, as well as McDonalds. The similarities stop right there though.

In Antigua, you'll find a Spanish language school on practically every street corner. There are so many foreigners, I began to wonder if they outnumber Guatemalans. We also found lots of quaint cafés and restaurants. My favorite breakfast joint was Doña Luisa Xicotencatl, which has really good food and has a cozy ambiance. Thank goodness, Starbucks was nowhere to be found! When you're in Antigua, you must visit the city's beautiful churches and the famous Santa Catalina Arch. It's a wonderful place for walks.

I do understand why so many foreigners, particularly students, love Antigua. It's a place straight out of a fairytale. The second city we visited, Quetzaltenango ("Xela"), which is Guatemala's second largest, has a completely different vibe. It is a city deeply penetrated by the Mayans and is not overrun by gringos. The city also has quite a few language schools, but definitely not as many as Antigua. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, the more "serious" type of student goes to Xela. The city is surrounded by small Mayan towns, such as Zunil, and quite a few hot springs and natural baths. Las Fuentes Georginas was recommended to me by a fellower traveler. Unfortunately, we just didn't have the time. C'est la vie...

Stay tuned for my take on Chichicastenango and Guatemala City....

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