Antigua is very hipster-fied, filled with trendy cafes, restaurants, bars and spas and all for decidedly more than you will pay elsewhere, but it is the most visited place in Guatemala. There is high chance you will see more tourists than locals as you wander around Antigua and vast majority seem to be American.
On the positive side, Antigua is filled with cobbled streets, probably more than we have ever encountered elsewhere and charming, brightly coloured buildings with terracotta roofs. The volcanoes surrounding Antigua provide an amazing backdrop, especially on a cloudless day.
We had an early start on Saturday and walked down to the Mercado, a local farmer’s market held in Antigua on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. To say it is chaotic would be an understatement.
The main mercado is set in a large brick structure and is filled to the brim with a multitude of stalls selling a huge array of brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, live and dead chickens, puppies, meats, (if you look closely you will see the normal meats; beef, chicken, pork but you may also spot some armadillo) flowers and pinatas.
Fruits and Vegetables
Chickens at all stages of life
Puppies and pinatas
Beef, chicken, fish, pork or armadillo
It is a maze of narrow walkways with the vendor’s wares spilling over and both customers and sellers slowly shuffling forward and squeezing past in the overcrowded alleys, some carrying baskets on their heads too.
Add to this the cacophony of noise of the seller’s voices as they try to sell their goods and the brightly coloured clothes of the women, some of whom have little bundles tied to their front or back with a young child’s head poking out. It makes for an eye popping experience and an overload on the senses, where you are never quite able to keep up with everything going on. But probably the highlight for me of our trip to Antigua.
Baby bundles and baskets
Outside the main building are further stalls selling clothing, CDs (yes they still exist) and other household goods, although probably not of real interest to the tourist.
One of the most photographed places in Antigua is of course the yellow Santa Catalino Arch with its French clock built in the 1690s and the Volcano de Agua in the background. The arch is also the main tourist strip. Arch end of the street has women and children selling traditional clothing and jewellery and boys pushing wheelbarrows of peanuts.
Just near the arch is Nim Po’ts an artistinal Mercado filled with a colourful array of statues, masks and other handicrafts. I think there is a much larger selection at the other artisanal market near the local Mercado.
In the city centre is the Parque Central or the old Plaza Real and originally housed markets and bullfights, but today is a city park complete with fountains. The park is filled with locals, tourist and roving vendors selling food, drinks and trinkets and seems to be buzzing with activity at all times of the day.
We had one clear morning where we were able to see Volcano Agua from just near our hotel. Volcano Agua means in English the Volcano of water and stands at 3760 m. Most of the time the volcano wasn’t visible at all due to haze and cloud.