Well I got the volcanoes out of the way pretty fast, and they were one of the big ticket items on offer when I got to Antigua. But then, that’s only 3 days. What was I doing for the rest of the time? Well, it isn’t necessarily a singular thing or destination. It’s more about settling in to a certain lifestyle.
Meeting people. Exploring local delicacies like Gallo, Cabro, Moza, Victoria, Botran, Zacapa, Quezalteca… Yeah, Antigua does have a good party scene, and the bars, clubs and hostels are fantastic. Many a day was spent hanging out meeting people from around the world, sharing stories and drinks. I’ll share some memories of these places though some are blurrer than others. This is my list of places in Antigua that I liked. In no particular order…
- La Parada Cafe: My favourite cafe in Antigua, a black coffee cost 10 quetzales and damn it was the best tasting coffee in town. I also loved their pastries, and the cheeky baristas always made up for the occasional US invasion of businesspeople banging on about the best way to plan a ten step tour of hotels and rum tastings. It’s a lot more out of the way from the central tourists areas so generally, it had my favourite atmosphere ie. not having to hear other people talk
- Fat Cat Coffee: damn good Japanese inspired iced coffee. Can get loud and pretty busy. That’s for a good reason.
- Bella Vista Cafe: for the rooftop volcano views. Once got a cold drip coffee that tasted like wet old socks. Got informed that maybe I just wasn’t used to the flavour by the waiter… but he didn’t wanna taste it either. An otherwise good coffee spot with wifi and lots of people using it.
- Y Tu Pina Tambien: for the McFucking Muffin and generally delicious and well priced brekky in a pokey little surround that kinda reminded me of home. Great service, and I really liked their cafe cortado.
- Union Cafe- Fancy food and fancy surrounds. I liked it at first but then realised it was expensive and also if I get two free coffees why was it always so hard to get the second?
- Three Monkeys: I booked three nights in this hostel. I ended up staying for nearly 3 months! Nice vibe hostel, not exactly a ‘party hostel’ but it was never hard to find party people when I was staying here. But there was always an air of mutual respect, an understanding that a lot of people come here to party, but a lot of people also come here to climb mountains or enjoy the quieter, finer things in life and everyone managed to get along just fine.
If you wanted a 24/7 party hostel, this was not it, and for that I was grateful- there are enough places to go crazy in Antigua on any given night that I never saw any reason to let that part of my lifestyle invade the place where I slept. It was a hostel that showcased Antigua, rather than showcased a hostel. Antigua has a lot of great spots to see and I realised pretty quickly that the staff and volunteers could put you onto something good, whatever you had in mind. The common areas really leant themselves to meeting other travellers and sharing experiences of Antigua and beyond. I had the pleasure of volunteering here after a month of staying as a guest, and I’m hard pressed to think of another hostel where the staff where as helpful as they were here. I made some good friends here who volunteered with me. Definitely a memorable place to stay.
- Doozy Koala: Situated in the ‘Australian quarter’ of Antigua. I still haven’t worked out why so many Australians are drawn to Antigua, I guess there’s a lot of reasons. If you are Australian, and one of your reasons (like so many Aussies) is to party like a marinated goanna, then this is the hostel for you. They have a sick bar that opens early and offers a good way to get yourself acquainted with some partners in crime before heading out into town for a big night out. I think they had a mini golf course in their outside area too, and a nice garden.
- Tropicana: Why did I end up at this hostel so often? I guess it’s because it’s in a great part of town, just a few doors down from some really good bars and it’s on the way to the main nightclubs in town. It’s definitely another party hostel, and if you see a big group of loud, drunk, recently post-teen uber tourists then there’s a good chance this is the hostel they came from.
- Bigfoot: Friggin’ huge hostel with a bar inside that dwarfs most of the actual bars in town, and it’s not like they’re even just a bar. They also have table tennis, and are situated smack bang in the middle of town near pretty much any where you’d wanna go. I think their rooms were a smidge more expensive than the entry level hostels.
- Selina: A franchise hostel business that seems to be creeping all over Central America with a pretty aggressive business model and seemingly very large piles of money to invest in a very lavish hostel with a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and shop selling overpriced snacks and souvenirs. Felt less like a hostel and more like someone’s vision of draining as much money from backpackers as possible. If you can get the bitter taste out of your mouth I have to admit this place would look good in Instagram photos.
- The Snug- Tiny crazy Irish bar, throw all your peanut shells on the floor and don’t let the bartender kick your glass over when they stand on top of the bar.
- Reilly’s- Huge sports bar/meeting people bar they have three different bars under one roof, was a great place to watch the world cup but I paid 50Q for a flat gin and tonic so I can’t really forgive that. But nah really it’s a good spot for a quick and easy beer.
- The Exit Inn- A cozy little spot situated inside a complex of four different bars/clubs, this one is a fantastic dive bar with enough seating to ensure everyone can drink past the point of being able to stand, shout at each other, shoot darts, share stories and then stumble home only to forget all of the stories so they can come back next time, see the same faces and tell the same stories again.
- Chermol- Also a really good restaurant but they serve a lot of artesenal beers which can be bought as flights. Jamaica infused wheat beers? Interesting.
- Cafe No Se- A serious love/hate relationship with this bar. Three bars under one roof, one serving tap craft beer, one serving mezcal (but this isn’t Mexico..?) and all serving some serious attitude to patrons who I guess must get a bit too rowdy from time to time. Or they’re trained to be shitty people because appparently that makes drunk people tip them more? Or it’s just me? And everyone else I’ve talked to about it…
Something about this place definitely awakens the wolf within though. 3 metre high mountainous candles, dim lighting, bluegrass and all sorts of live music in the front bar. They serve greasy delicious chicken and what not from the restaurant next door. There is a black magic vibe going on here, and boy do we tourists lap it up. Hard to get in the door on a Friday or Saturday. I spent a lot of time here, and I’m still trying to work out if that was a bad idea or not.
- San Simon- Where all big nights begin… this place looks like the work of a madman inside, with stark black scrawlings from enebriated tourists covering every piece of wall. Pounding bass from a revolving door of DJs pumps out enough energy to rattle the dried herbs suspended all across the ceiling. But it’s always worth stopping here for a drink; just tell the bartender what spirit you want and which mixer you want to take with it and they’ll make up a cocktail on the spot- just don’t expect to find them in any recipe books. Whisky with sour pineapple with burnt rosemary was a favourite of mine, and it’s surprisingly cheap too.
- Lucky Rabbit- Big, hot, sweaty, loud… they have a rave cave. Everyone ends up here if they’re going for a night out.
- Las Vibras- Similar to the above, but worse music. And it’s a much bigger place. You do feel like a kinda baller walking through the various levels to blasting 90s pop and reggaeton to be fair. They also have a nice terrace.
- The communal kitchen at 3 Monkeys: Yeah I know it’s technically not a restaurant but this was definitely my go-to for nice food, and some of the volunteers I worked with cooked some incredible things here. It was always nice to share a meal with friends, and hey at least you don’t have to make a reservation…
- Cafe Porque No?: My last fancy meal in Antigua was here with a group of friends. I’d finally bitten the bullet the day before and went here on reconaissance. The steak was so good I had to come back for a second night. They have a fantastic ambience, great service and the best international food I found in Antigua. Definitely check it out if you can get a table in their cosy little loft.
- Santa Rosa Burger Club: The best burger I had in Antigua. Juicy patties seasoned with herbs and they offer fried chicken and vegeterian options too, like Portobello Mushrooms. The burgers were stacked with all the best trimmings from melted tasty cheese to over easy fried egg and a lot of more exotic options to boot.
- Rincon Tipico: For typical Guatemalan cuisine, definitely worth checking out for rotisserie herbed chicken and the like.
- Pollo Enojado: So much chicken! Rotisserie or buffalo wings. They do sides like slaw and this place always hit the spot.
- Toko Baru: Indian, Indonesian, Guatemalan foods at really good prices loaded up with garlic sauce, spicy sauce, salads and sides. They were always good to hungry backpackers. Just make sure your body is ready for a spice invasion.
- Angie Angie: Yknow when you walk into a pizza place? Like a real pizza place? That smell, right? Yeah this place has it, and makes my favourite pizzas in town.
- Santa Clara Bakery: Almost every hungry backpacker’s first stop when they came to three monkeys because it was so close. Tasty food for not much money and damn you got a lot of it per portion too.
- Restaurante Mulan: If you ever needed delivery food (we’ve all been there) these guys operated a Facebook page so there was no hassle downloading apps or calling the wrong phone number to fumble through some bad Spanish. Some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had. Sweet and Sour Chicken with pineapple was especially memorable.
- McDonalds: The most beautiful McDonald’s I’ve ever seen for sure, reportedly one of the most beautiful in the world. Even if you don’t want to support a multi-national squillionaire corporate giant by wasting money on shitty food it’s still worth walking through here just to see it.
- Pollo Campero and Pollo Granjero: Fried chicken franchises that make up for that dark part of your soul that always pines for KFC- this is done a little differently and it is very very good for very very bad desires.
- The Market: If it’s real Guatemalan food at really cheap prices that you are chasing then this is the place. I shared some tasty chicken with a street dog here when I was hanging out near the bus station, and it cost less than half the price of one beer at any given bar in town. I think the dog agreed that I’d made a good choice.
Every day trying a new spot felt like a succesful day in my book. These are a few of my favourites, there’s probably a lot of spots I forgot to add and there’s definitely a lot of places that I sadly didn’t get to check out. These are great reasons to stay in a place for a time. Eating is a daily ritual, so why not take advantage of that fact by making it a focus of your touring?