Trip Date 05/18/2018
Posted On 06/26/2018 23:07:02
Destinations | Cruise | Puerto Quetzal | Antigua On Your Own | One Day in Antigua Guatemala | Antigua Guatemala Tourism
We really struggled with making a plan for the day that we docked in Puerto Quetzal. Since we have an aversion to most tours offered by cruise lines due to the high cost and large number of passengers on each tour, we searched for other options. The problem was that we didn't find much that really appealed to us. After lots of reading we decided that, for our first visit to Guatemala, we wanted to explore Antigua.
Check out this post to see how we spent our day in the colonial city. Other than the cost for travel to get to Antigua, your visit could be free (unless, of course, you can't resist making some souvenir purchases)!
Transportation to Antigua from Puerto QuetzalWe contemplated taking the "chicken bus" (a brightly painted former school bus) as it sounded like the way we usually choose to travel. Since the bus ride would have required us to take a city bus or taxi to get to the starting point (plus after reading numerous "danger alerts"), we decided against it. We ended up taking the Norwegian Cruise Line Antigua on Your Own shore excursion - with our loyalty discount the cost was $50.15, and it gave us peace of mind that we wouldn't miss our 5:30 PM all aboard time. (Antigua was a 90 minute ride in each direction and we had read that, depending on traffic and transfers between buses, it could take as long as 2 1/2 hours using public transportation.).
The full size very comfortable coach departed from the dock at 9:00 AM. Victor safely drove while Edgar, our long winded guide, shared more information than I could ever hope to remember. After transferring to two large vans when we neared Antigua (the coaches were too big for the narrow streets), we arrived at 11:00 AM. (Door to door, our return drive was a little quicker at 1 hour 45 minutes.)
Jade Maya Museum and FactoryWe walked as a group to the courtyard located just outside of the Jade Maya Factory and Museum, which would also be the meeting point for our return in four hours. We were given a brief introduction to Antigua by an expatriate volunteer and were offered the option to hire one of the many private guides available for a walking tour.
We learned that Guatemala is known for being a great location for purchasing jade, so we listened to an interesting short presentation led by archaeologist Mary Lou Ridinger about how she and her late husband discovered the Guatemala jade quarries in 1975. Her business, Jade Maya, included a museum, factory and retail store. Afterwards, since we were not in the market for any jewelry, we spent a few minutes watching the factory workers and did a quick walk through of the free museum. (I had no idea that jade has a 400 million year shelf life!) At Mrs. Ridinger's encouragement, we also touched her multi-million dollar "retirement stone" (which was on display in the retail store) for good luck.
Strolling through the City of AntiguaWe began our walk in Antigua by heading about four blocks south of Jade Maya where we passed through the Saint Bonaventure Gate to see Iglesia de San Francisco and the small vendor market located in the complex.
I enjoyed seeing the Spanish colonial architecture of the buildings in Antigua dating back hundreds of years.
We continued our walk to the Hospital de San Pedro (which today serves as a hospital, shelter and social services facility) and adjacent Chapel of San Pedro.
Across the street, we walked through the courtyard of the Museo de Arte Colonial.
Our next stop, Plaza Mayor (also known as Central Park), was a great place to take a break from walking for a few minutes. We found the "Mermaid Fountain" and did a little people (and pigeon) watching.
The Arco de Santa Catalina, an icon in Antigua, was our next stop. It was interesting to learn that it was actually built with a purpose - the cloistered nuns living in the convent on one side could walk through a passageway inside the arch to the school at which they taught on the other side without being seen.
Just one block further was Iglesia La Merced, painted in a pastel yellow with intricate white reliefs on the facade.
On our way back, we saw the site of Catedral de Santiago located directly across the street from Central Park. The building was badly damaged in an earthquake in 1773; today, the repaired entrance hall serves as San Jose Cathedral.
We spent a little more time in the park watching the many Guatemalan ladies peddling their wares. As we were thirsty and also running a little low on time, we did some final shopping at Nim Po't Centro de Textiles Tradicionales, a large retail store with fixed prices (no bargaining), and then stopped for a drink.
Although we didn't have time to see the many ruins in Antigua, we certainly enjoyed our day in the colonial city. Four hours was just enough time to get a taste of the city - and we have plenty of ideas for our next visit!
Tips for Visiting Antigua, GuatemalaHere's a few tips to help make sure that you enjoy your day and get the most out of your visit:
- The city of Antigua sits about 5,000 feet above sea level. If you typically experience any ill effects at higher altitudes, you should take precautions.
- Many of the streets in Antigua are cobblestone, so comfortable walking shoes are important. As with any outing in a tropical climate, sun protection is a must - wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are highly recommended.
- If you plan to make any purchases, bring some cash. While some places did accept credit cards, there were often minimum purchase amounts required.
- If you would like a little assistance with walking some of the longer distances while in Antigua, there were both taxis and tuk-tuks available.
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Bargaining with VendorsWhat are your best suggestions for bargaining in markets when making souvenir purchases?
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