Trip Date 05/18/2018
Posted On 07/26/2018 17:47:19
Destinations | Cruise | Guatemala | Walking | Puerto Quetzal | Antigua On Your Own | One Day in Antigua Guatemala | Antigua Guatemala Tourism
Is a visit to the colonial city of Antigua worth your time when transportation from Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala takes 90 minutes each way? If your ship is docked for at least nine hours and you enjoy exploring on your own, interesting architecture and people watching (and don't mind walking) - the answer is a definite yes!
Check out this post for options on transportation to Antigua as well as what to see in the colonial city. Other than travel, your visit could be free - but I would recommend budgeting a little for a bite to eat or drink and possibly a souvenir or two.
Transportation to Antigua from Puerto QuetzalThere are several options for transportation to Antigua:
- A ride on the "chicken bus" (a brightly painted former school bus) will take you from Escuintla, Guatemala to Antigua - but, you'll first need transportation to Escuintla. At a reported cost of only $3.00 per person, it is very inexpensive, however there are numerous cautions that we read about traveling via chicken bus.
- Tour operators will likely be available upon reaching the cruise terminal (a 15 minute complimentary shuttle bus ride). In a seven year old post, the price was reported as $40.00 per adult.
- "Transportation only" shore excursions will probably be offered by your cruise line. The following were available for
pre-booking on our Norwegian Bliss cruise (each priced at $59.00):
- Antigua on Your Own (including round trip transportation, a map and bottle of water) and
- Antigua Hop on Hop off (same as above plus complimentary HOHO bus pass).
(We chose Antigua on Your Own at a per person cost of $50.15 with a 15% NCL loyalty discount. At only $10.15 more than other tours that we had read about, the ship tour gave us peace of mind that we wouldn't miss our 5:30 PM all aboard time since Antigua was a 90 minute ride in each direction. We had also read that, depending on traffic and transfer between buses, it could take as long as 2 1/2 hours each way when using public transportation.)
Jade Maya Museum and FactoryGuatemala is known for being a great location for purchasing jade. Archaeologist Mary Lou Ridinger leads a short and quite interesting presentation about discovering the Guatemala jade quarries in 1975 along with her late husband. Her business, Jade Maya, includes a museum, factory and retail store. Even if you have no interest in purchasing jade, plan to spend a few minutes watching the factory workers and taking a quick walk through the free museum. Also, don't miss touching the multi-million dollar "Retirement Stone" on display in the retail store for good luck!
(During our visit, an expatriate volunteer gave a brief introduction to Antigua in the courtyard located just outside of Jade Maya. We were also offered the option to hire one of the many private guides available for a walking tour.)
The 7 Must See Buildings in the City of AntiguaSurrounded by several volcanoes, the colonial city of Antigua has the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its charming cobblestone streets, colorful Spanish style buildings, plazas, fountains and interesting architecture, you can soak up the culture in a few short hours. Use your time to explore the city on foot, pausing along the way to take some photos or just to enjoy the architecture ... maybe even stepping inside an open building or courtyard that interests you. Enjoy a coffee, cold drink or lunch in one of the many local restaurants, buy some souvenirs in a market, retail store or from a local in the park or on a street . . . or just relax on a bench to watch the hustle and bustle surrounding you.
This post assumes a round trip Walking Route from Jade Maya Museum and Factory. Adjustments to the route can easily be made based on your chosen method of transportation to Antigua.
1. Iglesia de San FranciscoAfter your long ride to the city, start off by exploring some of the buildings in varying conditions following the earthquake which significantly impacted the city in 1773. Located about four blocks south of Jade Maya stands the Iglesia de San Francisco. Enter through the Saint Bonaventure Gate and explore the complex that covers nearly two blocks including a museum, ruins of a convent, a small vendor market (of course!), as well as the church.
2. Hospital de San PedroSeveral blocks west and just a block north sits the Hospital de San Pedro and adjacent Chapel of San Pedro. Founded as a hospital for the poor, the facility today serves as a hospital, shelter and home while also providing social services to those in need.
3. Museo de Arte ColonialOne block north, the Museo de Arte Colonial occupies the former University of San Carlos de Borromeo building. The fee for non-residents interested in entering the museum is Q 50 (approximately $6.75 US). There is, however, no fee for wandering into the courtyard, so at minimum take a few moments to step inside to see the beautiful arches with their intricate detail which surround the entire open air square.
4. Plaza MayorTake notice of the government office building, Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, as you walk to Plaza Mayor located diagonally across the street to the northwest. The park, more commonly known as Central Park, is a great place to take a break from walking for a few minutes. Find an available bench near the La Fuente de las Sirenas fountain, often referred to as the "Mermaid Fountain". From there, you can rest your feet while enjoying a bit of people (and pigeon) watching. You will likely be approached by one or more Guatemalan ladies or gentlemen peddling their wares including jewelry, a variety of textiles and wooden musical instruments. If you are interested in their offerings, you can test your bargaining skills. If not, just politely tell them "no thank you", and they'll leave you alone.
5. Catedral de SantiagoWhen you are ready to continue on, walk directly across the street to the east and you will find the site of Catedral de Santiago. Construction of the building began in 1545, and you would never know by standing in front that only a small part was rebuilt after the earthquake. Today the entrance hall, the only repaired part of the building, serves as Saint James Parish also referred to as San Jose Cathedral. Behind the original entrance hall, where the main part of the building once stood, lie the ruins left after the earthquake. Time permitting and payment of an entrance fee, you can wander through the ruins and also see the crypts below.
When you leave the cathedral, walk back across the street and turn to the right on the street bordering the far side of Central Park. As you continue walking north for several blocks, make sure you are looking around. Notice the interesting architecture of the buildings. If you are interested in trying some of the local cuisine (or at least stopping for a drink or snack), begin looking for a cafe or restaurant that you can return to after your final stops.
6. Arco de Santa CatalinaLooking ahead, you should soon see the Arco de Santa Catalina, an icon in Antigua. This landmark 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. Originally built in the late 17th century, the abandoned arch sat in disrepair after the 1773 earthquake. Following an extensive restoration project, the clock was added nearly 200 years after the original arch was unveiled. After you walk through the arch, be sure to turn around to see the view from the opposite direction. When the skies are relatively clear, you should be able to see the Volcan de Agua through the arch.
7. Iglesia La MercedJust one block further north is Iglesia La Merced, painted in a pastel yellow with intricate white reliefs on the facade. The church is open to the public, so be sure to step inside to see the atrium. Signage inside the church indicated that the religious order celebrates 800 years on August 10, 2018.
The ruins located next door to the church are the remains of Convento La Merced. If you have the time, payment of a small entrance fee will allow you to visit the convent which is said to be very interesting. The panoramic views from the upper story are also reported to be excellent.
With only four hours in Antigua, you have seen most of the central area of the city. There's still more to see, however you are probably running low on time - especially if you want to grab a quick bite to eat or drink. (Hopefully you saw a cafe or restaurant that interested you.) Without touring any of the optional ruins listed above, at this point we only had time for a bit of shopping and a stop for a drink. If you do have more time, see the tips below for additional places to consider, but make sure not to miss the transportation back to your ship!
Shopping in AntiguaIf you have been meandering through Antigua for any period of time, you have certainly been approached by (and probably followed by) both local women (often wearing traditional clothing) and men selling a variety of hand crafted items. You may have already made a purchase or two, or at least have an idea of what you might want to buy. If you are interested in seeing more options, here's a few shops to consider:
- Mercado Municipal de Artisanias (4a Calle Poniente) - a large market located several blocks west of most of the attractions listed above) with vendor stalls offering a wide variety of textiles and more;
- El Mercado (located next door to Mercado Municipal de Artisanias) - a large market with vendor stalls primarily selling food and staples; and
- Nim Po't Centro de Textiles Tradicionales (5a Avenida Norte) - a large retail store (located about one block southeast of Iglesia La Merced) with fixed prices, so if you don't enjoy the whole bartering experience, this may be your place!
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, so if you typically experience any ill effects at higher altitudes, 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 will take a credit card, there were often minimum purchase amounts required. (We had no trouble using US dollars for meal or souvenir purchases.)
- If you are considering taking the chicken bus to Antigua, take a look at the instructions in this blog article.
- 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.
- Should you be in search of even more sights to see in Antigua (in addition to touring some of the ruins listed above),
consider the following:
- Choco Museo (located just one block northwest of Central Park) - We actually stopped for a quick sample and later sat in their restaurant for a cool drink, but didn't realize that there was a free interactive museum.
- The Convent of the Capuchins (Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas) is two blocks east of the Santa Catalina Arch and charges an entrance fee for a self-guided tour. (If you are following the walking route above, the route back to Jade Maya passes by this convent.)
- Located two blocks east of the Hospital de San Pedro, the Santa Clara Ruins (Convento Santa Clara) also requires an entrance fee for self-guided tours.
- Cerro de la Cruz is not in the central part of the city so it requires a walk to get to the stairs / trail (located north of most attractions) followed by an uphill hike to reach the panoramic viewpoint. After seeing the views of the city and the volcano there is, of course, a return hike down and back to the city. Some recommend a police escort for safety, and it appears that escorts leave from Central Park at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM daily.
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Ruins of Historic LocationsWhen traveling, which do you enjoy more and why - visiting older buildings that have been restored, or visiting the ruins of buildings that were never restored?
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