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Exploring the Rich Culture and Scenic Beauty of Antigua, Guatemala

Our first trip of 2024 (and Dave's birthday gift) was to Antigua, Guatemala. The flight was a short 2 hr and 10mins to Guatemala City, and with the time difference of one hour we hardly lost any time. It took less than an hour to deplane, get through customs, pick up our luggage and meet our driver, Daniel. The drive to Antigua was approximately 40 kilometers, or 25 miles, but it took about an hour and 45 mins to reach our hotel. I expected the roads to be bumpy like in Costa Rica or Jamaica however, they were surprisingly very smooth. Once we arrived in Antigua the smooth roads turned to cobblestone. The buildings are all painted in vibrant colors with beautiful doors that lead into secret gardens or entryways.

Our hotel was Posada del Angel, a boutique hotel with only 7 rooms. Naturally the service is very personalized. There is someone working the front desk (usually Natalia or Anibal) as well as a 24 hr security guard (Enrique). President Clinton actually stayed here in 1999. A delicious breakfast was included in our stay which kept us pretty full for most of the day. From the rooftop we could perfectly see all 3 volcanos that surround Antigua: Agua, Acatenango, and El Fuego. The sole purpose of our trip was to celebrate Dave's birthday by hiking to see El Fuego, more on that later.

For dinner, Natalia suggested La Fonda dl la Calle Real for some authentic Guatemalan cuisine. It was only a 10-minute walk from the hotel to the restaurant which is by the iconic Arc. Dave tried the pepian, a chicken stew. We shared an appetizer, each had a glass of wine with our entrees, and the total came about to $35, tip included! After dinner we walked over to the Antigua Brewing Company for a flight of 6 beers and creme brulee which we shared on their rooftop deck. It was a beautiful night; we could see many of the ruins which were brightly lit up throughout the city.

The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the intimate dining room overlooking the pool at the hotel. Breakfast consisted of coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, a fruit platter, banana bread and choice of main dish. We both choose huevos rancheros the first morning. After breakfast we headed out to explore the town. One of my favorite places was the Central Plaza, it was always full of people and music and vendors. The park is clean and inviting and directly across from the street from the Catedral de Santiago.

The cathedral itself is not very large. In fact, directly behind it are its ruins. Originally built in 1545, it was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1773. The cathedral was only partially rebuilt after the earthquake which is the part used for services today. We were able to tour the ruins for a $3 charge and I paid a local tour guide and extra $20 to give us a private tour. Our tour left us at the Jade Museum where we got another quick informative tour about the jades of Guatemala and the Mayan culture.

Eventually, Dave and I made our way to Casa Santo Domingo , a former convent converted into a hotel & spa with a museum built around the ruins of an old church. We had our overnight volcano hike the next day and anticipated sore muscles upon returning to Antigua, so we scheduled massages. A couple that we met from our hotel gave us this great idea. Since our massages included full access to the rest of the spa which included the private pool, sauna, restaurant and jacuzzi we planned on spending most of the enjoying the amenities. The only problem was that Dave didn't pack a bathing suit. So, we spend the next hour or so looking around town to buy one and finally found a Hurley store where we purchased one.

We then walked around town some more and had a light lunch at Cafe Condesa "Cafe of the Countess", a converted house built in 1549 which became part of the Royal Houses beginning in 1609. We pretty much took it easy for the rest of the day and prepared our hiking backpacks for the next day.

Now for the highly anticipated El Fuego volcano hike. We actually hiked the volcano Acatenango which is a dormant volcano approximately 1.5 miles from the highly active El Fuego. El Fuego erupts approximately once every 10-15mins. Our tour company, Gateway Adventures, picked us up at our hotel just after breakfast at 9:15am. There was another couple already in the van and we picked up another two girls before stopping at a nondescript building to get our lunch, dinner and breakfast. Another hour drive to our starting point where we met with the other hikers in our group, there were 17 total, and prepared for our 5-mile uphill hike.

We began our journey at 11:11am, and I know that because Dave and I took a picture at the starting point that happen to have a cemetery in the background. We were all smiles until we actually started the grueling hike. It was one of the toughest things we have ever done and the extra 35+ pounds of camera equipment, water, snacks and change of clothes didn't help. As we were struggling to make it up, we could see the faces of the hikers coming down. They were dirty, tired and bruised from falling down the loose gravel.

There were a few designated rest stops along the way but for the most part we just stopped when we felt like it. Some people rented horses to either bring them up to the basecamp or to carry their belongings up. And we met a couple of people who paid $150 each way for someone to drive them within 1mile of the basecamp. Our total trip cost us $60 each and we were determined to hike the 5miles both up and down. Finally, at 5:30pm we made it to our basecamp. Now, when we began our hike it was 75 degrees however, by the time we made it up to the tents it was in the 40's! We were the last people in our group to arrive so we had no choice as to our sleeping arrangements. We "slept" in a tent with 4 other people stuck with the middle two sleeping bags.

As the sun began to set we were able to see the lava from the El Fuego eruptions. Sometimes the ground would shake and the sound of explosions came with the larger eruptions. I took a video but it does no justice to seeing it in person.

Our hiking guides (Willie, William and I can't remember the 3rd), prepared hot chocolate and our pasta dinner for us as we watched El Fuego and sat around the campfire. Some of the stray dogs got in on the warmth of the fire as well. Dave and I stayed up until 2am, along with one other person, which is when the last coals of the fire extinguished before we headed back to your tent.

The next morning we opted out of the 4am sunrise hike and "slept in". We were glad we did because the other hikers reported that the extra hike was brutal and terribly cold. They came back with great pictures but we had already gotten some great shots. The guides made everyone coffee and we had banana bread with strawberry preserves before our treacherous hike down Acatenango. We left at roughly 8:50am and it took 4 hours to make it all the way down. We quickly discovered why the faces of the hikers the day before were so tired and filthy.

The walk down was almost harder than the hike up. People were wiping out left and right. Dave even fell three times and ended up scraping his arm. By the time we finished our quads, backs and the rest of our body were killing us. I was definitely looking forward to our massage the next day.

When we finally got back to the hotel I think I took the best shower of my life. Anibal recommended a Mexican restaurant by the Arch called Fridas which we walked to for an early dinner. It was in the perfect location on such a busy street directly across from one of the ruins. We sat by the entryway and people watched while we ate and drank. We even saw a couple from our hike walk by. We were so exhausted that after we got back to our hotel I fell asleep by 6:15pm and Dave shortly after.

After breakfast the next morning we walked around sightseeing and looking for souvenirs to bring back home before making it to Casa Santo Domingo for our spa reservation. Dave and I spent most of the day at the Santo Domingo getting our much-needed massages and sitting by the pool. We ate lunch and had a few drinks and after we had enough relaxing, we walked over to the museum and took a couple hours touring. For dinner we walked over the Arch and ate at Restaurante del Arco for our last authentic Guatemalan dinner. It was the perfect ending to our vacation.

We have so many great pictures from this vacation that I put a collage of them together at the bottom of this blog, I just couldn't leave them out. I hope you enjoy!

Until the next trip!

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