As mentioned in our previous post, leaving San Pedro La Laguna was difficult. Crammed into a shuttle with 13 other passengers—two of which were some of the pushiest and inconsiderate we’ve encountered during our travels—we made the winding and bumpy journey out of the lake and onto the open road.
Looking down into Atitlán from high up on the pothole-riddled road, it was hard not to wonder if 38 days was enough time to fully take it all in. Of course, our spirits and energy felt wholly refreshed once the colorful colonial city of Antigua came into view.
Antigua is a romantic and compact city with highly walkable cobblestone streets. Somewhat of a walled city, the things that make Antigua exciting to explore lie in the courtyards behind its brightly colored walls.
For us, walking around the city was a satisfying way to enjoy our time there. Antigua’s central park, with its fountain, trees, and views of the cathedral and Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, offers a wonderful place to slow down and people watch. Additionally, the Antigua market is bigger than any we’ve visited in Central America, and its bustling chaos feels appropriately amplified for its size.
Unfortunately, window shopping and outside appreciation for all the cute fine dining establishments was the best we could do with our backpacking budget. Antigua is markedly more expensive than other places we’ve visited in Guatemala, and it feels more European than Central American. With its chains and fast-food restaurants, it also gives off a more commercialized vibe.
Of course, we can’t say we didn’t enjoy the commercialized aspects when it came to our first Taco Bell experience since arriving in Mexico two months prior. Walking into Antigua’s Taco Bell is like walking into the Bellagio—it’s beauty is simply unmatched by any Taco Bell we’ve ever had the privilege of sharing our patronage with.
With high ceilings, marble floors, and a glorious purple-lit chandelier, the arched entrance to Antigua’s Taco Bell gives you the impression that you are walking into anything but a fast-food joint. Inside, there’s a stunning courtyard with outdoor seating, a fountain, and a large bell. And that’s just one sitting area in this massive taco-slinging complex.
We will spare you the jealousy and flowery descriptions, but with five flat-screen TVs showing sports, a foosball table, and an abundance of seating, our journeys—yes, plural—to Antigua’s Taco Bell were as close to fine dining as we got in the walled city. That’s without going into detail about who we are certain is the greatest Taco Bell employee of all time. Viva Taco Bell—sin carne, solo frijoles.
One of our greatest experiences in Antigua—aside from the Bell, of course—was a chocolate-making workshop at the Cacao Museo. Our cacao conductor was an energetic woman named Pati, and she taught us all about the history of cacao in Latin America, as well as its traditional Mayan uses.
After our history lesson, we got to work creating chocolate treats with our preferred fillings. Sea salt, macadamia nuts, chili powder, cinnamon, and candied oranges were just some of the flavors we got to experiment with. It was satisfying to try our hands at chocolatiering, though we both made the mistake of going a little heavy on the sea salt with our salted varieties.
With chocolate trays cooling in the fridge, we then began the process of creating different drinking chocolates. We roasted cacao beans, separated them from their nibs, and grounded the beans into a paste. First up was cacao nib tea, which comes with a variety of digestive health benefits and a delicious full-bodied flavor.
Next, we made traditional Mayan drinking chocolate, which is a combination of cacao paste, hot water, honey, cinnamon, and chili powder. This is a delicious warm and bittersweet drink with traditionally spiritual applications, as the Mayans believed its mood-lifting qualities brought them closer to the gods. European and Spanish conquests brought an end to that with their rigid monotheistic view, unfortunately.
Finally, we used the last of the cacao paste to make European hot chocolate, with frothy milk and honey. While all three drinks were absolutely delicious, we both agree that the cacao nib tea and Mayan drinking chocolate were far more flavorful than the European style of hot chocolate we know and love. All in all, our informative session with the Cacao Museo was one we would recommend to anyone visiting the area.
Given its comparatively pricey yet romantic atmosphere, we know Antigua is a place we will want to visit in the future on a different kind of vacation. That and we would really like to hike Acatenango! Unfortunately, weather is dodgy this time of year, and the promise of seeing an erupting volcano in action is never guaranteed during low season. Ultimately, we’ve decided this will make a lovely weekend vacation spot when we move to San Pedro La Laguna.
It’s hard to believe our time in Guatemala is drawing to an end, but at least we can’t say we didn’t make the most of it! After a total of 50 days in this beautiful country, our hearts are full as we head toward El Salvador with new friends and an abundance of wonderful memories in tow.
Adios, Guatemala! Mucho gusto y hasta luego. Ahora, bienvenidos a El Salvador, Whohn Brose.