Parque Central, Antigua Guatemala

Easter Sunday: 24 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala

Celebrating Easter in a UNESCO World Heritage City

I’m back from an incredible trip to Guatemala, and the fact that I’ve been so utterly off the radar for the past 9 days is a testament to the pure relaxation that we felt there. There are places in your mind you build up a bit, and Antigua was one of those cities for me. A UNESCO World Heritage City founded in the early 16th century, Antigua is easily recognized by its jaw-dropping colonial facades, cobblestone streets and vibrant colors. Antigua was the old capital of Guatemala before an earthquake struck and forced its relocation to Guatemala City. Its postcard worthy monuments, streets and shops leave any traveler’s interest piqued, and I was no exception. When we planned our trip to Guatemala, we knew we had to build in a day in Antigua before our week in Atitlán to explore a city that had us captivated at first glance. At the time, we didn’t realize that our day in the old capital happened to coincide with Easter Sunday, which added a unique cultural layer to the mix.

Yet with that expectation comes a bit of fear: have I set the bar too high in my mind? Is it as charming as I’ve dreamed it to be?

Antigua lives up to the hype.

Our rental car was broken into while we were in Antigua (more on that and how to handle these situations in a forthcoming post) and I will still talk about how enchanted I was with this Central American city. In fact, our first few hours walking around the city had Scott and I in awe. We have spent a fair bit of time traveling in the region and Antigua is hands-down the most captivating city we’d come across (Panama City is awesome, but a totally different buzzy vibe that cannot be compared with the likes of Antigua).

Plaza Mayor, Antigua GuatemalaAntigua GuatemalaParque Central, Antigua Guatemala

We based ourselves at Hotel Casa Antiguaa somewhat basic but charming boutique hotel right near Parque Central, the city’s main square. For those renting cars, it’s worth noting that parking is a pain and payment is required. Nearly every corner in Antigua has an ‘officer’ (for lack of a better term) selling tickets for Q.10 each (about $1.30) for the day.

Easter Sunday Procession

Once we were parked, we headed out to explore the city and meet up with my grandmother’s family who had come in from El Salvador to spend time with us in Guatemala. From the hotel, we were jarred by the sound of gunshots but quickly learned that what we were hearing was the sound of fireworks as part of an Easter Sunday procession taking place in the main square nearby. We had come just in time for a huge religious cavalcade that was making its way around the main square; we quickly headed over and found viewing points to take it in.

Easter, Antigua GuatemalaEaster in Antigua GuatemalaAntigua GuatemalaParque central, Antigua GuatemalaEaster Sunday, Antigua Guatemala

It’s no surprise that Guatemala, like most Central and South American countries, bears a heavy Catholic influence and Antigua is actually famed for having one of the largest Semana Santa celebrations in the world. On Easter Sunday, we watched local priests and Catholics carry a massive coffin with a statue of Jesus around the city. A tambourine player led the procession, while another group of musicians followed behind. Brightly colored residue from floats and costumes covered the streets leaving a bright, dazzling effect. Check out a quick glimpse in the video below.

Easter Sunday Procession in Antigua from Shannon Kircher.

Easter in Antigua Guatemala
Easter Sunday scene in Antigua, Guatemala

We were all enchanted with the scene –  such an interesting cultural layer to be added onto the experience – and my grandmother, a devout Catholic from Central America, was enthralled watching the world pass by. Whether Easter affected the rest of Antigua in any other way, I can’t be totally sure. Shops and restaurants were open, and after the procession we continued to explore on foot. The main walking area consists of a few blocks with restaurants, hotels, and stores tucked neatly into the antique buildings. We were impressed with the cleanliness and the friendliness from the get-go. The officers on every corner were quick to provide us with assistance when we had questions, and we looked on as people cleaned the streets with brooms and soapy water. Without a doubt, it’s the coolest, cleanest city that I’ve explored in Central America, and despite our little incident with our smashed window, there’s a heavy focus on tourism and safety (I’ll talk about this more in a forthcoming post).

Antigua Guatemala Map
Parque Central and the main area surrounding our hotel

After exploring Parque Central, we made our way down to the iconic pastel yellow Santa Catalina Arch, which is arguably the most recognized landmark in the whole of Antigua. The road runs perpendicular to the park, and Nim Po’t, a large market for Mayan crafts and textiles, is located near the archway. The market is home to a range of goods, from world-class photography and high-end textiles to kitschy knick knacks for the souvenir collector. While it’s the largest in Antigua, I found the markets at Lake Atitlán to be a bit more interactive, with a widespread range that felt very authentic. For added wow, the volcano view was a great touch for a real sense of place.

Antigua Guatemala24 Hours in Antigua, GuatemalaAntigua Guatemala24 Hours in Antigua, GuatemalaAntigua, Guatemala24 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala

Dining in Antigua, Guatemala

Beyond shopping and scoping out the scenery, we enjoyed three meals plus pre-dinner cocktails in our short 24 hours in Antigua; all were great and each had a vibe entirely its own.

Fonda de la Calle Real {Lunch}

Fonda de la Calle Real, Antigua Guatemala

Our first meal was at Fonda de la Calle Real, which sits along the same street as the Santa Catalina Arch. The seating area is an old world courtyard with an open kitchen where you can watch the cooks whipping up freshly made tortillas and local cuisine. The menu has a solid array of options but focuses on Guatemalan and Latin American specialties, with things like chile rellenos and pepián. My grandmother, mom and I opted to split guacamole and a traditional bean and cheese plate, washed down with a glass of cinnamon-y horchata.

Los Tres Tiempos {Cocktails}

Los Tres Tiempos, Antigua, GuatemalaDrinks in Antigua GuatemalaLos Tres Tiempos, Antigua, Guatemala

En route to Frida’s for our Easter Sunday dinner, we popped into nearby Los Tres Tiempos, a restaurant with a perfectly-lit courtyard and a great inside bar and dining space. We’d already made reservations at Frida’s for dinner, but the menu at Los Tres Tiempos had us wishing we’d had time for two dinners in Antigua with its upscale and authentic vibe. The cocktail list offered lots of inspiration, and their tamarind margarita was a delicious local take on a traditional cocktail. Drinks for 8 people (include a couple of second rounds)? Around $50.

Frida’s {Dinner} 

Frida's, Antigua, Guatemala

The options for great dinner settings in Antigua were seemingly endless despite the relatively small size of the city. We knew we wanted a local flair and a great vibe, so that helped us narrow it down considerably. Finally we settled on Frida’s, a Frida Kahlo themed restaurant with bold artwork, great food and an overall fun atmosphere.

Portion sizes and prices were reasonable and everyone found a meal they were excited about. All in all, a great choice with a group, though I think we could have been equally happy at Los Tres Tiempos as well. Also on our radar for dinner? Restaurant Casa Santo Domingo, which offers a tasting menu.

Frida's Restaurant, Antigua, GuatemalaFrida's, Antigua, Guatemala

Doña Luisa Xicoteneatl {Breakfast} 

Dona Luisa, Antigua Guatemala

I had a place in mind for breakfast but when my aunt mentioned she had a favorite spot she wanted to show us, I wanted to follow her lead. As luck would have it, her favorite spot happened to be the place that I wanted to try! Enter Doña Luisa Xicoteneatl, a hotel and restaurant built as a rather palatial home in the mid-1600s. As with many of the restaurants we visited, we entered a stunning courtyard where we dined al fresco for our mid-morning meal.

We saw freshly baked breads and cakes being rolled by as the morning began, but it’s a great place for brunch with options from fruit and granola (for me) to huevos rancheros (for Scott). Coupled with freshly brewed Guatemalan coffee, it was perfection.

Tabacos y Vinos {Wine Bar + Shop}

Tabacos y Vinos, Antigua Guatemala

We discovered Los Tres Tiempos after first attempting to stop by Tabacos y Vinos. Tabacos y Vinos is a cool blend of wine bar and a wine shop, where you can grab a glass of wine or stock up for a getaway. Prices are marked for consumption if drunk in the store, and you’ll get a slightly marked down rate if you’re taking them para llevar. The space inside is small, essentially a large table for about 12 people to sip the night away. They offer pricing by the glass with discounted pricing for each additional glass that you consume (fun approach, right?). We used the opportunity to stock up on some wines before our trek to the lake, having the proprietor help us select 8 wines that would fit into our wine budget for the week.

With a mere 24 hours in Antigua, we were impressed and left wanting more. While it’s relatively small, you could easily spend three days exploring the city, delving into the culture and history, and venturing to the nearby volcanoes and fincas. If you only have time for a brief brush, as was our case, don’t pass it up. Even a day in Guatemala’s old capital is worth the ride!

Have you been to Antigua, Guatemala? What would you recommend if you only had a day in the city?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.