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I made my way from Flores to Antigua by overnight Luxury Bus.
But, when I got there, they did not have a Twin Room available.
It was 5:00pm at night, so I didn’t have much choice.
I had to accept the only room that they had available: a Single Room.
We agreed a discounted price of GTQ50 / night (US$7).
I was promised that my Twin Room would be available the next day.
The next day, my Twin Room was still not available … so I looked around other hotels for a room. It was between Christmas and New Year so many places were full. What I found were similar, basic (but bigger and cleaner) rooms going for GTQ200 / night.
It was raining … I checked out and decided to head for Antigua.
FLORES TO GUATEMALA CITY:
I walked across the Flores Island causeway and continued another 1km up the main road to the Bus Terminal. There, I enquired about Luxury Buses to Antigua. Several buses leave each day … almost every hour … more frequently between 8:00pm and 10:00pm (for the overnight buses).
The buses don’t go directly to Antigua … they go to Guatemala City and, from there, you catch a Minivan on to Antigua.
You are told that the trip to Guatemala City takes 8 hours. In Guatemala City you wait up to 1 hour for your connecting Minivan. It is another 1 hour to Antigua.
I decided that I wanted to leave at about 9pm to arrive in Antigua for an early breakfast.
There are several counters selling seats on these buses at the Bus Terminal. Few speak English … and you are not quite sure exactly what you are getting.
I met a couple of lads from Korea who had just arrived on one of these buses from Guatemala City. They told me that it was best to pay extra to get a ‘1st class’ seat downstairs. They were bigger and a lot more comfortable … and, that it was worth paying the extra US$20 for the 8 hour trip. They also told me that they had been scammed in Antigua … they paid for a 1st class downstairs seat but got put upstairs in the cheaper seats.
I went looking for a Tour Agent that I felt that I could trust. I found one that offered me GTQ430 for a 1st class seat but no pick up from my hotel and no Minivan ticket on to Antigua.
I got back to Flores Island and found an Agent who spoke English. He offered me the full end-to-end package (including Flores Hotel pick up, Luxury Bus ticket, and connecting Minivan on to Antigua) for GTQ450. He got online and showed me which seat I was being booked on … we chose a single ‘1st class’ seat next to the window and booked it online.
There were lots of people waiting for buses. It was like a conveyor belt. I arrived to see an 8:45pm bus pull out full. I then saw the 9:00pm pull in, fill up, and drive away. Finally, my 9:15pm bus pulled in.
I made the right decision. My seat was very comfortable. I settled in … slipped into my Silk Sleeping Bag Liner that I purchased in Hoi An (to keep warm under the cold aircon) … and went to sleep.
GUATEMALA CITY TO ANTIGUA:
We arrived in Guatemala City 2 hours late: at 7:30am. Apparently, 10 hours for the trip is more ‘normal’ than 8 hours.
There was an Antigua Minivan waiting at the Bus Terminal. I showed them my Minivan ticket. They said that it was a different company and that I had to wait for another Minivan.
Suspicious, I called my Tour Agent in Flores. He said that he would sort it out. 5 minutes later, I got a call from a Minivan driver. He said that he was delayed and would be at Bus Terminal to pick me up at 9:00am. He suggested that I went for breakfast and came back before 9.
Just then, the man who was organising the Minivans called me over and pointed me at another Minivan. He said that this Minivan would accept my ticket. I called my Agent back and said that I was OK (and to cancel the other Minivan). My Minivan left at 8:00am.
We arrived in downtown Antigua at 9am. I found a cafe, sat down for Breakfast, got online, and started looking for an hotel.
Antigua is a small city in the central highlands of Guatemala. It is famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches. It, previously, served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala which originally expanded north into southern Mexico and as far south as Costa Rica.
During its development and splendour, it was known as one of the three most beautiful cities of the Spanish Indies.
Antigua is very similar to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
The city is laid out in a ‘standard’ square pattern, with streets running north to south and from east to west, with a central square. The Central Park (Parque Central) is the heart of the city and a popular gathering spot.
Due to its popularity amongst tourists (and its very well developed tourism infrastructure), Antigua is often used as a base for visiting other tourist areas in Guatemala and Central America.
Antigua holds a sizeable retirement community.
I still had my Tigo SIMcard that I bought on my trip to Livingston & Estor.
I bought a 1 month ‘Mes Social’ pre-paid plan with 1.5GBs of data. The total price including the SIMcard was GTQ166.
My Tigo card didn’t get a signal in Rio Dulce / El Golfete.
But, I had no problem with Tigo in Flores and Antigua.
The cellphone companies in Guatemala frequently run promotions. On the day that I went, Tigo were doing a ‘Triple Day’. I topped up with GTQ100 and received GTQ300 worth of talk and texting credits. Alas, you can’t use those promotional credits to buy internet data. So, I purchased another 2GBs for 1 month for GTQ99 (US$14).
WHERE TO STAY:
However, budget travellers may find it more convenient to be west of centre near the Local Market. This is where you will find the Supermarkets and ‘Cheap Eateries’ … as well as the convenience of shopping in the Local Market itself.
Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find … this is for a 1 week period at the end of January 2017 …
HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):
… and there are many more for under US$25 / night …
… and there are many more for under US$25 / night …
PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites sometimes display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 22% to the displayed price to get the final price.
VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):
If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.
Holiday Rentals are usually rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … please note that these prices are in US$s …
Vacation Rentals are, usually, displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any Security Deposit (if required). BUT, the displayed price may be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Service Fees (which can add as much as 16%).
In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, in Guatemala they are definitely worth a look.
As you can see, there are many accommodation options within our GRANDPAcking Budget of up to US$25 / day.
There are so many accommodation options in Antigua that it can be mind blowing walking the streets yourself. I would suggest that prices are already very competitive and that you are best to start your online search early and grab one that is offering an aggressive discount and / or free breakfast (a decent Breakfast is worth about GTQ25 each).
Vacation Rentals are a good way to go … as long as you can get one at a good price close to town centre … you don’t want to be stuck out in the ‘wop wops’.
My hotel in Flores really stuffed me up. I arrived in Antigua on the 29th of December 2016. Right bang in the middle of the busy Christmas / New Year period … without a booking.
I booked the day of my arrival. I wanted to book 6 nights to span New Year’s Eve. Many hotels were already booked out (especially the cheap ones) and very few hotels had a room available on the night of New Year’s Eve.
I used BOOKING.COM to book 1 night in the Frank&Fre Guesthouse. I booked a Twin Room with Shared Bathroom for GTQ185 / night (US$25).
The problem was that the Frank&Fre was also booked out on New Year’s Eve.
I walked the streets for the rest of the afternoon looking for another hotel. It was reasonably easy to find a ‘basic’ Double Room with ensuite in a Budget Hotel for about GTQ150-200 / night (US$20-27). However, they all tripled the room rate on New Year’s Eve … some were asking GTQ500 for a room normally priced at GTQ150.
I finally found La Quinta Lucia. They offered me a Twin Room with Shared Bathroom for GTQ130 / night (US$17) with New Year’s Eve going for GTQ244 / night (US$33). This meant that I paid an average of GTQ150 / night (US$20).
It was a good room for that price and the Shared Bathroom wasn’t a problem … there were 3 shower cubicles and 3 toilet cubicles on each floor. There were 8 rooms per floor. I was usually the only person using the ones on my floor. The one exception was New Year’s Eve night when the hotel was full of young Guatemalans in town to party.
Some of the rooms were close enough to the Wifi Router to get in-room wifi. Mine was not. But the wifi was OK (but slow) in the common areas and they provided free water and free hot coffee in the mornings.
Have a look yourself:
You can walk everywhere.
There are restaurants everywhere … most charge inflated tourist prices.
The ownership and reputation of restaurants changes frequently … but, they are all much of a muchness.
Expect a main meal in these restaurants to start at GTQ60 with a ‘typical’ price of GTQ80.
STREET FOOD / FAST FOOD:
The Local Market has a foodcourt. This is where you get your ‘cheap eats’.
A Desayuno Rancho costs GTQ15 (but it is of a poorer quality than elsewhere) and you can get a reasonable meal for GTQ25-30.
There are also some Chicken fastfood outlets (Guatemalan KFC) around the Local Market area where you can get 2 pieces of Fried Chicken with Coleslaw and Fries for GTQ30.
There are a few cheap local restaurants around town but they are hard to find.
Budget an average of GTQ20 each for Breakfast. GTQ30 each for Lunch. GTQ60 each for Dinner. This is ‘existence’ level eating.
You will find some places that do Happy Hour. Most end at 7:00pm. Some at 8:00pm. Most Happy Hours offer a 2-for-1 beer and (usually) only cover drinks made from ‘local’ spirits.
One example is Reilly’s Irish Pub which is a Sports Bar). They have an Happy Hour from when they open (noon) until 7:00pm. You get 2-for-1 bottles of Gallo for GTQ25.
There are a few exceptions:
If you don’t mind drinking in a Cantina with the locals (there are a couple in and around the Local Market), you can get a 1 litre Gallo for GTQ25 … and listen to a Spanish Jukebox. But, some of those locals are pretty hard drinkers and it is not unusual to see 1 or 2 of them having a ‘nap’ at their table with a beer still sitting in front of them.
You can find the odd little place that sells a 350ml Gallo for GTQ15 … but they are usually empty and / or have no ‘atmosphere’.
I enjoyed going down to Reilly’s Irish Bar in the afternoons to watch some EPL Football. Reilly’s is a Sports Bar with several TVs and is a good spot to enjoy a game (EPL, NFL, NHL, etc) with like minded sports fans. They havee a Happy Hour from opening time (noon) to 7:00pm where you get 2-for-1 Gallos for GTQ25.
Another favourite was The Londoner. They had a Happy Hour (to 7:00pm) of 2-for-1 House Wines for GTQ25. The did a good Meal Special each day, had Quiz Nights (which were fun), and often had Live Music starting at 7:00pm.
YOUR HEALTH & SAFETY:
There is no reason to feel unsafe here. But, as always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America.
Take particular care down at the Local Market where bag slashing still happens.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
Soak up the ‘historical colonial town’ atmosphere.
You can trek the local volcanoes.
There are many Day Trips to places like Lake Atitlan and coastal beaches (such as Monterrico).
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
You will be paying Tourist Prices.
You will find several ATMs around town. The withdrawal limit seems to be GTQ2000 everywhere.
There are 2 Supermarkets. One is found opposite the entrance to the Local Market. The other at the Local Market end of 5th Street.
The Local Market is open every day but swells 3 days each week.
A litre bottle of water will cost you about GTQ2.50. For GTQ6.50 you can buy a gallon (3.7L).
WHEN TO GO:
- A lot of rain (rainy season) falls in the months: May, June, July, August, September and October.
- Antigua has dry periods in January, February, March, April, November and December.
- On average, the warmest month is May.
- On average, the coolest month is January.
- June is the wettest month. This month should be avoided if you don’t like too much rain.
- February is the driest month.
From Antigua, I head to Monterrico on the Pacific Coast.
I will tell you more about that in a future post.
My trip into Livingston & El Estor taught me that I may need to stay on the ‘beaten path’ in Guatemala … at least until my Spanish improves.
The trouble with that is that I am going to end up in all of the over-priced Tourist Traps.
Antigua is nice but it is still an over-priced Tourist Trap. GRANDPAckers cannot afford to LIVE here.