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Trip Report Trip Report - Antigua, Guatemala

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My mom (a foodie) and I just returned from a wonderful week in Antigua, Guatemala. Mom asked me to help her post her trip report (below). – Hope you enjoy it.
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Is the expectation better than the realization? I was about to find out… Never having traveled to Guatemala before and having my oldest daughter question my sanity, the day had finally arrived.

For over a year now, my youngest daughter and I have been taking Spanish classes on-line via Skype with Spanish teachers at the Probigua School in Antigua, Guatemala. My daughter is studying Spanish because her husband is from Spain, and I’m studying for fun and to maximize my trips to Spain with them! We love the Speak Shop program (speakshop.com) where we have one-on-one classes with our Guatemalan tutors. I finally decided we should hop on a plane to Antigua, meet our tutors in person, and even sign-up for a few Spanish classes. Antigua sounded wonderful, but neither of us had traveled to Central America before.

We met at DFW and left together at 5:05 PM, arriving in Guatemala City (GC) around 8:15. PM. Based on what we had read, we were concerned about traveling from GC to Antigua at night, so we stayed at the Howard Johnson Inn near the GC airport complete with free shuttle. The driver was waiting for us at the airport with a sign just as they had said he would do. (In retrospect, I think we could have easily made the trip to Antigua that night. We actually met other travelers that frequently made the one hour trip in the evening, and thought nothing of it.)

The HoJo Inn room was adequate but with very low light. I needed a flashlight to write in my journal. We arranged a shuttle to Antigua in the morning, and in the morning a friendly shuttle driver was already waiting for us and we were our way to Antigua.

Since we were going to be attending the Probiqua School we elected to stay with a host family. We were sent very little information about the family other than their name, ages, address, and our need to bring our own towel and toiletries. Hind sight is 20/20 -- because we probably should have asked for a little more information on the accommodations.

These are indeed hardy people, and while our hostess was overwhelmingly gracious and kind, the accommodations were admittedly far more sparse than we had anticipated. Think – spring camping near a cold mountain stream. The first morning came as quite a shock when I went to take a shower and learned there was no hot water. When the nights grew cold, we found that the homes are not heated and there were no extra blankets. The bathroom had a tiny mirror, but no electrical outlet. The bedroom had one frail-looking electric outlet, but no mirrors. There were no hooks or nails on which to hang wet towels or clothes. By mid-week we thought we were clever to wait until late afternoon to take warmer showers, and then we learned a pipe had burst and there was no water at all. Ha! The family clearly took all this in stride, so rather than getting bent out of shape, we took this opportunity to reflect on just how amazing it is to travel the world and experience life from a whole different angle.

And we couldn’t complain anyway – because what we lacked in accommodations, we made up in fine dining Antigua-style! We had no idea that Antigua was such an incredible culinary hot spot.

We ate at the Café Condesa twice -- once for breakfast and once for lunch. Both meals were thoroughly enjoyed. The courtyard is pleasant to eat in. Service is prompt but you can eat at your leisure,

Las Palmas has a nice ambiance, but is definitely more geared to tourists. Our meal was nice, but forgettable.

Tartines has a roof top patio overlooking the ruins. It has a lovely ambiance, terrific panini’s, and a killer nicoise salad. Wonderful!

Mezon Panza Verde has incredible food and service. I had a beet soup that was absolutely delicious and Ravioli Duxelles. I was in heaven. The macadamia parfait dessert didn’t quite live up to the appetizer and entrée, but by then I was dreamy anyway.

Panchoy came recommended by our tutors as a true Guatemalan restaurant. I had the Frijoles soup and it was delicious. We also ordered a chicken sandwich and, perhaps it was just that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, but we just couldn’t eat it as we had filled up on the wonderful tortillas.

Hector’s is a small little bar-type restaurant. It’s just the place to stop for a glass of wine. We had a caprese salad with roasted tomatoes that was fantastic. We only enjoyed happy hour here, but it was so good it really made us want to stay for dinner.

Ocelot is a Spanish Tapas restaurant with great Mojitos, wine, and tapas. My daughter and I shared the Tortillas Espanola, shrimp done two ways (diablo and aioli), and croquettes. They don’t serve any dessert and we were disappointed in that as the food was so delicious. It seems the place was always filled with happy people. We returned so often the waiter greeted us and anticipated our order.

Kaffee Fernados is another cute restaurant with the open courtyard. We were confused though because the soup read “Vegetable Soup” and we thought that it would have lots of different vegetables in it. We received a bowl of green liquid that tasted like a pea soup that had been strained. Not bad, but not too impressive either.

Casa Santo Domingo offers a beautiful castle-like setting. The bar where we had a relaxing glass of wine before dinner has a wonderful atmosphere. Unfortunately, dinner was a bit of a “miss.” When we were seated for dinner they turned the restaurant lights very bright, which we thought was just for reading the menu. We asked if they could turn the beaming lights down, but that never happened and it certainly affected the ambiance. At Casa Santo Domingo, we had the trilogy of soups and the shrimp and avocado appetizers. When my daughter finished her appetizer, the waiter whisked away her plate and brought her dinner, even though I was still working on my appetizer. Then the waiter stood anxiously by our table waiting for me to finish my appetizer. I thought this was pretty poor for such a highly rated restaurant. My daughter and I both ordered the sea bass for dinner and were under-whelmed by it. The service seems to need an overhaul. We split the fruit sorbets for dessert and they were a great ending to not such a great meal in such a beautiful place. Maybe our expectations were too high.

La Fonda is another cute little restaurant with a courtyard serving Guatemalan food. Based on my teachers recommendation, my mission was to try the Pepian Soup before it was time to go home. This is a mixture of roasted tomatoes and tomatillas, green squash seeds, chilis and other spices along with green beans and potatoes. An entirely different taste treat.

Posado Don Rodrigo was a happy surprise. We had no idea that we were going to be treated to a cultural show. What a fun time we had as we enjoyed our dinner. I had a small avocado stuffed with chicken that was delightful and a seafood crepe that was stuffed to overflowing with lobster, shrimp and a white fish. It was absolutely delicious. We were way too full at that point to attempt dessert.

Cafe Sky is a great roof top bar serving “cohitos” (coconut mojitos) that were good, and a white house wine that wasn’t so good. We certainly enjoyed the beautiful scenery from our roof top perch.

Finally we dined at the Welton. The atmosphere alone is worth experiencing. The open patio with a pool in its center is strewn with rose petals and draped by twinkling white lights. A gurgling fountain in the shape of a seashell provides soothing background sound. Out table was scattered with rose petals, and a pretty vase with flowers in a ladies headdress. Two waiters shared our table and were equally attentive. Oh and the food. The food was wonderful. My daughter had a chickpea soup and I had a hearts of palm salad with shrimp that they said was the house specialty. Both were very delicious. Then the waiters recommended a Guatemalan style fish dish and the Ravioli Duxelles with a cream sauce. Both were outstanding. Ice cream is made in house. We had the chocolate and cardamom and the peach with liquor as the perfect ending to our perfect meals.

For our final weekend, we stayed two nights at the boutique hotel D’Leyenda. The hotel is located only steps from Central Park. Leonardo the owner is quite a presence there. He is just wonderful and made sure that our stay was perfect. When we had an early flight (having to leave the hotel at 5 AM) he had our breakfast packed and ready for us. On the weekends, we did find that the music from the bar next to our hotel came right down the chimney and into our room . I fell asleep right away but my daughter said that the noise kept her from sleeping well. The room is beautiful, the beds are so comfortable, and having your own fireplace was quite a treat. Also a nice warm shower never felt so good.

From Antigua, we took one day-trip arranged by Elizabeth Bell to Lake Atilan. The trip gets you to another part of Guatemala and that in itself is an experience. The town of Panajachel has beautiful views of the volcanoes that surround the lake. The markets line the street with a great variety of goods. We ate lunch at Chez Alex and, although we were the only ones there, we enjoyed our meal. I had the tomato, onion, olive and caper salad with EVOO and a delicious balsamic vinegar dressing, along with a sopa de pescardo. My daughter had mussels in a white wine sauce. We had a window seat and were fascinated watching the ladies walk balancing their loads on their heads.

Overall, our trip to Antigua, Guatemala was absolutely fabulous and something I would recommend to all adventurous travelers. We found the Guatemalan and Mayan people to be extraordinarily friendly, gracious, and helpful. The food was absolutely phenomenal. It’s a culinary hot spot. The shopping is fantastic, and the quality of the locally-made products (such as wood carvings, jewelry, and fabrics) is exceptional. We always felt very safe walking around Antigua. The people there certainly seem to welcome tourists, take pride in their own food, culture, and heritage, and know how to enjoy life. We brought books and gifts to Antigua; we brought home memories and experiences that will last a lifetime.

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