A Visitor's Guide to Culture in Antigua, Guatemala

A Visitor's Guide to Culture in Antigua, Guatemala

What to do to experience Antigua’s Spanish and Maya history By: Melissa Karlin
<p>Barter for traditional Maya handicrafts in Antigua. // © 2015 IStock</p><p>Feature image (above): Antigua offers a blend of baroque architecture...

Barter for traditional Maya handicrafts in Antigua. // © 2015 IStock

Feature image (above): Antigua offers a blend of baroque architecture and Maya flavor. // © 2015 IStock

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Flanked by mountains and three volcanoes, Antigua, Guatemala, was the colonial Spanish capital of Central America until earthquakes all but destroyed the town in the 18th century. However, the UNESCO World Heritage Site now thrives as a vibrant living ruin. With a mix of baroque colonial architecture and Maya flavor, Antigua lets visitors experience the uniquely Guatemalan result of these two cultures colliding.

Guatemalan cuisine is a mix of Maya and Spanish traditions, from native foods such as black beans and corn to Spanish imports including rice and chicken. Los Tres Tiempos in the heart of Antigua offers a contemporary take on this fusion. 

Just past the iconic Santa Catalina archway, the restaurant is bright, modern and minimal, with plenty of outdoor seating. The menu features Guatemalan-inspired cocktails and lively interpretations of classic dishes including pepian (a traditional spicy meat stew made with pepitas) and tamalitos (small tamales). Try the salsas and grilled meats served with rice and guacamole.


Wandering through the main square of Antigua, one will encounter a number of street merchants offering scarves, blankets and other handicrafts at low prices. No matter how affordable they may seem, the quality can be questionable. 

Instead, check out Mercado de Artesanias el Carmen. Here you’ll find a maze of traditional Maya handicrafts from table runners to jade jewelry and toys. The 123 vendors featured are all local and part of a handicrafts association, keeping the quality at a vastly greater level than similar products available for purchase on the street. 

Keep in mind that bartering is expected here. There are tales of negotiations so magnificent that the buyer received half off the original asking price.


There are many hotels housed inside historical buildings across Antigua, including the beautiful Mansion de la Luz Hotel Boutique. With seven suites, including a two-story master suite, this boutique hotel offers a relaxing and unique Spanish Colonial-meets-contemporary atmosphere, with exposed wooden beams and rainfall showerheads. Maya handicrafts are scattered throughout the rooms and communal spaces, complementing magnificent views of Agua Volcano. Its location offers convenient access to many historical sites, and the main square and Santa Catalina arch are just a 10-minute walk away.


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