Living in Antigua Guatemala – Sample PDF
By Rich Polanco
By Rich Polanco
View of Antigua
from Cerro de la Cruz
Publication Date: June 2013
Version 1.0 ©Copyright 2013 - UnwireMe Media
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To my wife Siomara,
because journeys are
infinitely better when shared
with the one you love.
Map of Antigua
Map of Antigua's
discover everything he could about the country.
From his first trip, he was determined to criss-cross
the country and see for himself the wonderful sights
he had only read about. It was also on his first visit
to Guatemala that he first set foot in Antigua,
vowing to one day live there.
Two short years later, Rich finally arrived in
Guatemala to fulfill the vow he had made to himself
two years earlier.
In 2007, Rich met Siomara, a beautiful Guatemalan
woman who would capture his heart. Little did Rich
know that this fateful encounter would be the
springboard to the adventure he later embarked
When Siomara returned to her native country, Rich
followed, first visiting Guatemala in 2010. As is
Rich's nature, he quickly embarked on a mission to
It was during his travels to Guatemala that Rich
discovered that what he wanted to do - immerse
himself in local cultures, their history, and step off
the tourist trail - had a name : Slow Travel. That's
how this project, the book you're now reading, and
the site he created to document his journey,
UnwireMe.com, were born, out of a desire to help
people travel and experience the world on their
Currently, Rich is honing his writing and
photography skills in Antigua, as he plots where his
slow travel adventures will take him next.
Tap the Arch icon on any page to be
directed back to the Table of Contents.
Introduction: Overview of Antigua
. . . p.8
Chapter 12: Transportation . . . . . . . p.250
Chapter 1: Culturally . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.20
Chapter 13: Children in Antigua . . . . p.302
Chapter 2: Safety . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.44
Chapter 14: Pets in Antigua
Chapter 3: Cost of Living . . . . . . . . . . . p.64
Chapter 15: Medical Care . . . . . . . . . p.334
Chapter 4: Housing Overview . . . . . . . p.98
Chapter 16: Banking in Antigua . . . . p.350
Chapter 5: North of Antigua . . . . . . . p.110
Chapter 17: Visas & Residency . . . . . p.360
Chapter 6: East of Antigua . . . . . . . . . p.116
Chapter 18: Foreign Vehicles . . . . . . p.388
Chapter 7: South of Antigua . . . . . . . p.122
Appendix: World Embassies
Chapter 8: Southwest of Antigua . . . p.146
Appendix: Post Office Rates . . . . . . . p.440
Chapter 9: Cost of Utilities . . . . . . . . p.176
Chapter 10: Cost of Food . . . . . . . . . p.194
Appendix: Important Numbers . . . . . p.432
Chapter 11: Phone, Net, & Mail . . . . p.222
Appendix: Restaurant Listings
. . . . . . . p.320
. . . . . . . p.396
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.442
. . . . . p.434
Antigua Guatemala, Panchoy Valley
Under Santa Catalina Arch,
Arch Street, Antigua
Overview of Antigua
Cerro Santo Domingo
Welcome to Antigua Guatemala, the best-preserved
colonial city in the Americas. Referred to as "La
Antigua" by locals and just "Antigua" by foreigners
and expats, this city was once Guatemala's capital.
Spanish conquistadores first established a seat of
government in Tecpán. This settlement lasted a little
over three years, as the Kaqchiquel Maya eventually
decided conquistadores made for lousy neighbors.
The enslavement by the Spanish of the indigenous
population and subsequent burning of their capital,
Iximché, to the ground probably soured their
relation. The Spanish couldn't defeat the indigenous
Maya, and wisely, to their credit, decided to move
far, far away. They chose to build their new capital
near what is present-day Ciudad Vieja. This
settlement was doomed, though they didn't know it
at the time, because of a lagoon that had formed
atop the crater of extinct Agua Volcano. In 1541,
earthquakes and heavy rains loosened a side of the
volcano, sending down a mudslide that wiped out
most of the city.
8 | Overview of Antigua
I suppose that being persistent is a prized trait in a
conquistador, because shortly after the catastrophe,
the Spanish went right ahead and built a new
capital only four miles away, on the site of presentday Antigua Guatemala. Back then, Antigua was
known as La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de
Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemala.
Antigua remained the capital of most of what is now
known as Central America until several earthquakes
destroyed the city in 1773-1774.
Living in Antigua Guatemala | 9
Finally, Government officials decided enough was
enough. Not wanting to wait for another
earthquake, an asteroid, or whatever other
catastrophe nature had in store, they decided it was
time to move the capital much further away. Which
is how the capital ended up at its current location in
Guatemala City. And in case you're wondering,
disaster did strike in the new capital. A massive
earthquake destroyed much of Guatemala City in
1976. If you're keen on patterns, these sort of things
seem to happen roughly every 200 years.
Antigua was supposed to be abandoned when the
capital moved. In fact, many buildings were torn
down in the city and used as raw materials in the
construction of the new capital. But a few brave
souls stayed behind - a booming coffee trade had a
hand on that - and slowly but surely, the Antigua, or
"ancient", capital was rebuilt again.
Today, Antigua is a UNESCO Heritage Site and
wonderfully restored city. As the pictures on this
book will humbly attempt to show, Antigua features
dozens of postcard-worthy scenes. Incidentally, it
was its beauty that first attracted me to Antigua as a
destination worth exploring thoroughly. I think
Antigua is a wonderful place, not just as tourist
destination, but to live as well. Many people have
their own reasons for calling Antigua home.
10 | Overview of Antigua
Affordability and quality of life are often atop the
list. Although "affordable" is a relative term when
comparing Antigua to the rest of Central America.
Antigua offers many First-world comforts - which
many are happy to pay high prices for. But as a
cheapskate - though I prefer the term "bargain
hunter" - like me has found out, there are deals to
be had if one is willing to live like the locals do,
instead of trying to replicate a First-world lifestyle.
The advantages of living in Antigua are many. I
particularly enjoy Antigua's:
*Small Town Charm: Antigua is an easy-to-walk city,
with cobblestone streets and colorfully-painted
colonial-style houses. Parque Central (Central Park)
is the hub of town and a favorite gathering spot of
tourist and locals alike. There are periods of VERY
high tourist traffic here, particularly during the
"Cuaresma" (Lent), "Pascua" (Easter) and "Semana
Santa" (Holy Week) religious celebrations. After
April, Antigua returns - for the most part - to its laidback, small-town atmosphere.
*Active Cultural Scene: The city of Antigua
frequently hosts art exhibits, music concerts, movie
screenings, and plenty other cultural activities to
keep everyone busy every weekend. Live music
Living in Antigua Guatemala | 11
Plays at Municipal Building
is easy to find every week - La Peña del Sol Latino is
a local favorite - as are traditional Marimba music
performers and others who perform around Parque
Central most weekends. Concerts are also staged
throughout the year, though mainly during the drier
months (November through April). Last January
(2013), for example, Antigua hosted a concert by
Lila Downs, a Grammy-award winner. There's
always a cultural activity going on here. Check
UnwireMeTV for a sample.
*Wonderful Climate: Save for rainy season, which
12 | Overview of Antigua
starts in May and ends in October, Antigua enjoys a
dry climate and average temperatures in the 70s. Its
perpetual spring-like climate, a few degrees cooler
than Guatemala City's, makes the need for heating
or air-conditioning unnecessary.
*Food Scene: Because of all the tourists that pour in
from all over the world, Antigua boasts a variety of
restaurants to satisfy most people. From local
Guatemalan fare, to sushi, Thai dishes, French
cuisine, Argentinian steaks, Indian and German
food... there's something for everyone. Best of all,
Living in Antigua Guatemala | 13
Because of these reasons, Antigua has been
increasingly drawing the attention from people
wanting to experience life in Central America. It
definitely has the upper-hand right now over other
expensive and over-saturated expat locations
(locations in Costa Rica and Panama come to mind).
Is Antigua the perfect place to live?
Nope. But no place can honestly claim to be
anyway. Show me the ideal place and I'll find you
someone who's already sick of it.
most of these restaurants are within walking
distance of each other. Antigua packs a good punch
for a small town and it seems as if there as new
restaurants opening almost every week. Along with
Lake Atitlan, Antigua benefits from its status as
Guatemala's premier tourist destination. Being
designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has
spurred local government to pour resources into
helping Antigua maintain a tidy appearance. Though
"being safe" is a relative term in Guatemala, Antigua
does have a bigger Police presence than most towns
and it's one of the safest cities in Guatemala.
Do religious displays offend you? Antigua will
annoy you on a weekly basis. Even though I'm not
of the Catholic persuasion, religious processions
don't bother me. To me, they're part of the culture
and come included with the "living overseas"
If crystal clear, white-sand beaches are your dream,
look elsewhere. The closest "nice" beach to Antigua
is literally a country away, in neighboring El
Salvador. Then again, having the most beautiful lake
in the world, Lake Atitlan, only a couple hours away
is a nice trade-off.
Being an expat, even a short-term one interested in
14 | Overview of Antigua
Living in Antigua Guatemala | 15
slow travel, is very different from being a tourist.
And it's the differences that make the world the
interesting place it is.
Calle del Arco (Arch Street),
With this book, I hope to give you a lay of the of the
land: what things actually cost (beyond basic
housing costs listed online), what the
neighborhoods are like (what many real estate
agents won't tell you), and the little things that will
make your long-term stay here a pleasant one. If
looking at Antigua as a potential retirement place,
you'll also find what I hope is valuable information
that will help you in your decision.
While the exchange rate from dollar to quetzal
varies, it normally hovers at about Q8 (quetzales)
for $1 (dollar) - at the time of writing more like
Q7.75 to $1. I use the Q8 to $1 rate when I shop, as
it's easier to do the math in my head that way. It's
also the exchange rate I use throughout the book.
Antigua is full of wonders and is a great place to
explore. Every street, every house, every church ruin
has a story to tell. What may look like simple
houses from the street may conceal amazing
courtyards that are bound to transport you into
another world. Its people are special too,
particularly those belonging to indigenous
communities. They are some of the most humble,
16 | Overview of Antigua
sincere people you'll ever meet. There's a reason
why many visitors become inspired to volunteer for
causes that improve the lives of the poorer residents
living in communities surrounding Antigua.
If you have nagging questions about Antigua, e-mail
me at [email protected] and I'll be glad
to answer as best I can. I'd also appreciate any
comments about typos or errors you may spot - they
bug me tremendously too. I hope your stay in
Antigua is as magical for you as it has been for me.
Living in Antigua Guatemala | 17
Wearing a Traje Típico
Antigua is an anomaly as far as the rest of
Guatemala is concerned. A well-preserved,
beautiful colonial town, that happens to have the
most cosmopolitan atmosphere in all of Guatemala.
This town, Lake Atitlan, and the temple pyramids of
Tikal are the crown jewels of Guatemalan tourism.
Antigua's advantage over the other two is that it's
the closest of the three to the capital and its
international airport. It also has the best
infrastructure to handle tourism. Nowhere else in
Central America will you find a place with the
varied food scene and attractions that Antigua has in
such a compact area. And Antigua hasn't lost the
traditions that make it uniquely Guatemalan.
Still, the influx of tourists doesn't sit well with
everyone. Like with any popular expat town, many
foreigners have flocked here, invested heavily,
subsequently driving up the price of real estate. A
lot. This has brought to surface grumblings from
some Guatemalans, who resent being priced out of
the market in their own country by foreigners.
20 | Culturally
Dance of the Old Folks