Travel Diary : Antigua, Guatemala

1, 530 metres above sea level and nestled by emerald mountains {some volcanic}, Antigua seems to hide from the encroachment of the outside world. Perhaps this apparent isolation is effective because Guatemala's oldest town doesn't attract the average type of tourist...that is, not the sort of tourist taken with sprawling resorts and all the luxuries they offer, luxuries usually off limits to locals. Antigua attracts the type of tourist who wants to experience a place in its raw, take me as I am-ness. There is no piece of Antigua cordoned off to create a utopian illusion for visitors. You do not come here if your idea of getting away is being hidden from the less than 'sexy' conditions that comprise  daily life for most people in this world. 

 Yet, you will discover unquantifiable wealth here , in the smiles that make you feel valued and in the countless invitations to share food and laughs with people who welcome you like old friends.  You will find beauty all around you, whether it be in colourful colonial buildings draped by exotic plants, in the rural landscape or in the exquisite textiles woven by Mayan women. You will feel recharged by afternoon rain showers and nights of sleep uninterrupted by the going-on's of big city life. 

And as you leave, reluctantly and with a full heart, you will be so thankful that places like Antigua still exist and that they exist off 'hottest places to visit' lists! And you will hope that when you return, you'll find its modest charm still in tact.

Read a good book while drinking a cup of Mayan hot chocolate at Y Tú Piña También, an adorable boho cafe that serves breakfast all  day.

Collect gorgeous Mayan textiles and other arts/crafts from El Mercado Municipal. Feel free to haggle with the female merchants but be respectful and mindful that business with tourists is their primary source of income. You will obtain something created with great care, skill and history.

Drink  Ilegal Mezcal and other Latin American concoctions at Café No Sé, a gritty, grungy bar. As a live band supplies the musical ambience, you'll chat it up with kindred spirits from other lands. (To the ladies) you may even be lucky to have a handsome, nomadic Japanese artist draw your portrait by candle light. 

Learn the history of Antigua directly from those whose families have lived here for generations. Old Antiguans are proud of their town and will gladly share stories about its past with you.

Climb lush terrain to see one of Guatemala's three active volcanos. Your somewhat arduous climb will be rewarded by spectacular views, and as a bonus, you'll have the unique experience of eating marshmallows at a crater. (Tours can easily be arranged through the area's hotels/hostels and at the tour agencies scattered throughout the town).

Browse centuries-old and modern creations at the Jade Museum,  which is dedicated to the history of Jade in the Mayan World. There is no entrance fee but donations are welcome. There is also a gift shop carrying pieces made on site.