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Erupting Volcanoes and Archaic Beauty in Antigua, Guatemala

On the final day of our voluntourism trip to Guatemala, we were able to spend a day sightseeing in Antigua, Guatemala. I had never even heard of this jewel of a city before my trip but I am so glad that it was introduced to me! We had a short drive from San Lucas to Antigua then checked into our hotel, Hotel Sor Juana, as soon as we arrived.

Hotel Sor Juana is a lovely boutique hotel chocked full of charm and history. It was built in the 1500’s and the owners did a fantastic job blending the character from that era with many modern conveniences and style. The hotel had a beautiful courtyard garden and a cozy roof top terrace with stunning views of the two most prominent volcanoes in that area, Agua and Fuego.

While checking in, the owner told us that it is very easy to get lost in Antigua so he gave us all business cards with the hotel’s address on it. He said that the best way to tell if you are still in Antigua is to look at the streets. All of the streets in Antigua are cobble stone and he said “If you don’t see cobble stone, you are no longer in Antigua” and then advised us to stay in Antigua for safety. Luckily, Pastor John had been to Antigua prior to this trip and knew his way around very well so we were in good hands! After dropping off our luggage, we set out to explore the city!

Our first stop was at a jewelry store/museum that specialized in beautiful jade pieces. Antigua is known for its jade so this was neat to see, although, too rich for my blood so I didn’t purchase anything here. Next, we did some sight-seeing and walking around as we made our way to a lookout spot that Pastor John wanted to show us called Cerro de la Cruz, which translates to Hill of the Cross. Along the way, my friend Beca and I stopped to take about a hundred thousand photos of the charming Spanish style architecture that was abundantly available in this quaint city, as well as photos of vibrant flowers, churches, and a lot of beautiful wooden and wrought iron doors. Both of us LOVE photography and couldn’t get enough of this gorgeous city that offered photo ops literally around every corner.

After a quick 10-15 minute walk from the city center, we met up with Megan, who was the missionary that we had met while working in the village of Zapote. She lived in Antigua on the weekends and offered to show us around. Soon, we found ourselves at the trail head for Cerro de la Cruz.

The hike to the top is pretty moderate as the trail is paved, but still gets your heart rate going! Stupidly, I had not brought along a bottle of water, but lucky for me, there are vendors at the top that sell cold bottles of water! The view from the lookout was second to none! Across from us, Agua Volcano majestically towered over the city which sprawled beneath us as we stood at the top of Cerro de la Cruz.

Aptly named, there was a huge cross at the center of the lookout. Here, we had communion and prayed as a group. It was our last day together and I thought this was a really neat idea that our group leaders had and such a powerful experience to share with one another, and especially neat to share with my dad.

There were a few street vendors set up at the top. Eager to buy some souvenirs for family, my dad and I trailed off to see what goodies we could find. I found a man that was selling necklaces and earrings that were made out of the local currency, quetzales. My mom owns a store in our hometown called Transformations Art Barn where she sells upcycled, or repurposed, items that have been “transformed” from junk to treasures. So when I travel, I am always trying to find gifts for her that are things that have been repurposed from items that are native to the region in which I am travelling. I thought this jewelry repurposed from old coins was a perfect gift for her, and they were so neat that I bought my sister and I a set as well!

After working up an appetite on our hike, we headed back down to the city and decided on a restaurant called Café Condesa.

Every building I walked past or entered into while in Antigua was simply stunning and full of charm and this café was no exception. I immediately noticed that the menu offered all day breakfast. I am a HUGE fan of breakfast and brunch so I decided on the Quiche Lorraine which had bacon and swiss with fresh avocado and was to die for! So delicious! This restaurant used all organic ingredients and served only Antiguan coffee, and that too was amazing! They served it with chocolate and cinnamon, which is one of my favorite ways to have coffee, so this was a gem of a place to find!

After an amazing brunch, our group followed Megan to one of the markets to do some more shopping. On the way there, she explained to us that it would be tempting to stop at the booths as soon as we walked in, but to bypass them and go straight to the back. The booths in the back pay less rent for their spaces so they are able to offer lower prices, plus she knew the owners of most of them and knew that they would offer us good prices because we were with her. I had been eyeing all of the beautiful, colorful textiles that we had seen throughout the day and I wanted to find some more gifts for Dustin and my family, so I decided to try my luck at negotiating in one of the booths. I ended up with a beautiful quilted blanket and matching pillow covers, a machete for Dustin (since I kept seeing guys in Guatemala carrying these), a couple of T-Shirts, 4 necklaces, an ornament for our travel tree, a magnet, a canvas painting of Antigua, and a large purse made out of a coffee sack to carry it all in for less than $80! I was able to negotiate a lower price on every single item that I had purchased and walked away feeling pretty good about the money that I had saved!

Not wanting to carry all of our purchases across town to our hotel, we flagged down a few of the little mini taxis we had seen all over town to drive us back. Each taxi could cram in 3 people at most in the back seat so my dad, Beca and I squeezed into one and the others divided into groups of 3 and we all headed back. People drive a little crazy in Guatemala and Antigua was no different so the ride back was entertaining and a little bumpy due to the cobble stone streets, but all in all a fun local experience! And it only ended up costing us a few quetzales!

After freshening up a bit and dropping off our things at the hotel, we headed back out to check out the ruins behind La Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande. We were pushing our luck a little, as it was near closing time when we arrived but we were able to see the majority of the property and get a lot of good photos of it before we were kicked out We even got to see a monk walking around inside! The ruins were gorgeous and the grounds were beautifully landscaped with lush vegetation. With Agua sitting in the backdrop, it made for a lot of really nice photos. I later found out that scenes from the movie Tarzan had been filmed at this location.

After almost overstaying our welcome, we took one last glimpse of the beautiful ruins and decided to walk over to see the famous arch that Antigua is known for, the Santa Catalina Arch.

If you do an online search for Antigua, Guatemala, this arch will most definitely be found in the search results! Along the way, we stopped in a chocolate museum and tasted some really awesome chocolate candy and even tried some chocolate tea, which was surprisingly tasty!

Beca and I found a woman selling beautiful scarves on the street as we approached the arch so we made one last souvenir purchase.

By this time, it was starting to get dark so the guys in the group kept a close eye on all of us girls. I think we started to annoy them with all of the stops we made to take photos, but I never know if I will have the opportunity to return to a place when I visit so I like to capture it as vividly as possible by taking lots of photographs throughout my trip. We finally made it to the arch and it was lit up beautifully, which made me happy that we had visited at night. However, in the daylight, you can see the volcano behind it so I’m sure that it is a beautiful sight no matter what!

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped to see another beautiful baroque church called Iglesia de la Merced. There was a wedding taking place when we arrived and outside, another couple prepared for their turn to say their I Do’s. It was neat seeing two sets of couples at once all dressed up for their big day!

For dinner, we ate at a small pizza parlor just down the street from our hotel and then gathered back at the hotel on the roof top terrace for one final Bible Study as a group.

After we finished our devotions, Beca and I along with my dad and a man named Eric who we had become good friends with, sat and talked a bit longer. They live in California and we live in Michigan and although we were anxious to get home and see our families, we had all become good friends so it was a little bittersweet having to say goodbye. Throughout the entire trip I had heard that Fuego Volcano often erupted and although we had seen it smoking while on our way to Zapote a few days prior, I had not been able to see any lava and I really wanted to see it erupt before I left. I had been joking with everyone that I was going to stay up all night and sit on the rooftop until I saw lava! As the four of us were sitting there talking about God and sharing our favorite experiences throughout the trip, Eric excitedly started yelling for us to turn around and look at the volcano. As soon as I turned around, I saw that Fuego was finally erupting for us on our last night! Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos of it but it will be forever vivid in my mind. I thought of it as sort of a parting gift from God in thanks for the work we had done for Him that week. The others had already gone downstairs to settle in for bed and when they heard us all start yelling and screaming in excitement, a couple of them ran up as fast as they could to try and get a glimpse as well. I think Mike was the only one that made it up in time because he ran up to the roof in his underwear rather than getting dressed first, which was hilarious, but allowed him to catch the view! Seeing the lava shoot up out of the volcano and run down the side of the mountain was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life and I will never forget that moment! Overall, sharing that sight and the entire trip with my dad was really special to me. After finally getting my wish, I was all smiles and felt like I could finally let the trip come to an end.

After going to bed around midnight, and getting only a couple hours of sleep, my dad, Mike, and I caught a taxi around 330am that drove us an hour to the airport in Guatemala City. We had an early flight around 6:30am that would allow us to get back to Chicago at a decent time so we decided that getting up so early wouldn’t be all bad. The sun was starting to come up as we took off from the airport, allowing us to see the area that we had missed as we had flown in because it had been dark out. There were several volcanoes in sight and while flying to El Salvador for a quick stop, we flew right over a couple of volcanoes and were able to see right down inside! It was such a neat perspective to get on something that is usually towering above us!

As we approached San Salvador, we flew out over the Pacific a little. This is only the second time in my life that I have seen the Pacific Ocean so it was fun to see it again, even if only from an airplane window.

When we landed in San Salvador, we had a very limited time to run across the airport, go through security and make it to our terminal. As we were waiting in line for security, we could see our flight start to board. We starting getting a little anxious knowing that if we missed this flight, we would have to spend the night in the airport, as there were no more flights to Chicago that day! We made it just by the skin of our teeth and arrived back in Chicago a few hours later. When we got off the plane, I was really anxious to get through customs so I could see Dustin! When we walked through the doors, I didn’t see him anywhere. I was pretty bummed for an instant until he ran up behind me with a bouquet of beautiful orange roses and gave me a hug and a kiss.

It had only been 8 days apart, but I was soooo excited to see him! Guatemala was an incredible trip and I will forever cherish the memories made with my dad that week.

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