Antigua, Guatemala is known for gorgeous jade, being the last true and untouched colonial city in Latin America, earthquake ruins, Salsa and Spanish classes. But I bet you didn’t know that the artisan markets here are more colorful and better priced than Chichicastenango (the largest market in Central America). And that it’s filled with a multitude of luxurious, romantic restaurants that have world class chefs preparing dishes comparable to Manhattan’s most expensive eats. Here are my insider tips for where to shop, eat and stay in Antigua:
Antigua insider tips
Where to shop in Antigua
Jade was considered to be the sacred stone of the Maya and is still considered that in most places when you shop for it in Antigua. You can easily buy a jewelry jade set at one of the markets. However, for the top-end quality, I really recommend sticking to the reputable stores along Arc Street where you’ll find the most amazing selection of jade jewelry and sculptures and where you can obtain a certificate of authenticity.
That said, markets are the thing to do here for all other shopping. You can literally shop, bargain and shop some more for your entire trip. Here are two of my favorite markets, where you can get the best prices and have the most fun bargaining:
The market next to Capuchin Ruins is open daily, but on weekends the vendors bring in the extra goodies and line them up along the streets. The colors of Guatemalan art bring life to any street, but it’s even more fun when you are shopping right next to one of the most famous earthquake ruins in the city.
The Artisan Market next to the terminal and Antigua’s Central Market is the best market for Guatemalan typical goods, silver jewelry and lots more. First I recommend starting off at the Central Market which runs parallel to it, so you can see what the locals shop for on a daily basis and get a feel of the chaos and randomness of goods and energy that is pumping through the stalls. Then make your way over to the Artisan market which is housed inside a one level building. Here the chaos subdues and you can enjoy walking from one clean stall to another bargaining for beautiful housewares to dolls to candles.
Romantic restaurants in Antigua
After a good day of shopping, what’s the best way to unwind? Eating out! I’ve heard of couples renting out a portion of a restaurant for a super romantic night for two. Normally, in the Western World this would practically mean getting out a second mortgage on your house, especially if it’s considered a five star or a Michelin rated restaurant. Not in Antigua! I’ve included below two terrific hotel/restaurants which offer both luxurious accommodations as well as fabulous dining experiences:
Panza Verde Mason
Panza Verde Mason is a charming hotel/restaurant that’s as romantic as they get! Panza Verde is the only restaurant in Antigua that doesn’t permit anyone under the age of 16. Being a mom of two little boys under 8 years old (whom my world revolves around), I can’t even tell you how delightful it is to have peace – even if it’s for a few hours.
Here’s what you get – your own personal waiter, private table adorned with roses and candles in a room called the Dome Room. It’s a section on a terrace, away from the main dining room, with a domed roof, overlooking all of Antigua. The food is unbelievably delicious prepared by a retired Swiss Chef, with a great choice of wines from around the world.
This hotel/restaurant is actually right in front of the Capuchin Ruins, so after shopping at the market you can swing on over. The package is very similar, and you get a choice to eat in the main dining room, a private room, or on the terrace, which is what we chose. The food was high quality though it’s hard to top the Panza Verde experience. However, the experience of sitting on the terrace was just amazing.
Note: For the couples’ night, it’s highly recommended to make reservations one or two nights before hand. But both restaurants offer romantic and cosy dining. Before living in Antigua, my husband and I travelled to many parts of Central America, but I have to say that this is the first time we’ve had such romantic experiences while immersing ourselves in the local cultures and traditions.
About this guest writer
Marina K. Villatoro is an expat living with her family and traveling in Central America for over 10 years.