We enjoyed our three weeks in Antigua, Guatemala back in October so much that when we left, we decided to return there for Christmas and New Year – and we have to say a huge thank you to our families, because thanks to their extremely generous Christmas donations we were able to set ourselves a separate budget for the festive season and enjoy some of the many bars and restaurants that Antigua has to offer!
However, our journey from Quetzaltenango to Antigua did not set our Christmas festivities off to the best start. On the very first bus we boarded the bus lurched forward as Dan was putting a bag into the overhead luggage racks, causing him to trap and dislocate the end of his finger. We then were squashed for over two hours on our first bus from Quetzaltenango to Chimaltenango while his finger rapidly swelled and started turning a worrying bluish-purple colour. To make matters worse, this was by far the most crowded and uncomfortable bus we had been on so far – it was in fact so crowded that the bus driver eventually stopped picking people up, which is basically unheard of in Guatemala. When we arrived at Chimaltenango to catch our connecting bus to Antigua it was the most almighty and inhuman struggle to extricate ourselves and our bags from the bus and onto the street, while the bus driver, true to form on chicken buses, barely even stopped the bus.
Luckily our bus to Antigua didn’t take too long to arrive and was marginally less crowded, and within 45 minutes we were in Antigua. We had booked a private room at Hostal Los Amigos, the place we stayed originally when we got to Antigua the first time around, and our old pal Eddie was there to greet us when we arrived. He had even reserved our original room for us!
On our first night in Antigua we were surprised to discover that Jack, an old school friend of Dan’s, was in town for the night before heading off on a group tour. After dropping off our bags we went to meet him and ended up doing a mini bar crawl around Antigua, culminating in a giant pizza and two litres of beer for Q175 in a tiny little restaurant called Sunshine Grill, owned by a Canadian expat.
The next day, to nurse our festive sore heads, we decided to pay a visit to Pappy’s BBQ. This restaurant serves Texas BBQ style meat platters, combined with epic sides like BBQ beans and slaw, and we loved it so much that we went back there again a few days later for exactly the same meal!
Just before Christmas our friends Chris and Arunava from Xela rolled into town, after doing an epic hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan. The night before Christmas Eve we went out with them on a little bar crawl, including a visit to an Irish pub called The Snug – a tiny little hole in the wall place that truly lives up to its name – after which Dan and Chris decided to venture out to Antigua’s infamous Pool Party. The Pool Party is the stuff of legend on the backpacker scene in Antigua, and everyone you meet seems to have a story to tell about it – it’s the place people head to after all the other bars and clubs in Antigua shut down at 1 a.m. Dan wishes he could remember exactly where the party was – the journey was a blurry 20 minute ride in a pickup truck/shuttle from the centre of town – but once he and Chris arrived they were certainly in for a very unique party experience. The Pool Party does indeed take place in a swimming pool – but one that is empty of water, with a DJ booth down one end and a bar at the other. As the sun started coming up, Dan and Chris realised that they had incredible views of the sunrise over the surrounding volcanoes – but unfortunately they didn’t take any photos!
Christmas Day dawned bright and incredibly hot, and we began our day on the hostel roof terrace hastily erecting as many umbrellas as possible in order to create a shady space where we and the other gringos could drink our Christmas beers. Afterwards we headed down to The Londoner Pub, just around the corner from our hostel, which was serving traditional Christmas roast dinners – something that we had been excited about for weeks! The food was great – and hats off to the chef who was working the kitchen on his own that day! – and the atmosphere was brilliant, with loads of Brits and other travellers gathered together, listening to classic Christmas tunes while munching on our Brussel’s sprouts and roast potatoes.
After recovering from the indulgences of Christmas Day, we decided to treat ourselves to an amazing meal at Casa Escobar, an incredible steak restaurant that also wasn’t too far from our hostel. It was the first slap up meal we’d been out for since leaving the UK, and it definitely felt a little strange compared to the taco stands and street food that we had been eating up until then! But it was a really lovely treat, and after two bottles of wine and three incredible food courses we practically had to be rolled back to our hostel!
We had one last day of being touristy in Antigua before New Year’s Eve, and finally made it up to Cerro de la Cruz, the mirador that overlooks the city – something that we had tried and failed to do several times during our original 3 week stay in October! Afterwards we wandered down to the Convento Santa Clara, ruins of an old convent that was built in 1700 and then gradually destroyed over the course of three earthquakes in 1717, 1773 and 1874.
New Years Eve was the busiest night we had seen in Antigua, with crowds of people milling about in the streets, setting off fireworks, enjoying street food and listening to music. We started out our night at Bigfoot Hostel with some friends we made at The Londoner on Christmas Day, Robbie and Alice. After a few rounds of beer pong they went over to the party at Tropicana Hostel while Dan and I went to the Travel Menu pub for a few drinks, before seeing in the new year and watching a decadent firework display from the street outside. It was definitely a very memorable Christmas and New Year, and we are so excited for the adventures we have in store for 2017!