ADD TO LISTAntigua, or La Antigua Guatemala meaning "Old Guatemala" is located in the central highlands of Guatemala, and is most famous for its Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture and for a number of beautiful colonial church ruins. This city is often chosen for its central location to explore other parts of Guatemala as its smaller and safer than Guatemala City.
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I would like to ask some about Guatemala. I am thinking of volunteering with Mayan children in some communities outside Antigua, teaching English and Spanish with a program called Global Vision International. I will be living with a host family in town and traveling daily to the area of Santa Maria de Jesus. I am a 32 year old female, am married, but will be going alone until my husband joins me 4 weeks into my trip. What is your opinion of a female traveler living solo in Antigua? I like to go out, hike, eat good food, and explore and would not be one to sit in my host families house all night knitting. That said, I'm not a complete idiot and know not to walk alone at night after being at a bar, etc. However, each weekend I would like to check out the sights and head to some of the great locations within such an easy drive from Antigua. Any thoughts you have for me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
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Travel Tips from people who've been to Antigua Guatemala
Photographers take note!!! Guatemalans are very colorful people and they do not mind posing for pictures, but expect to give them a dollar or so for doing so. Also, be aware that someone started a rumor that is making it very difficult to take pictures of kids whose parents are not around. Just as we tell our kids not to get in cars with strangers, many Guatemalans tell their children not to pose for pictures because, so the rumor goes, the pictures are used to "market" kids to foreign parents and once a "sale" is made, the photographer comes back and abducts the child. It sounds pretty ridiculous, but apparently it strikes enough of a chord with Guatemalan families to cause alarm. Considering how many abducted children in the US disappear without a trace (should we do a TV show about this? Just kidding!), the Guatemalan parents precautions might not be entirely out of place. So, if you want to take pictures of kids, ask where their parents are and if they are anywhere close by, ask the parents. Otherwise, it is perhaps better to just let the moment go. I did however, convince two girls in very colorful costume to pose, but only after I gave them some money. One looked straight at the camera but she did not smile (perhaps because she did not want to look too cute and abductable. The second one kept her face in profile and she also did not smile while I took the picture. However, when I was done, they smiled and waved goodbye. They had been sent to the local market to sell some fresh produce from their land and they went back to tending business. A couple of days later I saw a mother with two daughters,a truly colorful picture opportunity. I asked the mother and she agreed. I took some superb pictures of the two girls and then of the girls with their mother. She was selling home-woven shawls and I bought some as souvenirs. It was a good transaction and a good memory.
Climbing Pacaya Volcano
This popular guided adventure will surely make your day. However, here are a few tips from someone who has done it.
Make sure you wear sturdy hiking boots. Sneakers, sandals and the like will make you suffer and possibly cut the adventure short.
At the start of the ascent, young (very young) local boys and girls will offer you rustic walking sticks*. It might actually be a good idea to buy one or two from these enterprising youngsters. 15-20 minutes later you will praise yourself for that decision. By the way, the walking stick market will move upwards with the group. Be forewarned that the price of the sticks (and donkey "taxis") rises much steeper than the volcano slope.
The most beautiful time of the day to be on the top is the sunset. Pack a flashlight in anticipation of a descent in darkness. Use your sane judgment about your capabilities. The hardened lava bits turn into a fast, downward speeding escalator, which becomes especially dangerous during the dusk hours.
The guides let the tourists approach the very edges of boiling lava pits. Those edges, at times, are just thin layers of hardened crust, ready to break off, sending the viewer into lava. So, again, use your own judgment.
* The same boys and girls will await your descent and persuasively beg you to donate the walking sticks back to them. So, you can regard this as "sort of a rental".
Plan ahead, but don't stress out. The hotel I was planning to stay at was closed and, thanks to a friend's recommendation, I had The Black Cat hostel as a back up plan. We showed up 10 minutes before the office closed (9pm), so we got very lucky.
Looking back, we probably had more fun and made more friends by staying at the hostel anyway. So again, we were very lucky.
For all traveling to Antigua, I recommend the Pacaya Volcano tour. It's a rigorous hike, but worth it. Take the tour later in the day. The lava flow looks great at sundown. Remember to take a head lamp or flash light. Pants are also recommended. I wore shorts and my shoes kept filling up with rocks and sand.
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