GUATEMALA, Antigua with Kids – The colorful town of Antigua is one of Guatemala’s prettiest and most popular destinations. Originally established in the 16th century as the country’s capital, a large earthquake largely destroyed the area in 1773. Consequently, the political center moved to the seismically less active Guatemala City. Antigua was subsequently rebuilt on a grid pattern (inspired by the Italian Renaissance) and is today a beautifully preserved colonial town filled with cobblestone streets and houses painted in varying shades of the rainbow.
But it’s not just the buildings that are picture-worthy. Antigua’s location is just as commanding. Located 1,500m above sea level, the town is flanked by a number of dormant and active volcanoes. The most active is Volcan de Fuego, which sits to the west of Antigua. Don’t be surprised if it spews smoke while you are there! If your family is Guatemala-bound, here are 4 great things to do, 1 great place to stay, and 1 great place to eat while visiting Antigua with kids.
Activity 1: Get Your Hands Messy at the ChocoMuseo
A favorite activity with kids is the 40-minute ‘Bean to Bar’ workshop held at the ChocoMuseo. Located very near the main plaza, this museum offers a number of fun, hands-on classes but it’s the introduction to chocolate that’s the most kid-friendly (even our 21-month-old took part!).
Led by a charismatic guide, children get a quick snapshot of chocolate production. They discover the origins of the cacao beans and its significance in Maya culture. Then they get to see how chocolate is made today. The best bit of the class, however, is when the kids are let loose to make their own chocolatey creations. Bowls of melted chocolate, plastic molds and a variety of sprinkles and toppings are placed on the communal worktop and children are invited to create. It’s a lot of very messy fun. Website: https://www.chocomuseo.com/english/our-locations/antigua-gua/
Activity 2: Shop for Crafts at the Artisan Market
Located to the west of town is the colorful artisan market (Mercado de Artesanias). It’s a lively place, packed to bursting with stalls selling all manner of crafts. There are piles of traditional embroidery, walls lined with hundreds of bright wooden masks and watercolor paintings of the town and surrounding area. You’ll also find plenty of “Guatever” and “Guat’s Up” t-shirts, which make fun presents. My kids enjoyed wandering the narrow aisles and picked up a small painting each. As always in crowded spaces, keep a close eye on your belongings. Click here to see it on the map.
Activity 3: Find Your Mayan Birth Sign
The Mayan Calendar (or Tzolk’in) is built upon 20 “Day Signs.” Mayans believe(d) that the day sign of one’s birth shapes a person’s destiny and personality traits. Discover what the future holds for you with a visit to the Jade Museum. Here, you can look up your birth date according to the Maya calendar and discover your corresponding sign. My kids quickly found that their signs were that of the “B’atz” (Monkey) and the “Tijax” (Fish). It’s a fun activity for kids and they can also buy a jade pendant engraved with their birth symbols to take home. Website: http://jademaya.com/
Activity 4: Ride up Pacaya Volcano
Pacaya Volcano lies 19 miles (30 kilometres) southwest of Antigua and is the most family-friendly of Antigua’s smoking mountains. Amazingly, it first erupted some 23,000 years ago! Fortunately, however, the last major eruption was 2010. Travelers wanting to visit a volcano may get their wish here, though restrictions may apply at the time of visit.
Horseback rides and hiking tours are available so that visitors can see the main cone of the volcano. If traveling with children, then horseback is definitely the easiest way to enjoy this activity. The tours journey through cornfields, forests and old lava flows towards the top and, if you’re lucky, you may get the chance to stop and roast marshmallows over lava vents.
1 Great Place to Stay: Hotel Cirilio
Located on the outskirts of town, this lovely little hotel rose up from the remains of an old church. There are only six rooms here, two with two queen beds, which work well for families. There’s a lovely central swimming pool, a pretty garden and a cozy living room. Yet what really sells Hotel Cirilo is the staff. Service is stellar and nothing is too much trouble. The other highlights are the open fireplaces in each bedroom, which came in handy on a chilly December evening. The only downside is the restaurant. It serves an excellent breakfast but falls short on lunch and dinner. Fortunately, Antigua is home to lots of good eateries. Website: www.hotelcirilo.com
1 Great Place to Eat: Arrin Cuan
For a taste of Guatemala, head to Arrin Cuan, a restaurant specializing in traditional local food. The setting is really pretty with tables overlooking a grassy courtyard and the volcanoes beyond. There are also indoor dining rooms but get a table outside if you can. The menu is extensive and, unless you’re familiar with Guatemalan cooking, somewhat confusing. Not to worry; the staff is very friendly and will help you decipher the dishes on the menu. What’s more, there is also a separate kids’ menu.
Tip: One thing to remember, the flavors in Guatemalan cuisine are very subtle compared with some Latin American countries so if you like your spice you might want to pack your Tabasco. Website: www.arrincuan.com
For more ideas on what to do in Antigua with Kids, see our feature at Globetotting.com.