Experiencing Antigua

  • Updated: April 7, 2012 - 11:08 AM

WHERE TO STAY

At the stunning Meson Panza Verde, one of the first boutique hotels in Antigua, each of the 12 big, splurge-worthy rooms is arranged around an open courtyard and decorated with rich fabrics, beautiful tile and a pleasing mix of colonial and modern art (www.panzaverde.com).

Hotel San Jorge offers spotless, modestly priced rooms with fireplaces around a pretty garden in a central location. The best amenity, however, is your host. Owner Evelyn Herrera is a vivacious, bilingual fountain of knowledge and assistance. During Semana Santa (reserve at least four months in advance), guests are invited to help create the hotel's alfombra (hotelsanjorgeantigua.com).

WHERE TO EAT

Chef Robbin Haas, a Florida native who spends part of the year in Antigua, created Bistrot Cinq and its welcoming bar that pours 12 types of absinthe. The menu (tuna tartare, duck pot-stickers, burgers, profiteroles) is written on a blackboard and each dish is expertly executed by local chef Mario Godinez (www.bistrotcinq.com).

La Fondita offers more than a dozen different traditional dishes arranged on a large table. A standard plate includes a meat dish, a vegetable dish, thick Guatemalan tortillas and one or two sides. It's not the cheapest meal in town, but it's a delicious way to sample different dishes in one atmospheric spot.

Sobremesa Helados Exoticos, just off the main plaza, sells sublime scoops of ice cream in inventive, gourmet flavors like jasmine blackberry, apple chipotle and ginger guava. Locals estimate the shop has developed 50 different flavors that rotate on and off the menu.

Freshly grilled chicken, a casual-but-cool patio dining area, live musical performances in an open courtyard, a bar made from parts of an old bus: La Esquina has it all. The adjacent boutique also sells some of the most stylish handcrafted leather goods and jewelry in town. Prices are discounted 20 percent if you pay cash.

SEMANA SANTA TIPS

Route maps for the day's processions are usually available at small information booths in the main plaza, fronting the cathedral.

To get the best pictures of the alfombras, study the route map and follow it in reverse, toward the church. This will enable to you shoot the intact alfombras before they get trampled by the procession.

During Semana Santa, usually safe Antigua becomes a magnet for pickpockets. Carry as little with you as possible. Photographer Eric Mohl caught a man's hand in the leg pocket of his cargo pants during the first procession we covered for this story.

Jesus almost always looks to the right from on top of the anda, so bear that in mind when choosing your vantage point.

If you can't get a reservation during Semana Santa, consider visiting Antigua during any of the five weekends leading up to Easter to see processions that take place for Lent.

KAREN CATCHPOLE

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