It was a little foggy as we approached the pier at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala this morning. Rain was in the forecast and it was supposed to get hot and steamy in the afternoon.
We were cleared to go ashore around 10 am but since we were scheduled for the 11:30 am “Antigua On Your Own” tour, we stayed on the ship until we would head to the Queens Lounge where our tour would start.
There were two tours leaving at the same time “Panoramic Antigua” and the “On your Own”. The Panoramic tour was called first and was easily 4 bus loads of people, maybe 5. Once the room clear there was probably a bus and ½ of people left for the “On Your Own”.
Note to future cruisers – the walk to the buses was about ¼ mile over level ground.
Once off the ship we entered a large building that has a counter selling post cards and stamps along with a large tours and travel counter. HAL charged $59.95 for the “On your Own” using large 40 passenger buses. The tour counter here was charging $45 for a shuttle to Antigua using mini vans. I usually prefer smaller groups, but in this case, a large bus may be more comfortable for the 90 minute drive than a minivan. The tour company said that they dispatch their minivans once they get 8-10 people and then start on another minivan. All the vans are scheduled to arrive back at the port 2 hours before the ships departure time. The tour counter had many other tours available as well. One of the counters had a ‘tourist passport’ stamp that many people were stamping in their passports. We didn’t have our passports with us, but we got a stamp on a print out I was carrying of my passport photo page.
Once past the first building you wind thru a series of permanent covered structures – without walls – selling every possible tourist item imaginable. There was a lot here and you could easily spend a couple of hours browsing in this area. There were also several restaurants and cafes that advertised free Wi-Fi of unknown speed.
Right before I boarded our bus, I spotted this sign that gives another option for this port. There is a nearby resort called Nautilus that offers a shuttle for $25 to take you to their beach and several drink and food options. I didn’t talk to anyone who went here, but I did find an outstanding blog post that describes one person’s experience link HERE
The bus ride to Antiqua took 90 minutes which discouraged some people we talked to from taking this tour. The ride was over modern highways for the first hour and the last ½ was over a 2 lane paved road, that was a little winding and steep, but not really worth worrying about. I was able to easily read the entire way while listening to the interesting commentary from the guide.
As we approached town we passed by the Ermita de la Santa Cruz, one of the oldest churches in Guatemala dating back to 1664. The church was severely damaged by a couple of earthquakes over the years, but restoration work is now underway.
The bus dropped us off at the Jade Museum and Factory which would also be our meeting point. Once inside they gave us an overview of the area and instructions for when and where to meet for our return to the ship. After this brief talk, we were invited to hang around for a Jade Lecture if we wished. Most people left, but we sat thru the interesting 5 minute talk about Jade and then we toured thru the museum and factory. It was now about 1:15 pm and we had to meet here at 4:40 to head back to the ship. All aboard was 7:30 pm.
Our first stop was one block away at the Hotel Santo Domingo. This hotel is home to several museums and sits on the ruins of a partially restored convent. There are numerous pieces of art on display throughout the grounds and you could easily spend a couple of hours here just browsing around.
We left the Hotel and headed toward the Choco Museum a few blocks away. All the streets here are cobblestones with narrow sidewalks – not a very friendly town for people with mobility issues.
Judy visited the Choco Museum run by the same company on her trip to Peru a few years back and she says this one was almost identical. There was one room with the history of chocolate along with some artifacts, but the main event is of course CHOCOLATE – and lots of it – and all very delicious. We left with a medium sized bag full of a variety of delicious chocolate candies and teas.
Our next stop was the Town Market, which was at the west end of town, about 1 mile away. We decided to head here next, quickly, so we would be at our farthest point away and better able to judge our return time to the ship. Remember the Tuk Tuks from Asia? Well they are here in force so we knew we could grab one to speed our return to our meeting spot if necessary.
Antigua is clean and full of very nice shops – some fairly high end – but the sign ordinances and zoning is strict as all stores were only displaying small signs and didn’t use their normal colors – only browns and tans. For example, we passed by a Wendy’s but instead of the name being displayed in red, the familiar logo was displayed in brown.
There were an unusual number of armed guards in the doors of various establishments that sold higher end items or dealt with large sums of money. Not sure if there is or used to be a serious crime problem, but it was not uncommon to see guards wearing bullet resistant vests while carrying shotguns at the ready. I suspect that this show of force is intended to deter any type of nefarious activity as it wouldn’t take much to scare tourists away which would crater the towns economy.
We reached the market in about 20 minutes and spend about 10 minutes browsing down one aisle and up the other. This market reminded me of the various flea markets in the USA often held at drive in theatres. There were lots of stalls selling pretty much the same local handicrafts along with other household items normally seen at Dollar Stores. Local Markets always sound more interesting than they turn out to be, at least to us, but we always seem to be unable to resist visiting them when one is nearby.
Judy was excited to find a Facebook page for a yarn shop in Antigua. But after a little more research she was disappointed to see that it was permanently closed.
I scanned trip advisor looking for a local restaurant that might serve some interesting local food quickly or even some interesting looking street food, but there was nothing available. The best restaurants here that could get us in and out quickly were American fast food establishments. McDonalds was an easy choice for fast, reliable food, so we took it and we were on our way in 15 minutes.
Every establishment that we dealt with took US Dollars, but if I was going to be here for more than a couple of hours I would have changed some money.
We had enough time to walk the mile back to our meeting spot and do a little window shopping along the way arriving back at the Jade Museum with 10 minutes to spare.
Antigua is a very nice town and is now on my list of places we need to visit again and spend more time.
The ride back to the ship was uneventful getting us back to the pier around 6 pm. We briefly looked at a few of the shops on the way back to the ship, but nothing caught our eye. After we bought some stamps for our post cards we were back on the ship by 6:30.
There wasn’t any SailAway tonight due to our late departure time.
For dinner Judy and I both selected the fresh Red Fish which was very good and I enjoyed some Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.
Dan Horn was the guest entertainer tonight. He is a ventriloquist whose claim to fame was being on the David Letterman show at one point in the past. Dan had a few funny spots but his routine never really clicked with us although some passengers found it quite entertaining. Performing after a long in-port day is always tough as the crowds are smaller and those who are present are pretty tired and probably in less of a mood to laugh.This entry was posted in Uncategorized