Fabric of my Life.

A modern guide to Old Guatemala.

I can’t believe it’s taken me over a year since returning from our epic trip around Guatemala to begin compiling content from it! 

Truth be told, the start to 2022 wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned; being quarantined for 10 days in an ensuite bedroom with my boyfriend, having tested positive for Covid (while not experiencing many symptoms) and having to rearrange our flights home to a fortnight later. When we eventually touched down on UK soil it was all stations a-go on the day job front with very little time to catch my breath, let alone work through 2000+ photos from 5 weeks away, edit them, arrange them, then gather my thoughts well enough to craft the accompanying copy. And so they’ve sat languishing in the Cloud for months until I could find enough quality time to revisit and finally do our trip justice. Because this was most definitely a trip deserving of documentation, and one I hope will inspire you to plan your own visit to this incredible country of immense natural beauty and cultural diversity. I mean, even VOGUE considers Guatemala to be one of the 12 best places to travel to in 2023


Those who read here regularly will know the reason we travelled to Guatemala for an extended trip in late 2021/early 2022 (while Covid was still fairly rife) is because my boyfriend is Guatemalan and we were going to visit his family after two long and worrying years spent apart. We spent the majority of our visit staying with his mother in Guatemala City but, since it was my first trip to this beautiful country, Luis also planned several day exursions for us and a fantastic 7-day road trip covering much of Guatemala’s unique topography and micro-climates – the road trip post is in the works and coming soon! 


Although every place we visited holds a special place in my heart, it was Antigua – the former colonial capital – that completely stole it. An hour’s drive from Guatemala City (although easily 2-3 times that in rush-hour traffic!), from the moment we arrived I could see why Luis felt it was the perfect place for us to relocate one day; easy-to-navigate cobbled streets, colourful colonial-era architecture, breath-taking views of the imposing Volcán de Agua to the south and the twin peaks of Volcán de Fuego and Acatenango to the west – and plenty of Spanish language schools for me to eventually master the local lingo!

Stay: Good Hotel

We were spending two days in the city, so opted for an overnight stay at Good Hotel. We’d previously stayed at their London outpost, prior to knowing anything about their links to Guatemala, which we discovered via a giant mural in the lobby of their ‘floating’ hotel, moored at the Royal Victoria Dock.
Founded by dutchman Marten Dresen, the Good Hotel was built on the principles of ‘social business’ and designed to create a sustainable income to support Niños de Guatemala, a foundation that builds and operates schools in rural Guatemalan communities, with 100% of profits going towards providing underprivileged local children with an education. The hotel also operates the Good Training Program; a bespoke hospitality training course which includes three months of classroom study and paid work experience. After graduating, every student has the chance to work full-time at the Good Hotel or with one of their carefully chosen partner hotels.
Both the London and Antigua hotels (as well as the newly opened hotel in Guatemala City) are contemporary and minimal in their design aesthetic, while offering everything you need for an enjoyable night’s stay. We stayed in The Patio Room, with a comfortable king size bed and private patio, complete with volcano views and an outdoor rain shower – although sadly due to a water supply issue during our stay we never got the chance to use it. Still, I’d definitely recommend the hotel as a great base from which to explore the city as everything is within easy walking distance and you also have a great modern bistro – Saúl – right on your doorstep…
Good Hotel, Calle del Hermano Pedro, Antigua 

Eat: Saúl

Despite being a part of a chain of cafés – founded by Saúl Méndez who also owns a string of successful clothing stores in the country – Saúl is definitely worth seeking out for their delicious array of salads, soups, sandwiches and poké bowls, alongside an assortment of sweet and savory crepes. Each Saúl outpost has its own distinct décor and corresponding vibe meaning that, while the menu tends to only vary slightly between venues, the ambience tends to be far more reflective of the local area, rather than the Saúl brand as a whole. The Antigua branch is located next door to the Good Hotel – there’s even an internal direct access between the two – and the eclectic mix of vintage furniture, object d’art and walls lined with books makes it an incredibly welcoming place to pull up and seat and while away an hour or more, enjoying a slower pace of life.
Saúl, Calle del Hermano Pedro 12, Antigua 

Explore: the cobbled streets

Antigua is a hugely walkable city, and extremely compact. Built on a grid pattern inspired by the Italian Renaissance, the cobbled streets hold a lot of historical significance and around almost every corner you’ll find crumbling, colourful buildings, 16th century ruins, renovated churches and vibrant plazas filled with street hawkers and a throng of activity.
Built 1,500m above sea-level, in an earthquake-prone region, Antigua was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 but its principal monuments are still preserved as ruins – and are one of the biggest draws for tourists today. Most of the surviving civil, religious and civic buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries, and are considered some of the most magnificent examples of colonial architecture in the Americas – so much so that Antigua was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. 
It’s entirely possible to see most of the city’s main attractions in a day, but I highly advise staying longer and soaking up the atmosphere, meandering the grid of pastel streets and taking note of the city’s colonial magnificence and storied past. Be sure to look around every corner, look up, look down. You never know what you might spot! I’m always a sucker for vintage signage, weather-worn facades and ornate doorways – I’ve lost count of the number of doors that pepper my phone’s camera roll..!

Visit: Parque Central

Parque Central is located in the heart of the city and acts as a popular gathering spot – making it a perfect place for people-watching – and also the place from which many guided walking tours of the city depart.
In the centre of the plaza stands Fuente de las Sirenas (Fountain of the Sirens) designed by architect Diego de Porres, reportedly inspired by the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, Italy. The lactating sirens that adorn the park fountain were replaced in the mid-20th century, but if you want to see the original sirens they’re located in the museum at Palacio de Los Capitanes-Generales on the south side of the park, which serves as the headquarters of the Guatemala Institute of Tourism, the Antigua Tourism Association, National Police and the Sacatepquez Department government.
While it’s common to find sirens used as decorative touches on fountains, doors and even church facades in Antigua, the lactating sirens of Parque Central are said to have roots in Mayan folklore. According to local legend,  there once lived a Mayan chieftain in the valley, Ataví Pamaxanque; a fair and wise ruler according to his people. One day, as Pamaxanque made the rounds, he noticed a few babies crying. Inquiring as to why the children’s mothers weren’t tending to them, he learned that said mothers were refusing to breastfeed them. Enraged, he ordered the four women be tied with reeds and taken to the springs in the valley – where the park is now located, and be left to die as punishment, forever to serve as a warning to other mothers who dared refuse to look after their children’s well-being. Yiikes!

Visit: Santa Catalina Arch

To the north of Parque Central is the Arco de Santa Catalina, one of the most recognisable architectural landmarks of Antigua. Standing above the cobbled streets, in front of the hulking Volcán de Agua, this saffron-yellow arch has become the symbol of Antigua and the most abundant image you’ll find on local postcards and artwork. Built in the 17th century to connect the Santa Catalina convent to a school, the arch allowed the cloistered nuns to pass from one building to the other without going out on the street. It has suffered significant damage over the years – especially in the devastating earthquake of 1773 – but has survived nonetheless to become a potent symbol of the city’s resilience. The French-style clock was added in the 1800s, and needs to be wound every three days.
On a clear day you can see the entire Volcán de Agua through the arch—an appropriately dramatic background for such a historic landmark, don’t you think?

Visit: Convento la Recoleccion

In the Western part of the old city you’ll find Convento la Recoleccion, a former church and monastery of the Order of the Recollects (Ordo Fratrum Minorum Recollectorum) and its adjacent park. Dating from the early 1700s and built in the Spanish Baroque style, the monastery suffered severe earthquake damage throughout the 18th century. The ruins are now protected as a national monument, and visitors have free access to the cloisters – but not the catacombs.
The place feels virtually untouched, with enormous chunks of debris strewn across the site, and largely unvisited – it felt particularly quiet, at least, when we visited on a mid-afternoon in late December. We pretty much had the place to ourselves to explore, and never knew quite what we’d find around the next corner. The site itself is pretty huge – you can easily spend a good hour just wandering around – and there are plenty of shady corners to seek out respite from the sun on warmer days.

Visit: Iglesia Católica San Francisco el Grande

Dating from the 16th century, the Iglesia Católica San Francisco el Grande complex became a significant religious and cultural center for the whole region at that time, with theology, law, philosophy, physics and mathematics all taught at San Buenaventury College, located in today’s monastery ruins. The chapel and cloister were expanded during the 17th century, and in 1684 the structure was reinforced and withstood the earthquake of 1691.
The church itself was built by Diego de Porres and inaugurated in 1702. The twisted salomonic columns of the facade are typical of the Spanish-American Baroque style and contain sixteen vaulted niches, each but the lowest two containing a saint or a friar. Subsequent earthquakes damaged the structure severely, and the church has since only been reconstructed in parts. You can wander the ruins (in silence, as requested) and see some of the vivid frescos that still remain amongst the earthquake rubble.
You can also buy a ticket to enter the museum and monastery, although we chose not to on this occasion, as it was getting a little late in the day and our hotel, just around the corner, was calling..!

Visit: Casa Santo Domingo

It seems odd to have a hotel you’re not staying at on a must-visit list (although I’d love to book a room here next time we visit!), but Casa Santo Domingo – often proclaimed as the ‘best hotel in Antigua’ – is definitely one worth checking out as, for a small entrance fee, non-hotel guests are able to enter and explore the extensive grounds.
The building originally served as a 18th-century convent, before being almost entirely destroyed in the 1773 earthquake. Large portions of the ruins have been left untouched to preserve significant examples of the baroque architecture and treasures of the period, many of which are on display at the hotel’s multiple museums.
Restoration of the current hotel complex began in the 1980s and the present-day grounds feel as though they belong to a grand Spanish mansion, with limestone hallways, red bricks, glazed floral tiles and terracotta roofing all adding to the lush Mediterranean vibe. In the numerous courtyards you’ll find free-flowing water fountains and huge palm trees – and a flock of characterful resident macaws, squawking atop hanging bird tables!
Located within the area of the old convent buildings you’ll find the Museums Promenade; a cultural route created so guests can easily visit the museums in both the church of Santo Domingo and Santo Tomás de Aquino College. Here you will find the Colonial Museum, Archeology Museum, Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass, the Sacatepéquez Arts and Popular Handcrafts Museum and the Pharmacy Museum – alongside two art galleries with temporary exhibits – all of which tell a story about the site’s absorbing past.
Our favourite discovery within Casa Santo Domingo though, had to be the candle factory. Drawn in by the numerous sculptural candlesticks hanging from the ceiling, we were delighted to discover artisan candlemakers at the rear of the building working diligently on their craft. The whole process is long and laborious, and definitely hypnotic to watch – which we did for a good fifteen minutes before remembering there was plenty more we needed to see in the city..!
Casa Santo Domingo, 3a Calle Oriente No. 28 A, Antigua

Shop: Algodones Mayas

Across the street from Casa Santo Domingo we found Algodones Mayas, a textile store specialising in Guatemalan cotton products handwoven by local artisans. Founded in 1994, the store’s mission is to “help preserve Guatemala’s rich culture, land, natural colors and motives.”  They work closely with local communities to incorporate cultural and historical techniques and materials within their designs; most notably helping to preserve native lxcaco, Cuyuscate and Jade cotton, all forms of cotton which almost went extinct in the 1990s.
Their elegant and decorative pieces provide a more contemporary style of Guatemala handicraft than the traditional – and vibrantly coloured –  Mayan textiles we saw in most stores, utilising the inherant natural beauty of raw cotton to offer an array of neutral wall hangings, tabletop textiles, clothing and accessories. I wanted to bring back a whole set of cushions to adorn our sofa, but had to restrain myself (or else purchase an additional suitcase to fly home with!), so in the end I settled for a beautiful scarf for my mum instead. Still living with regrets on that though, it has to be said!
Algodones Mayas, 3a Calle Oriente #33, Antigua

Drink: Alegría Café

After all that sightseeing across the town, a coffee stop will be high up on your list of requirements by now! The growing café scene in Antigua is just as strong as its coffee (!), however I simply cannot resist a speciality coffee shop with a clean and contemporary design, so, the moment we passed by Alegría, I knew we had to stop in!
Recently opened at the time we visited (December 2022), Alegría is a small-yet-perfectly-formed café located to the south-west of Parque Central, designed by Juan Sechel.  I loved everything about this place, from the soothing teal and mustard colour palette to the textured counterfront, picturesque window-seat (the perfect place for watching the world go by) and beautiful artwork by local photographers. Plus the coffee was, of course, divine (this is Guatemala, after all!)
Nb. I’m not sure how we only managed to fit in one coffee stop during our visit but I had a looong list of places I wanted to try, so scroll down to the bottom of the post for more coffee shops to visit…
Alegría, 5 Calle Poniente .2, Antigua

Eat:  Mesón Panza Verde

If there’s one restaurant you book when you visit Antigua, then make sure it’s Panza Verde! A favourite of my boyfriend’s family for generations, this must be the most beautiful – and romantic! – restaurant I’ve ever been to, with a delectable menu to back up it’s stunning ambience. The restaurant has several distinct dining areas to choose from (although booking in advance is highly recommended), from the elegant main salon with high vaulted ceilings to the long corridor beside the main garden, romantic candle-filled terrace and La Cueva, where live music is performed on certain nights of the week.
Considered to be one of the top restaurants in Guatemala, having received the “Tenedor de Oro” award as best in the country, my experience at Panza Verde certainly lived up to the hype. We began with cocktails in the atmospheric candle-lit bar at the front of the restaurant, lined with black and white photography and rows of old liquor bottles, before making our way into the main salon for dinner. To start, we shared the squid confit, served with garlic and tomato pesto, and the tuna tartar – both utterly delicious. For mains we enjoyed salmon served with macadamia nut and chive crumble and black squid ink risotto, alongside snook meuniere sautéed in butter. Again, both were absolute perfection!
Mesón Panza Verde, 5a Ave South, Antigua

Visit: Finca La Azotea

A 10-15 minute drive outside Antigua, in the town of Jocotenango, you’ll find the sprawling 100-acre Finca La Azotea, home to a large coffee plantation, three museums, several restaurants and – the original draw for me – Luna Zorro Studio (see below).
The original finca (estate) dates back some 150 years and coffee is still both grown and processed on-site. At the Museo del Café, housed in the original coffee mill dating back to 1883 and powered by a water wheel, you can learn all about the history and process of coffee cultivation. There are regular guided tours throughout the day, which last around two hours, and include a wander around the estate to see the coffee being grown, as well as the opportunity to sample some of the final product at the end.
If you don’t want a guided tour you can still explore the grounds on your own, and I’d certainly recommend visiting the botanical garden, which houses a superb collection of tropical plants. As for the other musuems on-site, the Casa K’ojom holds a superb collection of traditional Mayan musical instruments, masks, paintings and other artifacts, while Rincón de Sacatepéquez displays the multicoloured outfits and crafts of the Antigua valley.
Finca La Azotea, 1ra. Calle y 1ra. Avenida, Zona 3, Jocotenango

Shop: Luna Zorro Studio

As I’ve mentioned it was Luna Zorro Studio which served as my discovery tool for Finca La Azotea, having stumbled across the lifestyle brand on Instagram several months prior to my trip. The studio is a is a one-of-a-kind destination for locals and travellers alike, serving as both a concept store and workshop studios, offering year-round classes in weaving, using natural dyes and more.
Encased in steel and glass, and surrounded by native flora and fauna, the modernist-style building was a collaborative project between architect Sylvana Irungaray and Molly Berry, founder of Luna Zorro. Inside you will find the very best of Guatemalan artisanal craft on display, including pieces from contemporary local brands such as Itza Wood, Nada Duele and Thread Caravan, alongside Luna Zorro’s own textile designs, which are typically handwoven by local artisans using traditional foot looms in nearby Sololá, on the banks of Lake Atitlán.
Again, it was almost impossible for me to choose just a few pieces from the store to take home as I legitimately wanted EV-ERY-THING, but in the end I settled for a beautifully sculptural candlestick by Nada Duele and an Itza Wood handcrafted wooden coffee scoop, as two pieces I would (just about) be able to fit in my luggage home! 
Luna Zorro Studio, Finca La Azotea, 1ra. Calle y 1ra. Avenida, Zona 3, Jocotenango

Visit: Finca San Cayetano

Around a 30-minute drive south-west of Antigua you’ll find Finca San Cayetano, a luxury eco-cabin resort with a lovely restaurant attached that enjoys impressive 360° views of the Fuego, Acatenango and Agua volcanoes.
It’s a hugely popular spot amonst locals and tourists alike, so I advise getting there early to nab the best spot. We got up before the sun and headed there as the sun rose beside us over the volcanoes, arriving nice and early to pick out a supreme breakfast spot right in front of the active Fuego, which emits small gas and ash eruptions every 15 to 20 minutes. It really is a sight to behold, and only a mildly terrifying accompaniment to what turned out to be the very best breakfast of our trip!
When you’re in Guatemala you have to try the traditional breakfasts of tortillas, eggs and beans, often served with fried plantain and a selection of hot sauces, but don’t miss out on the sweet options available at many cafés and restaurants too. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere where the pancake and french toast offerings are quite so extensive – and delicious. At San Cayetano I had the French toast, which was made with cinnamon raisin bread, dipped in brown sugar and served with red fruits, and – trust me – it was to die for (volcano-related-pun-only-half-intended!)
The coffee served at the restaurant is the finca’s own; harvested, processed, roasted and packaged within the farm, and classified as strictly hard Antigua type with exquisite aroma, and notes of chocolate and caramel. You’re hard pressed to find bad coffee anywhere in Guatemala, of course, since its harvested abundantly across eight different regions of the country, but the Antigua growing region is one of the most well-known, sitting between the three imposing volcanoes which make the soil abundantly rich in minerals and nutrients.
Finca San Cayetano, Ruta Nacional 14, San Juan, Alotenango
More places to visit:
  • Cerro De La Cruz, or Hill of the Cross, is one of Antigua’s most famous points of interest. An elevated spot about a 10-minute hike up, the viewpoint offers sweeping views across the valley and – on a clear day – an unobstructed view of Volcan Agua.
  • Volcan Acatenango, which towers above Antigua at 3,976m is often at the top of the bucket list for most adventure travelers visiting Guatemala. The best way to experience it is an overnight hike, which allows you to take in awe-inspiring nighttime views of flowing lava, as well as experience sunrise the following morning from the summit. It is a demanding trek though, so not one for the unseasoned hiker.. (like me!)


More places to eat & drink:
  • 12 Onzas, whose speciality coffee comes direct from their 4th generation fanily farm in San Martin Jilotepeque, Chimaltenago. The small, turquoise tiled café is popular amongst younger locals and digital nomads, and offer a comfortable space for laptop working and meeting friends. You can also pick up a bag (or two) of their stylished branded coffee beans to brew at home as well. 12 Onzas, 4a Calle Ote. 5, Antigua
  • The River Coffee House, founded by a Guatemalan-American couple, is not just a humble coffee shop but instead aims to provide hope in the form of job opportunities to minority groups of Guatemala, and ultimately foster community through coffee. Cool and minimalist in design, you’ll find no food on the menu here, but a diverse selection of coffee (and tea) drinks, based around their own blend of beans from Antigua. The River Coffee House, 7a Calle Oriente 16, Antigua 
  • Artista de café is possibly the most instagrammable café in Antigua, with its airy white interior, hidden courtyard with an abundance of foliage, and minimalist line art branding across their take-out cups. Here you’ll find contemporary drinks options from flat whites to dirty chais, served alongside millenial brunch favourites like avocado toast and açai smoothie bowls. Artista de café, 5ta avenida sur no. 34B, Antigua
  • El Local is a bistro and speakeasy with a globally inspired menu, close to the bustling centre of town. Set back from the street in a cosy courtyard, the vegan-friendly café offers a range of dishes from sun-up to sundown, from bagels, toasts and sandwiches to power bowls and sharing boards.El Local, 4a Calle Oriente #14 CC La Fuente Antigua
More places to Stay:
  • Cacao Hotel, located down a quiet side street at the entrance to town, offers six large suites nestled in a Spanish Colonial home, which can also be booked as an entire property for a private getaway with friends or family. There’s a rooftop terrace with views of Agua and Fuego, plus a central garden with a fountain and lush landscaping to complete the sense of your own private oasis. Cacao Hotel, Calle de Los Duelos Barrio Santo Domingo 2, Casa 7, Antigua
  • Selina, a 3-minute walk from Santa Catalina Arch, offers shared hostel accomodation alongside private-shared and fully-private rooms. Particularly popular with digital nomads, Selina also has a co-working area, offering daily, weekly and monthly hot-desking options, with everything you need to stay connected to your business throughout your stay. Selina, 6ta ave.norte 43A, Antigua
All photography © Kate Baxter & Luis Leiva. 

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