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There’s a lot to pack into 100 hours when you’re in Antigua, Guatemala

08/07/2014 10:34 PM

08/08/2014 9:00 AM

I was very fortunate to be invited to a wedding recently in Antigua, Guatemala.

I had never been to Guatemala, and I anticipated a new adventure while being able to enjoy our friends’ daughter’s wedding.

Antigua is only a 45 minute ride from Guatemala City and is nestled between three active volcanoes.

In Antigua, you will see the Mayan culture along with the Spanish colonial culture. Founded in 1543, Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773.

Today, it’s one of Central America’s most enchanting and picturesque cities. At the end of the 19th century, after the coffee plantations took hold, Antigua was rediscovered and huge efforts were made to restore the city back to its colonial splendor.

The hotel of choice was Casa Santo Domingo. This is a former convent, and on the property they have a number of museums. The grounds are lush, with rose petals in water basins. ... I’ve never been to a hotel that’s been built around one of the most beautiful churches in the world.

One of the highlights was an artisan and chocolate shop and chocolate museum right on the grounds of the hotel. Believe me, that was dangerous. On the premises are the ruins of Santa Clara and the cathedral built in the 15th century, destroyed by the earthquake and partially restored.

Antigua is very small, and the streets are all cobblestone. There are small storefronts selling everything from antiques, jade, and textiles to fresh tortillas. You can enjoy simple snowcones, ice cream and tamales while strolling through the street.

If you are in Guatemala, you have to try the coffee grown on the mountainside and in the fields. My wife and I actually went to Filadelfia Coffee Plantation for the tour and lunch and highly recommend this.

You walk through the plantation, see the coffee plants, get a guided tour and finish with, of course, fresh roasted coffee. There’s also a lovely deck and restaurant where you can enjoy some traditional Guatemalan cuisine and local libations.

We also discovered Barista Coffee House which served Starbucks-like beverages and delicious pastries and cookies. Free Wi-Fi was available, so you know I spent a great deal of time sipping chocolate mochas and working on my computer.

There are many options for restaurants, everything from traditional Guatemalan cuisine to French bistros, Italian, Mexican and Spanish joints along with unique steakhouses similar to Argentina.

For breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend the restaurant at the hotel Casa San Dominigo. The restaurant is built right into the archaeological ruins and has some of the most beautiful lighting in Antigua.

The menu is traditional Guatemalan, and I found the fried plantains to be some of the best in the area along with a delicious soup of chicken broth and local vegetables.

We found a wonderful restaurant, Tartines, which is a very small room and a beautiful upstairs terrace and has a wonderful view of the park and volcanoes. It serves some of the finest French cuisine I have ever enjoyed, including traditional onion soup and some the most delicious crepes this chef has ever experienced.

One day while strolling through the downtown Central Park, we came across Palacio de Doña Leonor. This is not only a restaurant by a luxury hotel with a gorgeous garden and equally wonderful food: Its inside terrace is open air, and it was absolutely beautiful when a light rain started falling during our memorable lunch, which included a traditional Guatemalan plate of local delicacies.

El Tenedor del Cerro is a must for everyone, but if you have children it is a definite must. The restaurant is located on top of a hill not far from Casa Santo Domingo. The views of Antigua and the volcanoes are amazing.

The hotel has free transportation and you can take a nature walk, view whimsical artwork, see tropical animals and a cool zip-line along with a great lunch. On Saturdays, they have something called Los Chuchos del Cerro where they serve gourmet hot dogs, shaved ice and cotton candy.

A visit to Antigua would not be complete without dinner at Meson Panza Verde. This is a beautiful restaurant in a colonial home that was converted into a boutique hotel with an art gallery, small bar and a beautiful view of an upstairs patio. The decor and ambiance are amazing, and you should ask to be seated in the “la cueva,” or cave area.

If you’re into traditional South American steakhouses, you will absolutely be at home at El Fogón de Casa Vieja. We were greeted with refreshing sangria made on premises and of course, I sat at the bar/grill and watched the chefs prepare all the different beef cuts available. This restaurant will certainly fulfill any carnivore’s dream.

Don’t forget there are guided tours to the volcanoes and the many ruins around Antigua. Elizabeth Bell Tours is one of the most respected. Here is a quick list if important sites you may want to visit:

Church and Convent of Capuchins

Cathedral of San José

La Merced Church

La Recolección Architectural Complex

Ruins of old San José

El Museo de Armas de Santiago (weapons museum)

Church School of Christ

San Francisco Church

Santo Domingo Monastery

Hermano Pedro’s Hospital

Museum of the Old Book (El Libro Antiguo)

Museum of Colonial Art, in the former San Carlos University Building

The Jade Museum

Casa del Turista

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.

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