A Travellerspoint blog

Learning la lengua in Antigua

Our first month in Guatemala

sunny 21 °C


We’ve been living in Antigua almost one month now and so far we’ve learnt how to speak Spanish like 2 year olds, perfected the game of charades with the local pharmacist, danced as rhythmless gringos in a nightclub… got married and had a baby (I’ll explain later).


Antigua is just 45 minutes out of the capital, Guatemala City. It is a magical place with streets and streets of brightly coloured colonial buildings surrounded by coffee plantations, mountains and three (three!) volcanoes. Upon its cobblestone streets are countless ruins of churches, monasteries and government buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Add to the mix a picturesque central park and a few spectacular fountains and I doubt it was a tough decision for the United Nations to add it to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1979.

- La Merced. We walk past this church everyday and it always makes me feel happy. I think its colour might have something to do with it.


- Fuente de Las Sirenas ("the mermaids fountain") in Parque Central constructed in 1738. The park is the heart of the city. Here you'll find tourists AND locals soaking up the atmosphere. It's also known as the park Elysha choked on a corn chip and Brayden had to do the heimlich maneuvre to save her life...true story.

- Catedral de Santiago which looks onto Parque Central. Like a lot of the colonial buildings in Antigua, only the facade has been restored.

- The Santa Catalina arch. Built in 1693 so nuns could avoid the public eye when they walked between their convent and a school.

- Ruins of the Church of El Carmen. Am I the only one who thinks the shape of the sunspot in the bottom right corner is a little too perfect?

- Iglesia de San Francisco. It was built in 1548 making it the oldest Antigua church still in operation - pretty impressive given it's been hammered by four major earthquakes.

- Palacio de los Capitanes Generales. For more than 200 years this building housed the Spanish Kings’ governors (at the time Spain held almost all of Central America).

Antigua not only oozes charm, it oozes language schools. In fact, the city is world famous as a place to learn Spanish with something like 70 schools scattered across it. Brayden and I, like the thousands before us, have chosen to study here. So, for the last month we’ve spent four hours a day in the classroom grappling with an onslaught of new vocabulary and grammatical concepts.


Learning Spanish is easily one of the hardest things I’ve done. Some afternoons I curl up into a ball wondering how I’ll ever get a hang of it, other afternoons I’m strutting the streets striking up conversations with locals using my limited arsenal of words. I love wondering around Antigua. All the sights can be done on foot and I always stumble upon something interesting, like these floats left over from Semana Santa...

- Semana Santa, or Holy Week, leading up to Easter is HUGE in Antigua. These floats depicting the story of the crucifiction are carried through the streets in front of thousands of national and international visitors.


I also found this photography exhibition celebrating the diversity of the Guatemalan people....


We’ve been staying with two Guatemalan women in a yellow and aqua house five minutes from the school. Senoras Cornelia and Ilma serve us up three meals a day with lunch (as custom) being the biggest meal of the day. Easily my favourite dish is the tomale (a traditional dish of veges and meat wrapped in dough and baked in a banana leaf). I also love this super spicy egg soup they serve for breakfast. Unfortunately it’s left me with a stomach ache three out of three times.

- Mmmm tomale time!

Each afternoon the school takes us on excursion. Usually the trips involve a short ride via the infamous chicken bus which are basically retired American school busses given a psychedelic paint job. The novelty wore off about a minute into my first ride. The busses have almost no leg room - not a problem for the mostly pint sized Guatemalans, not so great for long legged Aussies who don’t enjoy eating their kneecaps.


Excursions have included coffee plantations (Guatemala is about 6th on the list of coffee producing nations), museums, a jade factory and a macadamia farm (am I a bad Australian for not knowing the nut originated in Queensland?). Another highlight was the hike up to Cerro de la Cruz. The clearing is only 15 minutes uphill but from it you get the best view of Antigua.

- Antigua, home to about 58 thousand people and Volcan Agua.


Then there was the excursion to the little village of San Antonio that saw Brayden and I tie the knot – Mayan style! The purpose of the visit was to give students a crash course in indigenous culture, so when the colourful lady requested volunteers to model traditional dress my hand shot up. Brayden wasn’t quite so willing, needing three teachers to drag him up. Then Brayden’s nighmare unfolded as a band of Mayan women proceeded to dress us as bride and groom.

- The happy couple! The other two students are Brayden's mum and dad.

After the ceremony it was veil off and apron on. In order to spend her first night with her new husband, a Mayan woman must make a tortilla to her Mother-in-law's satisfaction. Assuming she passes the test, nine months later...

- It's a boy! Mayan women are expected to have a baby every year.

- This woman was a tortilla making machine!

Food here is incredible and also incredibly cheap. So when not on excursion or conjugating verbs we hangout in the city’s restaurants and cafes. The bars are also great, similar to back home only women wear more clothes and the men get checked for guns at the door. The locals are also much, much better dancers.

- One of the many trendy bars in Antigua.

- Street food is amazing. So tasty, fresh and cheap.

Next week we’ll leave Antigua for Lake Atitlan, which is famed for its picture postcard scenery, Mayan villages and hippie community. In the meantime we’ve booked a tour to the summit of Pacaya, a nearby active volcano. There’s also a huge parade taking place next week for St James’ Day (Antigua’s patron saint) and I plan on being in the front row.

Stay posted!

Posted by elyshahickey 20:07 Archived in Guatemala Tagged architecture culture spanish guatemala language mayan colonial antigua

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Haha here's to the mayan newleyweds!! Antigua sounds beautiful lysh xx

by sara

My baby , married with her own baby - and I missed it all!
Great pictures, great words, Lysh - your blog is brilliant.
Love Mum xxx

by lorraine

Looks like a fabulous place...can almost taste the food. Also impressed with Brayden's hitherto unknown Drama ability...might have a role for him in my next musical.
Love dada xx

by robert

Wow! I would have liked a grandaughter

by Fiona Dunlop

Great pics :) It was great to meet you - are you still here in Antigua for the Festival on 25th July?

by Tamara

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