Although my cold, which feels more like a flu, is progressively getting worse, I am still very much enjoying my Guatemalan adventure. Today was my 2nd day in Antigua, Guatemala, which looks remarkably like Cusco in Peru. I guess I could describe Antigua as Cusco without the altitude sickness, if you want a clearer picture!
Anyway, today, my tour guide led us on a 3-hour morning walking tour of Antigua, Guatemala. Even though many f the streets look the same, I am still awestruck by the bright hues of the buildings and the dazzling Spanish colonial architecture. The city’s backdrop is a dormant volcano that periodically spews smoke into the air and makes sinister grumbling noises at night (hiking up here is also possible). Antigua is simply enchanting to anyone who visits.
There are over 48 cathedrals and churches in this picturesque city, that only add to its delightfulness and allure. The churches are so ornately designed and colorful, it’s simply unforgettable. Today, we visited a cathedral in the northern part of town that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1500s, but was restored in the 1700s. Both the interiors and exteriors of this cathedral were exquisitely designed.
The main activity on my schedule today was, of course, shopping. I wasn’t sure what there was to buy in Guatemala, but when I saw the unending variety of objects in marketplace, I knew that the country had plenty to offer. If a tourist wants to shop, the best place to shop is Antigua. I think it is, arguably, the most tourist-friendly city in Guatemala. It has an upbeat vibe and is very, very safe.
Located throughout Antigua are many “mercados,” or markets. If you are looking for a dirt-cheap bargain, the mercados are the place to visit! Regular bargaining is accepted in the marketplaces, but not in the city’s main shops. In the market, visitors can find handwoven Mayan textiles, t-shirts galore, Mayan-influenced handbags, colorfully beaded bracelets and trinkets, and semi-precious jewelry.
Speaking of jewelry, Antigua is perhaps most known in the shopping world for its many “joyerias” and “platerias” (jewelry shops and silverias, respectively). The most famous “joyeria” in Antigua is the “Casa del Jade,” a high-end shop that specialises in creating dainty, exquisite pieces with semi-precious jade, a stone that is native to Central America. Jade was the main stone of choice for the ancient Mayans when it came to carving and sculpting. Prices here are not expensive, either. I think the cheapest item that I found was about $25, and it’s still great quality jewelry. In addition, the Casa del Jade has a small on-site museum, featuring authentic ancient jade relics from the Aztecs, Olmecs, Mayas, and Mokayas (the earliest Mesoamerican peoples). Watching the jewelers design their wares in their workshops is also an unusual opportunity for vistors in the Casa.
Other silverias that I encountered include the “Joyeria des Artes,” which is much more upmarket than the “Casa del Jade,” but even more unique. I caught my eye on a pair of 14 karat gold-and-diamond earrings for $900! Boy, do I have good taste. The Joyeria des Artes is housed in a bright blue building and is even recommended by Lonely Planet travel guides, so if you have a little extra money to spend, this is a good spot.
I adore jewelry because it is timeless. Jewelry is such a fantastic investment because you can wear it each and everyday, and can spice up a bland, boring outfit. Jewelry is a statement piece, and I love to see both men and women adorn their daily attire with a little “bijoux” (as the French would say!).
I purchased a heart-shaped jade pendant for $26 (198 Quetzales) from the Jades Imperio Maya, a large joyeria with great service and a nice presentation. The store also sold lavender jade, a rarer stone that was only discovered several years ago. I much preferred this over my green jade pendant, but it was well over $100. Well, guess what? You better shop around! I went into the massive Casa del Jade in a quieter part of town, and found a nice lavender jade necklace for only $37! I was not happy and I thoroughly regret my purchase.
I’m not sure the jewelry in the marketplace in authentic, but a surefire way to tell if jade is real is to clutch it in your hand. If the jade is cold, it’s real (thanks “Let’s Shop with Cheryl Gillespie”). So besides the joyerias, there are quaint little boutiques lining the streets throughout Antigua. My favorites were the Chocolat La La, a pastry and Guatemalan chocolate shop owned by an affable French expatriate, and also the “Shogga” boutique (I think that’s what it’s called). Shogga sells fashionable, in-style international clothing featuring vibrant fabrics and prints and unusual designs. It’s not so expensive either. I can’t wait to see what there is to buy in Lago de Atitlan tomorrow!