Antigua has come to be one of my favourite places in the world. It’s a beautiful, friendly city that will leave a mark on your heart. There are a lot of options when it comes to entertainment, and for the most part, its a very safe place to be. Seriously, just don’t carry your passport, large sums of money, or travel down dark alleyways at night, and you really should be just fine.
I’ve travelled to Antigua twice now, and I’m preparing for a third trip in the spring. I’ve gone as a medical volunteer and really enjoyed the experience both times. If you’re interested, I volunteered through International Volunteer Headquarters. If you ever decide to try it for yourself, you can enter the code A4872 and you’ll get a 10% discount!
In no particular order, here are a few things you can do in and around Antigua that I’ve done and really loved.
If you’re a fan of chocolate (who isn’t?) you might be interested in taking the chocolate class at the Choco Museo. We learned all about where chocolate actually comes from, it’s history, and how to actually make it. You get to try shelling, roasting, and grinding cacao beans into a paste, and making it into various things. I think my favourite was the Guatemalan hot chocolate. SO creamy and delicious.
At the end, you can create your own chocolates, adding whatever you like to them, pouring them into moulds and setting them. You get to take these home at the end, if you don’t devour it all right away.
The building where this takes place is also a little museum, has a couple of little shops in it, and has a restaurant. The pizza is pretty good, in case you’re hungry!
2. Explore the City.
Honestly, this is the thing we always spend the most time doing. The city itself is absolutely stunning. There are a ton of places to see. Where should you go? I’ll give you a list of a few good places but really, just go get lost. It’s great. You never know what you’ll find.
Some of my favourite places around Antigua are:
- Cerro De La Cruz – It’s a bit of a hike but it’s worth it! There will be tuk tuks driving up, if you want to do that, or just take the path.
- Mercado de Artesanias – Lots and lots of local artisans. Many selling the same old same old but you may find some cool souvenirs. Make sure your money is in Quetzals and not American, and I’d advise against using your credit cards here. There is another market right next door to this, that sells literally anything from knock off hand bags, to lace undies, to pineapples. It’s a pretty cool place to explore. All of this is directly beside the bus stop, so if you want to go see the infamous Chicken Busses in action, that’s where they stop to pick up passengers.
- Convento de Capuchinas – A convent that was built in the built in 1736 and was ruined in earthquakes in 1751 and after. You pay to get in (minimal fee) and you can walk around. It’s pretty cool to see.
- Arco de Santa Catalina – This is the iconic arc that you see on almost any photo of Antigua. It’s actually a way for the nuns (I think) to get across the road to ring the bells. This area is really busy with tourists and street vendors and performers. Weekend nights there are usually a ton of things going on here. There isn’t any traffic allowed down at this time so you can walk. Just make sure to be smart about your personal belongings. There are a ton of great little shops around this area as well, they are boutique shops so you’ll see prices MUCH higher than at the markets, but the quality is also better for the most part. Lots of good restaurants here too.
- Parque Central – During the day this park is a hoppin spot. There are a ton of good coffee shops and restaurants around this area, and you can sit in the park and people watch too. I would avoid this place at night.
I think this might have been one of the coolest places I’ve ever been…but I’m a pretty big Lord of the Rings fan. It’s an eco lodge up in the mountains outside of Antigua. If you’ve taken a walk up to Cerro de la Cruz, you’d have walked past the little shop that you can book your drive up. It’s right across the road from a little soccer field, on the way up the hill to the trail.
I THINK you can only go up and fully tour the place on sundays. The first time we went in, we tried to book for an afternoon, but the little hobbit houses are rented out during the week, and only open to the public on sundays. So we booked a trip up on a sunday.
You have to take a shuttle up the mountain to the base parking lot. When you get there, you can wait for the truck to take you up the last leg. I want to emphasize how difficult the treck up the mountain was. When I went there, my Spanish was lacking and the guy in the parking lot that was in charge of shuttles didn’t speak a word of English so I took his sign language directions and we walked up the hill. It. Is. STEEP. And because you’re so high up (as in, in the clouds), it’s not so easy to breathe. Anyway, we made it, but we figured out on the walk that if we had waited we could have gotten a lift.
There are a few little cottages built into the mountain side, made to look like hobbit houses. You can actually rent and stay in them. Someday I’m going to do that. They have little activity places to play games, a rope swing out over a ledge, and lots of trails to explore high above the villages below.
They’ve got a bar, restaurant, and live entertainment as well. We sat and enjoyed a drink and the music for a while before we went back to the city.
4. Take a Coffee Plantation Tour.
If you walk around the city at all, you’ll see travel agencies everywhere. If you want to book a tour (or even a shuttle) anywhere, just shop around for prices and pick which one you’d like to do. Many times you can find a better price this way.
We booked a coffee plantation tour on a weekend after our volunteer time was done. We went to a Plantation just on the outskirts of Antigua called Filadelfia Coffee Plantation. You get to go on a pretty cool tour and learn how they grow and pick coffee, and then see where they process it and then roast it, then you get a cup of coffee and you can do some shopping in their little shop or stay and go to the cafe. It was a pretty cool experience.
5. Book a Tour of Pacaya Volcano.
Again, shop around and find a tour you want to take. We were able to actually do this tour on a weeknight, leaving in the afternoon and returning after dark. It was great. I went into it knowing I was NOT hiking up that puppy. I had read that there are local kids at the bottom of the hill selling walking sticks and horses. If you don’t rent a horse, they’re going to follow you up the mountain anyway until you eventually give up and can’t go any farther. I opted to ride from the start because I love riding horses and I never get a chance to…and theres no way I’d make it up the mountain on foot at that altitude. My horse was named Tequila. Which was not overly reassuring, but she was a good horse and for a mere 150Q, her little family took home some money. Win win in my books.
The view from the top is incredible, and you can usually see lava coming down the side of the volcano. It was my first time seeing lava that close (or at all actually). After a stop for a rest and photos, you hike down closer to the base of the volcano (not on horseback), and you can cross the lava field and roast a marshmallow on a vent that goes down into the lava about 50 feet underground. Pretty cool!
I opted to walk down the mountain to our shuttle, which wasn’t as far as the trip up, but it was a little slippery, so watch out for that. Our shoes were covered in dust when we were finished. Our guide stopped to show us the best places for sunset photos.
Quite possibly my favourite thing about Antigua…the food. You can find just about anything to eat, and it’s all at a pretty low price. There are so many great restaurants to choose from, it’s like you’d never try them all in one trip. I wrote about my favourites in another blog post, if you’re interested, you can read it here.
I just got home from a fantastic weekend in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia with some great friends, and I thought I’d better write about ASAP. First off, funny story about how this came about. I was scrolling through Facebook and noticed an advert for the Magic Winery Bus Tour, on a double decker bus. Well, I was intrigued. My girlfriends and I hadn’t been on a girls trip in almost a year, and I thought that might be fun! Drive up to Moncton, go on a winery tour, maybe convince everyone to go axe throwing, go to the Moncton market, shop, eat some good food, and head home refreshed. I mentioned it to them and before I knew it, we had tickets and Katrina was planning our trip! Yay! Now all I had to do was convince them to try axe throwing…because it seems intimidating at first but it’s so fun and I knew they’d love it. Well, when I brought it up, everyone just seemed to act like I was nuts. We wouldn’t have time for that! I couldn’t understand it. Finally Katrina said, “I really don’t think they have axe throwing in Wolfville.” I said, “Why would we go to Wolfville? They have axe throwing right in Moncton!” Anyway, long story short, I thought we were going to the Moncton, Magnetic Hill, Magic Mountain area, on the MAGIC winery tour…Well we weren’t. We were headed to Wolfville, Nova Scotia on a completely unrelated Magic tour. I hadn’t looked where the tour took place, I only saw Magic and thought, ‘Must be Moncton. Cool, I love Moncton!” Oops! Good thing someone else was paying attention! I just wanna say, they do have axe throwing in Kentville, which is not far from Wolfville!
Moving right along.
It was a long trip to get there for us, but totally worth it. We borrowed my mother in laws van, thankfully, because 5 of us in an SUV would have been another experience entirely. We had to get up and get on the first ferry from Grand Manan. We drove to Saint John, did some grocery shopping, and then headed to the Digby ferry terminal.
The ferry ride over to Nova Scotia was lovely, even though it was covered in staff from the Conservative political party of Canada. We met Andrew Sheer and got a photo with him. Not that I’m big on politics or anything, he was super tall.
Once we got to the Digby side, we had almost a 2 hour drive a head of us, to head to the middle of nowhere (Seriously, I still don’t know where we were). We stayed at a nice little cottage on a lake. It was perfect for us with a little kitchen and all the comforts of home. The lake was beautiful too, we arrived right before the sun went down. We were all too tired to make dinner or do anything much, so we had a couple drinks and played a game of Sh*t Happens (which is hilarious by the way). We went to bed fairly early, so we would have lots of energy for the next day.
We headed out around 9 or so the next morning, after realizing I hadn’t packed anything for actual breakfast. We drove into Wolfville and headed to the starting point for the tour. When we got there, we had the striking feeling that we were underdressed. There was a party of people wearing British hats like you’d see at a wedding, and also a group of girls wearing stilettos and really nice dresses. I feel like after 6 hours of drinking wine and walking around wineries, not to mention getting on and off a big double decker bus, you might regret wearing less sensible footwear, but hey, what do I know?
We got all checked in and found seats on the bus, and were soon headed off to our first winery. Lightfoot & Wolfville was the first stop. It was an absolutely beautiful winery, and quite new. We went on the initial tour and had our first tasting. They introduced us to Tidal Bay wines, which we didn’t get much of an explanation for until later. They also talked a lot about Ice Wine, which is really interesting on how they make it. They have to harvest the grapes at at least -8 degrees Celcius. The batch that they had in their store was actually harvested at 3 am on December 10 a couple years ago (my birthday!). I thought I’d buy a bottle to have on my birthday but saw that it was 40$ for a small bottle, and wasn’t sure if I even would like it, so I decided against it. We walked around the vineyards a bit and actually ordered another tasting to try out some other wines. I bought a bottle of the wine we were given as a sampler in the beginning.
After an hour, we were headed back onto the bus and out to our next stop, Grand Pre. This was the oldest of the wineries we visited. It was very pretty. The buildings were all beautiful and the wine was good. We had a taste of their apple liqueur, which was tasty as well. At this point, I was very hungry from not eating breakfast, so Jenna and I went off to the restuant to see if we could share a couple appitizers or something. They were quite reluctant to seat us, as they were preparing for several reservations. When we mentioned that we were just hoping for a cheeseboard or something small, they seated us. We ordered the cheeseboard to share (its not big enough to share), and a glass of the Tidal Bay, which was nice as well.
We didn’t get to see much of the actual vineyard though, because it took a while to get and eat our cheese board. It’s got some lovely views. I wish we had the chance to explore a bit. It is close to a UNESCO world heritage site as well, and you can apparently go and see it, if you have time.
When the bell rang to tell us that the bus had arrived, we headed down and got a seat. Off to our next vineyard, Luckett’s. We intended to eat lunch here from the get go, so it was nice to know we were close to getting some real food at this point (around 2 PM). We enjoyed the tasting, and then went right inside to get a seat at the restaurant.
As I said before, I had no real idea of where were going most of the time, so it was a fantastic surprise to find out that Pete Luckett was the owner of this winery, who I had absolutely loved as a child. I’m sure that you’ll only ever know who he is if you grew up or lived in the Maritimes through the 90’s. He was on a segment ‘Pete’s Frootique” on the local news (which my parents watched daily, but this was the only part I’d ever pay attention to), introducing new fruits and vegetables. I distinctly remember learning what a starfruit was on that segment, as well as a dragonfruit! He’d always end off his segment by saying ‘Toodlee-Doo!” which reminded me of my grampy. Well, I have to say, I might have been a bit excited to meet him. He was spiriting people around the restaurant as fast as he could take them, picking up dishes and talking with his customers. He was happy to stop for a photo! I only wish I’d asked him to say “Toodlee-Doo!”
The food was absolutely delicious. I had the beef pie and fries. I don’t even like pie and I devoured it. I WAS really hungry and had had quite a lot of wine by this point. However, the fries were made in truffle oil, and were divine. Their Tidal Bay was my absolute favourite of the whole day, and I wish I had time to get in the line and buy a couple bottles before we left!
This vineyard also has an red phone booth, which is their logo. You can get inside and call anywhere in North America. We made a quick phone call and took some photos and then were off to the bus again.
Our last stop was apparently where I stopped taking photos for the day, so I’ll have to steal some from Jenna. L’Acadie was a smaller winery which specialized in sparkling wines, which apparently, are not my thing. The property was lovely though and we enjoyed the sun by sitting in the grass after our tasting and taking in the view.
By this time, it was 4 PM or so, and we were all pretty tired. We decided to skip the last winery, Gaspereau. They are apparently famous for their maple wine (kinda wish we’d gone!). We rode the bus to the end of the line and picked up our wines, and got ready to head back to the cottage.
The drive back was quiet and when we got back Katrina and Melissa made the supper that we had planned out about a week before. Tuscan pasta with a salad and garlic bread! Yum! By the time we were all cleaned up, we were pretty much toast. Very tired from the long busy day. We headed to bed quite early because we needed to get up early to drive back to the Digby ferry.
We left the cottage around 8, after packing and a few little snags, and made it to the ferry on time. We all napped on the sail home, and had some time to head to Walmart and get coffee before heading down to our ferry.
All in all, a fantastic trip was had by all! I’d highly recommend the Magic Winery Bus Tour in Wolfville!
Oh, and Tidal Bay wine is the white wine interpretation of Nova Scotia. Apparently the region doesn’t grow red grapes as well, because of the acidity of the ground. I thought the best one came from Lucketts. I didn’t care for any of the reds at any of the wineries, and I’m usually a red wine drinker.
I honestly had no idea what to expect when I signed myself up to do a week of medical volunteering in Guatemala. I have read good and bad things about volunteering, but decided to keep my mind open about the whole thing. I’m glad I did!
After a full day of flying and layovers in various airports, myself and my co-worker Ian, landed in Guatemala City around midnight on February 4th. We picked up our bags and headed for airport security. Prior to leaving, I had raised money and gathered a few medical supplies to give to the medical project, so I had a giant suitcase full of prenatal vitamins, children’s multivitamins, Tylenol, Advil, tape, gauze, lice treatment, soap, shampoo, bandaids, gloves, and more. I was very nervous about getting through security on that end. No one in Canada had questioned it. I had to open my bag for a security officer and he pried around a bit but realized everything was sealed and he honestly didn’t seem to care that much, so he let us go without any trouble.
Once through security we were supposed to look for a man with a yellow smily face and our names on a paper. Well, he had a smily face flag, but no names on paper. He also didn’t know how to say our names, since he spoke very little English. We eventually got things straightened out an piled into his truck and headed out for Antigua. It was smooth travels, since it was so late at night. Thank goodness!
We arrived at our homestay just after 1 am. Her name was Julia and I think she was less than impressed that we were arriving so late, but she greeted us and showed us our rooms. She said breakfast was at 7:30 and unfortunately it takes me a while to get settled down, so I went to sleep just after 2 am.
We got up for breakfast and had scrambled eggs and black beans. I thought it was quite tasty. Afterwards, we decided to go on a walk of the city. Ian’s roommate, Gur, agreed to come with us and gave us a bit of a tour through the city. We did the walk that was outlined in my Lonely Planet guidebook. There are several churches and ruins of convents that you have to pay to get into, but they were pretty neat to see anyway. Right away I could tell that Antigua is an absolutely beautiful city. The cobblestones were so pretty (but honestly, not very comfortable to walk on). Gur helped me to get a SIM card for my phone, so I’d have data while in the country. It cost about 10$ Canadian, and was well worth it.
We visited the iconic arch, Arco de Santa Catalina. Somehow we caught it at a time when there wasn’t an incredible amount of tourists around, because we walked past the arch many times after that, and it was always packed with locals and tourists.
We hiked up to the Cerro de la Cruz, which honestly just about killed my lungs. I’ve never been at this altitude in my entire life, so doing even moderate exercise was a challenge. The cross overlooks the city and you can see all three volcanoes from there as well.
We had lunch with Gur at a little place called La Cocina de Paula. The chicken was very yummy. After that, we had to get our things and head over to Maximo Nivel for orientation and another tour of the city by the staff there. This particular tour included the McDonalds, which was well worth checking out. The company isn’t allowed to advertise like they do in North America, so it’s in a large Colonial style building with a beautiful garden with a fountain in the centre. It’s the nicest McDonalds I’ve ever seen. We received our placement information and a bit of a booklet on the Spanish words/phrases that would be helpful at the clinic.
Afterwards, Ian and I walked around the city and got an ice cream for dinner.
The next morning we met Jorje at Maximo Nivel, who is the medical coordinator there. He showed us how to use the bus system, which is bananas by the way, and how to get to our volunteer placement. To catch the bus, you go to a big parking lot area, where a whole bunch of busses stop and somoene will get out and yell where it’s going, like “Guate Guate Guate!” if they’re going to Guatemela City, or “Alo Alo Alo!” for Alotenango. You have to run and get on as quickly as you can because they will leave before you get on, and definitly before you get seated. Once you get out of the city, a man will come around and collect the fare, which was 4Qs. The ride is wild and you will definitly wonder if you’re about to die a few times per trip. We got off at the end of the line, and walked about 10 minutes down a big hill to the clinic.
There’s something important you need to know about the clinic though. No one speaks english. And we couldn’t speak Spanish. So it was very interesting to say the least.
The clinic is small but they do so much work every day. They see upwards of 40-50 patients per day, plus have a prenatal clinic, a small lab, a immunization/child health room, and doctor visits. They also have a dental room but no one was there when we were. We met the staff and got acquainted with the building. We were asked to cut some gauze because the staff was busy with an emergency when we got there, so we happily obliged. Their gauze comes in a gigantic roll and you have to cut off 4X4 pieces for them to sterilize. It makes you very thankful for the pre packaged, already sterile gauze.
After the emergency was dealt with, we began by meeting with the triage nurse, and starting on some traging. We did weights, heights, blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. The nurse would speak to the patient about the reason they were there, and then they would go back out into the waiting room.
After getting used to the triage room, we spent some time in the immunization/child health clinic. We did plenty of immunizations for children, and even a few adults. We helped the nurse with weight and height so she didn’t have to do everything herself.
After that, we spent a little bit of time with the doctor in his office, seeing patients. We didn’t stay there long that day, as it was our first day. We rode the bus back to the city and then went out for some lunch. That day we ate at Cafe De Miel and I had a crazy big yummy salad and a smoothie. It was a great little cafe. After, we walked around the city a bit more, which is beautiful so it’s easy to just wander the streets.
We decided to book a chocolate workshop at the Choco Museo. It was super interesting. We got to see and learn all about where chocolate comes from and how it’s made. We even roasted, ground, and made our own Cacao paste and hot chocolate, as well as chocolates. They were so yummy. I made sea salt and coffee chocolates. Yum!
After that we opted to eat supper at Los Tres Tiempos. I had a traditional Guatemalan dish called Pepian. It was pretty good. I like trying out new dishes and I love seeing what local people eat.
The next day we caught on to the busses and got to the clinic just fine. We jumped into triaging people and must have done a good job because we got a thumbs up from the triage nurse, who just left us to our own devices after a while. That day my feet hurt so badly from walking so much the night before that it was a bit of a hard day for me. I will definitly take better shoes next time! My belly was really upset all night and day too, so that added to it.
After our shift we decided to find something more north American for lunch, so we found Cafe Sky (after a lot of walking and getting lost a couple times). I had the mushroom soup and grilled cheese. It was SO good! The view from there was freaking phenomenal though. After that, we decided to chill out at the Maximo Nivel headquarters since we were tired and I wasn’t feeling well. They had a great wifi and another great view, and a nice little garden to sit.
For supper we went to Cafe Condensa for a slice of cake and a late. It was SO good! I really enjoyed that cafe. I think we ended up eating there 3 times.
Later that evening we went out to Guacamole and Salsa at Maximo Nivel. I sat and studied my Spanish because I felt like it would be helpful at the clinic the next day. Ian attended salsa dancing which he enjoyed immensely.
After another great day at the clinic, we ended up eating at Cafe De Miel again, where I had the craziest waffle covered in Nutella. Just thinking about it right now makes me drool a bit. We attempted to go to Hobbitenango but we didn’t know that you can only really do the full tour on Sundays, so we devided to wait and get the full experience. We ended up going into pretty much every single shop in the city centre.
The next day, our ride home from the clinic was insane. The capacity on the bus says 75 people and there was definitely 110-120 people on board, no joke. Ian had a woman sitting on his lap breastfeeding her baby and I had a lady half on my lap with her potted plant. It was SO full it was nuts. I don’t know how they kept stuffing more and more people on there, but they did.
Later on we had a late lunch at Cafe Condensa. Try the omelettes. SO good! Then we chilled a bit and then went on a night walk in the city. It was beautiful!
The next morning our walk from the bus stop to the clinic was wonderful! I looked up and saw that Fuego was letting off a bit of steam. It was amazing to see!
This was our last day at the clinic and it felt a little sad. We were just getting used to working there, getting into a routine. It was sad to say good bye but it was nice that we were able to do something nice for them. Before I left home, I put out a message to my home town asking if anyone would like to donate for supplies for the clinic, and so many people did. We were able to present the clinic with an Ottoscope kit since theirs wasn’t functioning anymore.
After work we had a really not great lunch at Chimino’s restaurant. Ian wanted to try it out because the picture of the burgers they had in their door looked good. Well, that’s about the only good think about that place. The pictures. They made their food look nice but Ian’s burger was rancid and my nachos were just meh. That afternoon we finished the rest of our souvenir shopping and then went out to share a pizza and turned in early-ish.
Saturday we took a tour to a coffee plantation with Filidelfia Coffee Tours. It was pretty cool. I had no idea what it took to grow and process coffee. We got to have a fresh cup of coffee at the end of the tour but they didn’t tell us that we only had about 5 mins to drink it so we ran as quickly as we could to the souvenir shop to get ourselves a couple bags of coffee, and then it was back to the truck to go back into the city.
We met a couple of Canadian girls on the tour who we had lunch with afterwards. We went to Monolocco and I had an amazing burrito the size of my head and Ian and I shared dessert nachos. So good!
Later on we walked around the streets in the evening. There are a lot of tourists in the city on the weekends. The streets are very busy, and some streets are almost impassable. There was a bit of street preforming and things like that going on.
Sunday morning we slept in and then went out for breakfast at Cafe Condensa again. I loved their omelettes and the bottomless coffee was worth it.
After breakfast we headed up to the Hobbitenengo office where we waited for our ride and played beanbags. The drive up the mountain was crazy. So many twists and turns that I’m sooooo not used to. We got dropped off at the parking lot for Hobbitenengo. Here’s a tip. No one speaks English so they won’t be able to help you, but if you go there, wait for the trucks. Walking up that mountain was HORRIBLE. Especially when we found out that we could have had a drive.
Once we got to the top of the mountain and caught our breath, the place was amazing! Hobbitenengo is a little eco village built into the top of the mountain. It has hobbit homes you can rent out, a restaurant, a bar, entertainment, carnival games, and lookouts you can hike to. They have a pretty cool rope swing out over the edge of a small drop off. The whole place supports locals, promoting them to go finish high school, and then having a job ready for them when they finish.
At the bar, I had a Hobbitjillo, which was a very complicated, but tasty coffee drink. Ian finally tried out the Pollo Cervesa (chicken beer) which is the local popular beer. We chose not to eat there because we weren’t really hungry at the time, and it was closing soon. We enjoyed the view and explored around the village a bit more but then took a truck back down to the bottom of the mountain to wait for our ride back to Antigua.
After exploring a few more markets and stores, we had dinner later on at Monolocco again, and I had some of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten. We packed up to be ready for travel the next day, and turned in as Ian had to get up at 3 am to travel.
The next day I got up at about 7 and went to have some breakfast. I went to El Viejo Cafe and had a nice coffee and eggs on toast, then went back to our homestay to catch my ride to the airport.
Overall, it was a wonderful trip. Antigua is charming and welcoming. There are so many fantastic places to eat, and tons of things to do. We did choose not to do a lot of evening adventures because our schedule made it difficult to catch tours in the evenings. I would recommend this to anyone who can step out of their comfort zone and help out in a different way.
If you’re interested in volunteering through Maximo Nivel, this is their website! Check it out! It’s super affordable and they take great care of you!
We went to Egypt in January 2017, and I am kind of sad that I wasn’t blogging at the time that we went. Honestly, the internet there is better than the internet here on Grand Manan, so it could have been done!
I’m not even 100% sure when we decided to go to Egypt. Or why, even. We were looking at a trip with the company G Adventures and it’s extremely difficult to choose where to travel, especially when you want to see the whole world! I think it was down to Thailand, Costa Rica, and Egypt and of the three, Egypt was far more affordable, plus it’s been on my bucket list since I was a child. Finally, after much debate, Casey finally said “We’re going to Egypt.”
The most stressful part of the whole thing was trying to figure out what to pack. We ordered some awesome backpacks online on Black Friday, Osprey 45’s I believe. Casey will likely correct me. I went on travel websites and some of my trusted Facebook groups, and asked about it. Mostly I was told to pack warm clothing, since we were going in winter (pffft yeah right) and to dress fairly modestly (not a problem). In retrospect, if you’re going in January, you WILL actually be cold, so pack more than one sweater, even a warm jacket. Also, leggings are alright but some people will likely stare at you, especially in some of the smaller towns. Jeans are the best thing because they’re warmer and provide more coverage. If you don’t mind the attention/stares, wear whatever you want. I just find that in some cases, this can be really awkward (ie. if you wear booty shorts, kids/teens might try and take a picture of your butt).
I’ll start at the beginning. Honestly, the whole thing didn’t get off to a great start. We took off from the Saint John airport at 6 AM, only to have the plane turn back around and land 15 mins later. We had to wait in Saint John for another plane to be sent from Halifax, which didn’t happen until after lunch, so we missed our Toronto to Cairo flight. We had a few hour layover in Montreal and then flew to Germany where we landed at 6:30 AM and had a 5 hour layover there. I somehow fell asleep in the airport there for a couple hours, but after being awake for 28 hours, I’m not overly surprised. I really enjoyed the flight from Germany to Egypt, as I could see the Alps, the Greek Islands, and it was my first time seeing the Mediterranean sea. Not gonna lie, I might have gotten a bit teary. Oh, and the woman who sat next to Casey was drunk and fell asleep on him, and it was hilarious.
We were supposed to land in Cairo at 6:30 AM originally, and we had booked a tour to Alexandria for the day. Since we didn’t land until 7:15 PM, we missed that completely. We did, however, still have the guide meet us at the airport and help us get through customs and with our visas. He also got us a couple of SD cards (seriously the best thing you could ever do, we each had 3G of data for 10$).
I have to say that I thought I’d seen crazy traffic in my travels, but nothing could ever compare to the traffic in Cairo. It was absolutely crazy. There might be 4 lanes painted on the road, but that means there’s (ample?) room for 5-6 lanes of actual cars! People on motorcycles with babies, kids in the front seat, no car seats, all going 100-120 km/h. The nurse in me was terrified!
We opted to stay at the Intercontinental in downtown Cairo for our first night. I’m glad we had a nice place to sleep, as we were exhausted. We did get cleaned up (and peeled off my compression socks!) and went downstairs to one of the restaurants on the property. We had some sort of Kababs and some delicious veggies and some cinnamon rice. After that, a hot shower and sleep were extremely welcome!
We slept in a bit and went down for breakfast. It was a buffet style but you could find just about anything, including honey right on the honeycomb. We were able to check our bags into the hotel security and walk to the Egyptian Museum. There are a bunch of people on the grounds of the museum and you can hire them and they’ll walk you through the museum, as there isn’t much for explanations on the exhibits. Some of it is also in Arabic. So you can really only guess at a lot of it. We did hire a man for an hour but we felt like he rushed through too fast, and we wanted to look at everything. So, after an hour we decided to go alone and take our time. You pay extra to go into the mummy rooms, and you’re not allowed to take photos in there. The mummies of several kings, queens, and pharaohs were in there, all hermetically sealed to preserve them. It was really cool. King Tut’s mask was also in this museum, which you also can’t take photos of. It was beautiful though. Everything that was packed into King Tut’s tomb was there too, except for him. After seeing the tomb, it’s crazy to think all of the stuff was in there, it must have been packed from floor to ceiling! It’s hard to choose a favourite part of the museum, but I really liked this sarcophagus that you looked at through a mirror on the floor. The inside of it was beautiful and carved like the night sky.
We walked back to the hotel and decided to grab dinner there before heading to meet our travel group. Cairo is SO big. I thought New York was huge but Cairo is so much larger. It’s pretty diverse too, no one really stares at you, though a few try to get you to follow them. Not happening buddy thanks.
We took an Uber to find our hotel that we would meet our group at. This is where things got interesting. The driver didn’t speak english (although it only cost 2$ Canadian) so when the GPS said we were in the right place, we got out and started walking. We had no clue where we were but we found a bank and they didn’t seem to really know where the Pharoh’s Hotel was. They pointed us in a direction so we walked. It was dark by then and we found a hotel, hoping someone could help us and we saw a sign that said G Adventures Tour so we figured we found it! In we go and sit down with the group and the leader looks VERY confused. He does another role call and then figures out that we’re at the wrong group! What are the chances of running into another G Adventures group when we’re lost. He helped us find the way to our hotel, where we met Albert and the rest of our group. We then went out to a cafe for snacks or whatnot, and to get to know our group. Our room was quite chilly and obviously they had not really realized that we were a married couple but it was comfortable and we were tired so an early bedtime was great.
Day three is where the fun began! We had a little continental breakfast at the hotel, we packed our bags on to a bus and headed out. Our first stop was the Pyramids. I was a little bit scared that they would not be as amazing in real life as they are in books, but I was wrong. They were HUGE and magnificent. You can pay to go into two of them, we chose to go into the Great Pyramid.We walked around and took photos of it and then went inside. I was terrified. I am pretty claustrophobic but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from going inside. It was extremely hot inside and there was a woman in front of us who was trying to climb up in high heels, so it took forever. It was an extreme leg workout but we did it. The inside is just an empty tomb as it was robbed at some point. It’s where the Khufu would have been laid to rest. I’m sure it was packed full of treasure when it was sealed. It’s too bad, when you think about it, how many artifacts were lost in grave robberies.
The second pyramid was built by his son, Khafre. We walked around and took some pretty cool photos. Our guide, Albert, was always ready to help us take amazing photos! We paid the guy with the camel to just let us take photos. Albert told us not to go for a ride because they’re not really regulated and sometimes they will rip you off and not let you off the camel until you pay them more. Just a little travel tip.
The third pyramid was smaller, built by Khafre’s sone Menkaure. You can also go inside this one but we chose not to. One of the locals offered Casey some camels in exchange for me. Casey figure it wasn’t enough camels.
We drove over to a spot where we could see all three pyramids. It was amazing.
After, we drove over to the Sphinx. It looks super small compared to the pyramids, and when you look at it far away, but when you get closer to it, it really is quite big. It’s pretty amazing what the ancient people built!
We stopped at a beautiful papyrus shop, which showed us how they used to make papyrus paper, did a pretty sweet demo, and then we shopped a bit. We bought a gorgeous picture of the pyramids to hang in our living room, which was painted on home made papyrus paper.
Next we visited a market called Khan el Khalili. It was a very different experience for us. Tight quarters, different smells, food, vendors everywhere, a big beautiful mosque, and tons of people. We explored a bit then rested with our group at a Cafe, and ordered our first Hookah. I’m not personally a fan of smoking it, but I love the smell.
After that, it was off to the train station. After a exhausting day, I couldn’t wait to go to bed! I think the train was one of the things I was looking forward to the most, as I’ve never been on one. Let me tell you, it was an experience. The bunks were extremely small, I was freezing, and the bathroom was pretty surprising with a toilet that opened directly to the tracks below! I did not sleep very well, as we were speeding up and slowing down and the noises of other trains passing made me jump every time. It was an experience!
We were woken up on the train for breakfast, and enjoyed watching the small towns go by in the window. Breakfast was bread. Seriously. Like 5 different types of bread and fig jam. After getting off of the train, we walked a short distance to our hotel where we were able to shower and get changed. A while later we met at a bus to go visit Philae Temple. I think that this was my favourite of all of the temples we visited. Maybe because it was the first one, maybe because it was unique on an island in the middle of the Nile, maybe because it was an amazing mix of architecture from so many different periods. It was beautiful.
After this, we headed back closer to our hotel and took a boat around the nile and Elephantine Island, which has a sweet Nubian village on it. We played soccer with a few of the school children. They went easy on us and totally kicked our butts. They were so cute and such good sports to let us play with them.
After having our butts handed to us by a bunch of small children, we walked around the Nubian village. Dirt roads and paths, laundry hanging to dry, beautifully painted homes, tiles. It really was amazing. We had dinner with a local family and they spoiled us. We had a huge variety of foods, including french fries (which must be a staple because they’re everywhere). I don’t know about everyone else on the trip but I needed a good nights sleep after that!
Getting up at 3:45 am was NOT easy the next morning, but it was SO worth it! We had a 3 hour drive to Abu Simbel. One of the temples that Rameses II built. It was amazing. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, and it was actually moved a couple hundred yards backwards because the dam that made Lake Nasser flooded the original site. It was a pretty amazing tribute to ancient AND modern manpower! The statues and temples themselves were phenomenal. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside them, but the outside was the best part.
On the drive back to Asawan, we stopped in the middle of the Sahara desert and took some photos. We were able to see a mirage too, which was pretty cool. We stopped at a shop that makes perfumes out of oils which was pretty cool. They gave us Koshari, which is a traditional meal of pasta, lentils, tomatoes, and chickpeas. It was tasty, but after a while my belly started to not feel great. We went back to the hotel to rest for a while.
After a couple hours we met with our group for a big dinner together at a restaurant. Casey tried pigeon and I had chicken I believe. You always get lots of pita bread and tahini sauce, as well as rice and veggies too. After, we explored the spice market, bought some spices and hibiscus tea from a local vendor, and then met our group again to watch a Football match in a hookah cafe.
The next day we slept in a bit and then went and boarded our Fellucca to sail the Nile for the day. It’s funny how you get an idea of how things are going to be and you think you won’t enjoy things. I was SURE I was going to hate this day, and I was SURE I was going to love the train. It was the exact opposite.
I LOVED the fellucca. It was such a beautiful relaxed sail on the water. It was a goregeous day. Not too hot, not cold. Just right. We stopped and stretched our legs on a big sand dune at one point. Casey jumped into the Nile. Not me! That was COLD! We had a support boat that we could flag and use the washroom and that’s where we ate as well. Lunch was pretty weird but dinner was fine. We were all so tired from the past few days that a super relazing day was just what we needed. There were canvas sides and a roof to the fellucca and we slept on the deck all night. It was the BEST sleep ever. I’m pretty sure we were all in bed around 8 PM!
We woke up pretty early on the felucca and had a bit of breakfast and then took the support boat over to the shore, where we hopped on land and our bus picked us up to head to our first stop of the day, Kom Ombo temple, built for Sobek the crocodile god and Horus. The area was a rich farm land and they had a problem with people getting eaten by crocodiles, so what do you do but build a temple to the croc god? The hieroglyphics on the walls were pretty amazing at this temple. There was also a crocodile mummy museum there.
It was a long drive from there to where we were staying in Luxor. We drove through a bunch of small towns with vendors selling every fruit and veggie, and every animal you can imagine. You wanna know where to get a pigeon? On the side of the road at a vendor!
When we arrived in Luxor, we had a chance to shower and get changed, and then headed out to Karnak Temple. An amazing temple which was added to by many of the kings. It was so much to explore and was beautiful. Luxor had a 3 km ancient road lined with Sphinxes between Karnak Temple and Luxor temple. It’s pretty incredible. There were obelisks still standing and really awesome carvings as well as so many hieroglyphics and the biggest kings bathtub ever. It amazed me how the pillars were so massive and heavy. It’s hard to fathom how an ancient people got them to stand but they were fantastic.
After exploring the temple until sunset, we took a horse and carriage tour around Luxor. That was pretty neat, seeing how the city has come up around all of these UNESCO heritage sites. We met as a group to get pizza and then went to bed for an early morning.
The next morning we woke up super early meet out bus for a big day. We drove a short distance to the Nile, and we got on a little boat which ferried us over to the other side. We caught another bus there and drove to a field where we boarded the biggest air balloons I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely amazing to soar above the Valley of the Kings and watch the sun rise.
After thatwe drove back to our hotel and got showered and changed and went for some breakfast. Next we took a donkey ride down the streets of Luxor. That was challenging. You can’t hold your legs around them you just have to relax. They have a mind of their own that’s for sure.
Next we went to see the Colossi of Memnon. Gigantic statues still being excavated. Pretty awesome.
After that we headed to Queen Hapshepsut’s temple. It was one of my favourites probably because the paint was still in beautiful colour and detail on the inside.
After this, we went to a pretty nice shop that made things from alabaster right there on site. I bought a cat and some scarabs. Next we headed to the Valley of the Kings. It was a highlight for me as well. You weren’t supposed to take photos in there. We went inside King Tut’s tomb and saw his mummy. We went into some pretty amazing tombs and the paint was still amazing. Next we drove to a place where were going to ride camels. That was kind of frightening but a very cool experience. My camel’s name was George Clooney. After a day of riding donkeys and camels, by bum was quite sore!
After our ride, we went on a drive through the countryside, which was beautiful, and then off to do a bit of last minute shopping. We also took a quick tour of the Luxor temple as well. Then it was off to the train station for our train ride back to Cairo. However, our train couldn’t get through to the station so we waited around for a long time and then went back to the previous hotel, and some went to bed, some hung out in the lobby and we went out to a cafe and had tea and something to eat. We found out at about 1 AM that our train wasn’t going to be fixed anytime soon so we all went to bed.
We were woken at 6 to say that G Adventures would be flying us back to Cairo that morning so everyone could make their flights. It was a quick hour flight and then we were back in Cairo for one more night. We relaxed at a hotel by the airport and tried to get lots of rest after a very busy week.
All in all, this was the trip of a lifetime. Our guide was AMAZING. Albert took such good care of us. He always made sure we had snacks, bathroom breaks, and lots of free time. We were so lucky to have him. The entire trip was worth flying halfway across the world for. Egypt is such a fascinating country with an interesting history. I highly recommend going on this tour. You can do it for a little more money and have nicer accommodations and fly instead of train. They have tons of options. G Adventures will take great care of you.
Full disclosure: I’m more than likely not spelling things right. Sorry!
If there’s one thing you need to know right from the start if you’re planning a trip to Antigua, Guatemala, is that there are a ton of incredible places to eat. You will not go hungry. Surprised? I was too!
I’m a big fan of TripAdvisor. I review everything I do and everywhere I ever eat while I’m out on adventures. I was aware that there seemed to be come decent places to eat, but not too sure about much else.
In Antigua, everything is within walking distance. I’m not a huge fan of walking around until we find something we like, because much of the time, the best places are kind of hidden. Look at the menus outside of the restaurant. Most have a person standing outside to help you and draw your attention into their restaurant. Ask them questions. They know what’s up.
You may need to install Google translate. Several places that we went did not have many who spoke English. They usually have a menu you can read but you might have some difficulty communicating.
So without much more babbling on, here are my top favourite places to eat in Antigua, Guatemala.
#1 Cafe Condensa
Honestly this is probably my top favourite place to eat, and also my most frequented. They had fantastic breakfasts, as well as delicious cakes and sweets. The coffee was so good, and the atmosphere was really lovely, with the colonial style building with gardens in the centre that boast fountains and trees and birds chirping.
This place is found right off of parque Centrale so it’s quite popular. There is a little take out place in the front where we often got coffee, as well as it has a little gift shop inside.
#2 Luna De Miel
This was a brunch place that had amazing crepes, waffles, salads, smoothies, and iced coffee. The menu is huge, we’ve been in several times and still not tried a fraction of the options.
They even have a rooftop patio to sit on. We frequently saw little puffs go up from la Volcan Fuego here. It’s a fantastic view.
#3 Cafe Sky
The food here has been tasty every time. They’ve got North American options, and even soups and salads for when you want something lighter. The food isn’t what I come for, but the fact that it was good both times we went was a lovely bonus. The real reason we want to eat there every time we go is the view. It’s got a spectacular view of the city and Volcan Agua.
It is a bit off the beaten path but it is well worth the 10 minute walk. The staff was lovely every time as well.
#4 La Cocina De Paula
This gem is a well kept secret of the city. It’s local, Spanish food, made fresh. It’s extremely cheap and very very tasty. We were told to get the Pollo from Paula’s so we did. It was so delicious. It’s a tiny, hole in the wall place but it’s so good. If you’re looking for some local food, this is the spot.
I can’t recommend places and skip this place. It had a more of a North American bar feel but the food was lovely. We actually watched the Super Bowl here one year! You get a ton of food for your money.
#6 Fernando’s Kaffee
I can’t even recall how many times I sat and ate here. Whether it was just a croissant and coffee or a breakfast or a dessert. The coffee is fantastic. The sweets were yummy. The garden is nice. It was very handy to were we were spending a lot of time so we frequented for coffee.
I can honestly not believe I don’t have more photos of my food from here but I cannot find any! Must have been too good to stop and photograph!
There you have it! My top favourite places to eat in Antigua! Enjoy!
I found out about bullet journaling a few years ago and have used it off and on since then. I like to make lists and track things but sometimes the idea of having to write out my own calendar is daunting, so I don’t really use it anymore.
Through bullet journaling, I came across a post on Facebook I believe that inspired me to start a travel journal. It’s not exactly the same as bullet journaling (though it could be if you wanted it to be). I can’t remember exactly but the post was someone sitting poolside with their Leuchtturm or Moleskine journal sitting on their lap. I’d also seen a few people post about travelers notebooks, which are a super cool way to track your travels, but they can get a bit more scrap book-ish than I wanted to do, and I liked the idea of a hard cover, since I might not be writing on the best surfaces and under the best conditions.
I looked around for a good notebook, but when I started this book (in 2016), there wasn’t really many options for good notebooks. Now that Bullet Journaling is popular, they’re everywhere. I actually looked online and couldn’t find the specific one I wanted for quite a while but finally, I located a Moleskine store in Grand Central Station and knew that we were headed that way soon so I crossed my fingers and on our trip to New York in October 2016, I found the store in Grand Central and found exactly the book I was looking for; a large (7.5 inch x 10 inch) black dot grid Moleskine notebook. I was so excited! It was perfect.
From previous experience with bullet journaling , I knew that I’d be using Sakura Pigma Micron 05 or 03 pens, and a small metal ruler that fits nicely in the back pocket of the book. These pens don’t bleed through the paper. The same pen in bolder font can bleed through and ruin things for the next page. I know it sounds a bit obsessive but I didn’t want to ruin my notebook, especially after putting a lot of effort into it.
I started actually travel journaling that same trip. I figured out where to order photos from and what size they’d be, and measured off places for photos to go within each page. I chose a way to head each page and each day and use that consistently.
I chose to write every detail of our trips in this book. I don’t bullet format anything. That’s my choice. It would take MUCH less time and effort to do it that way but I love they look of it so much I wouldn’t change it for a slight convenience.
I did plan out the front few pages. One is a map of the world that I drew with a quote, one is my bucket list page (hindsight being what it is, I should have saved 2 more pages for that). I cross each thing off and date it as I do it. I add things all the time and it’s getting quite full.
I’ve taken this journal with me every trip I’ve done since then. Sometimes I don’t have time to write in it so I have to catch up later, which is fine. I’m not sacrificing my trip for the journal.
I usually end up writing 2-3 trips out before I order photos now. Unless I don’t have another trip planned for a long time. Then I usually go ahead and order them.
I love my travel journal. I love to look through and reminisce about the trips we’ve done.
Anyone could do this and modify it to how they want to do it. This is my preference and I’m very happy with it.