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Coffee lovers, join me as I walk through the cobblestone streets of the coffee capital of Central America, if not the world (sorry, Portland Oregon).
My father and I just returned from a trip through Central America, in part to visit coffee roasters and farmers in Guatemala. After spending a couple days on Guatemala’s breathtaking Lake Atitlan, we proceeded by bus to Antigua. My father has made this trip before. It would be my first trip to Guatemala, and to the amazing city of Antigua.
Antigua is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, well-known for the ruins of colonial churches that remain standing throughout the city today. Around and between these ruins, a city and popular tourist destination has grown, including restaurants, cafes, shopping, and a central park square. There are less than 40,000 people that live in Antigua, down from its peak when it was once the country’s capital – Antigua Guatemala translates to “Ancient Guatemala”. Earthquakes destroyed much of the town in the 18th century.
My father and I arrived in this vibrant city of bilingual shop owners and employees, local shoppers, and tourists. I was struck by the number of independent cafes on every block. I think there may be more cafes per capita in this city than in any other, and great news, not a Starbucks in sight to diminish the experience! Not so great news, they allowed a few American fast food places in that are limited in how big or colorful their sign is allowed to be – smaller in size and less flashier than local shop owners. That includes a Burger King and McDonalds with its McCafe sign.
Antigua is also well-known for its chocolate makers and while there, my father and I toured Choco Museo, both a chocolate shop as well as a museum teaching the history of chocolate and how its made, with emphasis on its Mayan roots.
Among the many cafes that we visited was Fernando’s Kaffee, that I will write about separately. Fernando was recommended to me by two people, my friend and roaster extraordinaire Dave Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and a friend’s cousin who lives in Antigua. Fernando was gracious enough to give us some time for an interview, and it was a pleasure to meet an Antigua coffee man in person.
Due to its popularity among tourists, Antigua is usually accessible from any cruise that stops in Guatemala from both the Atlantic and Pacific.
If you love coffee and ever get the opportunity, make a point of visiting Antigua, Guatemala. Naturally, a country’s tourism department can only promote themselves in so many places, and Guatemala has not focused on the North American tourism industry. Don’t let that deter you. Tourists abound in Guatemala, and it is a truly beautiful country and people. If you’re a coffee lover, you need to see Antigua for yourself. I’m also told that Easter is an especially impressive celebration, where local parishes organize processions through the streets.