Antigua, Guatemala is one of my favorite cities in the world. I visited for the first time for two weeks in 2015 and promised to return. Well, I have gone back to Antigua on five separate occasions and have rented two short term apartments there. In total, I’ve spent 4+ months living in Antigua, Guatemala. I grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York City before I quit my corporate life to travel the world. I love Antigua Guatemala because it’s a great city to learn Spanish, it’s affordable (although expensive for Guatemala), the diverse cuisines and delicious restaurants, and there’s a great expat community. I work for myself and did not have to get any special visa to live in Antigua.
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Moving to Guatemala and Getting Settled
How I Chose Antigua, Guatemala
The first time I came to Antigua, Guatemala, I had one goal – to learn Spanish. I spent two weeks at a homestay and was amazed by how much I learned in a short time. After four years of non-stop globetrotting, my body was getting tired of constantly being on the move, and I wanted to settle somewhere. It was easy for me to choose where to live – Antigua, Guatemala, because it’s a place that made me feel at home.
I moved into a house with five other roommates, who were all expats. There was a Canadian, an Australian, some fellow Americans, and a Dutch – making a beautiful, international collection of people. We all had one thing in common: that we would stay in Antigua, Guatemala much longer than originally planned. My roommates all worked in different fields. One started a club and restaurant in Antigua, others were volunteers in Guatemala City, and one worked at a school nearby. It was fun to live in an international house, and my roommates showed how easy it was to live in Antigua for years (if I ever wanted to do that).
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Settling Into Life in Antigua
Antigua, Guatemala is a small city, and you can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. It’s easy to bump into familiar faces while walking down the cobblestone streets. It’s also easy to get around speaking English in Antigua, but challenge yourself and practice Spanish. Many tourists visit Antigua, Guatemala, to attend Spanish schools since it costs around $200 a week for a private teacher and a homestay that includes all meals. Local people are patient in Antigua, Guatemala and talk slower than in other Spanish speaking countries. I had a private Spanish teacher and wanted to learn and speak Spanish as much as I could while out. I loved that people did not judge me if I used incorrect grammar, and they accepted my improving Spanish.
My apartment had a nice courtyard, and a cleaning lady came every day. It’s convenient to have a cleaning lady, and that is common in most households. On my first night at the apartment, I was surprised by all the dirty dishes in the sink. I thought, “Do I have messy roommates?” Then I realized that the dishes would be cleaned the next morning by the cleaning lady. I still would try to wash my dishes right after I used them, but our cleaning lady was so helpful and on top of it! She also liked to talk and gossip, so it was fun to have some chats with her. I wish my Spanish were better, so I could’ve gotten juicer stories about what’s going on. My room was the smallest in the house, but I was paying a low amount and didn’t mind a small room since I still got to enjoy the rest of the apartment.
Living in Antigua, Guatemala: Making Friends, Managing Visas and Working
There are expats everywhere, and it’s easy to meet one another. All you have to do is go out! Visit a bar or go to events that are on FB, and you will meet other expats. I suggest looking on Facebook for an expat group like Expats Living in Guatemala to meet more people. Tinder is also a great way to meet people! I made my first friend on Tinder, and we still stay in contact.
As mentioned, I visited Antigua, Guatemala, several times and decided to move on my 3rd visit. I work as a travel blogger, so I never have to rely on finding work while abroad. Antigua has a great café culture, making it easy to work from my laptop. It seems that no one gets proper working visas. Instead, people go on visa runs to stay legally in the country.
Antigua is an easy place to adapt to and immediately felt like home. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there before, or maybe because it was the first time I got an apartment anywhere in 4 years. (I’ve been fully nomadic since 2015 and before renting an apartment in Guatemala, the longest I ever stayed somewhere was one month). Not all products are available in Antigua, and some things like electronics can be more expensive. I recommend using the travel app Grabr to receive items that you miss from home.
Day to Day Life While Living in Guatemala
How to Get Around Antigua
The easiest way to get around Antigua is by walking. It’s a small city, and it’s enjoyable to walk around the colorful streets since they are picturesque. Antigua, Guatemala, is the perfect reason to invest in a travel backpack with wheels. It’s useful to have versatile luggage because a backpack is needed for the cobblestone streets, but then you can use a wheeled bag for the times you are outside the city. Few people own a car in Antigua because it’s more hassle, and public transportation is cheap. Also, there are ubers and tuktuks for when you are feeling lazy, though! But one of the best reasons I love the city is because I can walk everywhere.
How to Find a Place to Live in Antigua
I found lodging by asking a friend who lived in Antigua. It was really easy and occurred over one day. Antigua is a small community, and most people are connected somehow. As long as you have one friend, you should be able to sort out accommodation quickly. Most people live in shared apartments with 2 or 3 roommates. There’s usually an outdoor courtyard in a lot of the houses. I mostly cooked for myself and bought food either at the market or at the main grocery store in town. The only downside of getting food at the market is that the portions are huge! You can’t just have a couple of carrots; they give you a massive bag, and you have to get creative to figure out how to cook them all. My roommates also usually cooked for themselves. There are a lot of options to eat out, but that can get quite expensive. If you are looking for cheap food, you can always go to the park and buy lunch from a street vendor. Guatemala has so many avocados, which makes me incredibly happy because they are cheap and good.
The neighborhood I stayed in was quiet and is where most other expats live. Many Spanish students live on one side of town, and the expats live on the other. Since Antigua is small, almost all areas are great to live, unless it’s super far. There aren’t neighborhoods in Antigua; it’s one city center. It is possible to get out of Antigua and visit local farms, a fun day trip. Antigua is the hot spot, though, and many people from Guatemala city come to Antigua each weekend to party. Many people who work in Guatemala City choose to live in Antigua because of the better ambiance.
The Biggest Adjustments to Living in Guatemala
Guatemalans are religious, and during Easter, there are a lot of decorations and a huge celebration. Something that I had to get used to is all the firecrackers! I still don’t know why firecrackers are always going off, but it seems like something locals like to do to celebrate. I’d be eating a meal and then get scared because I thought I heard a gunshot, but in reality, it was just a firecracker.
Before I had my own apartment, I stayed in a homestay. It was interesting to see that no matter how old a child is, they always have to listen to their parents. The son of my host mother, who was 40 years old, invited me to go out with him. We went out and drank some beers, and it was fun speaking my broken Spanish and bonding. I realized I was his excuse to go out and come home later than usual. If I weren’t there, he would’ve been locked out of the house because his mother sets a curfew. That surprised me to see such rules for a grown adult!
Another reason I like living in Antigua, Guatemala because it’s one of the only places where I am tall! I am 5 ft 4 inches, and many Guatemalans are shorter than me. I’m usually the smallest one in the crowd.
The Cost of Living in Guatemala
One of the main reasons I chose to live in Antigua, Guatemala, is the low cost of living. Antigua is one of the most expensive cities in Guatemala, but it is much cheaper than cities in the US. I can spend money comfortably in Antigua because I know that nothing will be extremely expensive.
- Monthly Rent in 2 Bedroom Apartment – 4600Q/ $600
- Cost of Commute Monthly – $0, you walk everywhere. If you are going outside the city, then buses and ubers aren’t very expensive
- Coffee from a local café – 20Q/$2.50, and there’s a great café culture where you can spend the whole day in a café
- Beer from a local bar – 20Q/$2.50
- Common Take Away Food – 30Q/ $4
- Decent Dinner for Two – 220Q/$28
- Typical grocery bill for a week of shopping – 110Q/ $15
Kesi is an Ivy League grad who quit her job on Wall Street and has been backpacking around the world for 5+ years, visiting 60+ countries. On her blog, www.kesitoandfro.com, she teaches adventurous souls how to sustain long term travel and shares how travelers can create authentic connections with local people and experiences.
If you’re moving to Guatemala, currently living in Antigua or just curious about travel and life abroad, leave your questions for Kesi in the comments below.
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