Charming Guatemalan village of Antigua offers history and gay appeal


HORSE DRAWN CARRIAGE | A cobblestone street in Antigua recalls the city’s storied past, which welcomes gay travelers.

RICK VANDERSLICE  | Contributing Writer

In a world economy, one of the biggest considerations in international travel is how strong your buying power is overseas. While Europe can be pricey, the world in the other Americas add great value to their long list of treasures. And perhaps none is a better bargain that Guatemala (where one dollar buys you seven quetzals) … and no place in the Central American nation is more charming that Antigua. This small town some 70 miles from the capital of Guatemala City sits a mile up a mountain and is as breathtaking as that sounds. This ancient town of 40,000 boasts cool year-round temperatures between 60 and 80; in fact, the hottest thing going here are the men.

Although there is no active gay scene here, Antigua’s hotels, markets, restaurants and other public venues are very gay-friendly — several even gay-owned. The local gay populace call it “Gay Light” and they love sharing their beautiful oasis with visitors. (One curious bit of gay history was made in Antigua in the 1940s, when gay author Gore Vidal lived here in a house that was once a convent next to the ruins of the Church of El Carmen. There he wrote one of the first popular novels with a gay theme, The City and the Pillar.)

 Though you can rent scooters or cars for your stay, better to explore on foot. Just walking around the cobblestone streets (a mere 15 blocks square!) ensures you won’t miss any part of this charming village.

 The center of town, and of activity, is Central Park, founded in 1595 and surrounded by the glorious Cathedral of San Jose, and many cafés and shops. (Don’t let its age fool you — it’s also a wifi hot-spot.) You can rent a horse-drawn carriage here for sightseeing or enjoy exquisite hot chocolate drinks at the gay-owned Café El Gringo-Chapin nearby.

 Just beyond the southeast corner of Central Park is Ricky’s Bar, which attracts cute men of all ages. Two-and-a-half blocks west is the lesbian-owned Frida’s Mexican Bar & Restaurant, claiming the best nachos and margaritas in town. A popular gathering place for women, guys are welcomed here, too.

Though Antigua is a tourist mecca, unrelated businesses also provide a draw. We ventured to one of the local coffee plantations, the famous Filadelfia Coffee Resort & Plantation located in the hills overlooking the city. On a wonderful three-hour guided tour, we received an education on how differences in the size and color of a coffee bean can make all the difference in its taste and aroma. For caffeine addicts, it’s a not-to-be-missed experience.

Lodging options run from five-star hotels and other luxury accommodations (including the wonderful Hotel Soleil La Antigua on the southwest edge of town), as well as more affordable chains, B&Bs and even youth hostels.

Antigua is easy to get to as well. American Airlines has daily flights from DFW to Guatemala City, landing at the modern La Aurora Airport inside this capital of 3 million. But why linger in the hubbub of activity when an hour away is a laid-back gay oasis?

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 14, 2013.