I think you will agree with me when I say:
Tourist traps are really annoying!
One of my biggest issues, when it came to traveling, was always being encapsulated in the tourist attractions. Everywhere you go, they subliminally restrain you from experiencing the rest of the place. Of course, they allow you to roam freely but there is always a section where the tourists are known to go and stay.
The best part?
Antigua is one of the cities in Guatemala that doesn’t necessarily influence you to stay in the tourist areas. The whole city is yours to encounter, for the city is quite small and compact so there is always room to explore every little part. Becoming a local is as easy as being a tourist! LOL.
It’s not the old colonial buildings and ancient ruins that surround it that makes it so unique. It’s not the beautifully painted houses that are covered with vibrant colors, it’s not the famous churches nor the large, prominent cross at the top of a lookout point, it’s not the holiness of the city for everyone else. It’s not the towering volcanoes that surround it, but what makes the city of Antigua so special is the people that show you the true Guatemala.
The people that make up Antigua are delightful and generous, for they will always smile back. Everyday life will lure you in and you will begin to participate in fun activities faster than you realize. Trekking the city, I found myself enjoying time with children getting ready to leave for school. As they were boarding the yellow school bus, they were running around, laughing, and smiling. Observing the children enjoying their leisure activities, I managed to join them unexpectedly. We were all playing tag and running around the cobblestone roads. After frolicking with the local children, I took note of the fact that connecting with the locals in Antigua is not as hard as people may think.
How easy is it to connect with the locals in Antigua?
It’s so easy that the key to affixing yourself with the locals is to participate in community pastimes.
The great thing about Antigua is that you don’t need to step out of your comfort zone to try and connect with them. Oddly enough, if you put yourself out there, they will come to you. Now, some of the pastimes that you can partake in are attending any local festivals or gatherings that are known to locals. You want to make yourself available, and what I mean by that is to be open to anything. The more that the locals see you adapting and learning about their culture, the more willing they will be to approach you or vice versa.
Fortunately, the natives are kind and would spend their time talking to you even though they don’t know you. They talk to you as if you have been their friend for years, for they create such a personal connection with you that goes beyond what any newcomer can imagine.
The most important way to become a local in Antigua is to learn their history! Antigua is a thriving history book, for its housing Guatemala’s oldest ruins and cultures. Connecting with the history connects you with the natives.
Talk to the Waiters/Workers
Talking to your waiter is the best way to get inside knowledge about Antigua. Most of the waiters/workers are very welcoming and are open to any questions you may have. I was staying at the Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo, and I was having dinner with my family. I was actually able to spark a conversation with the waiters because we experienced a ghost encounter! Filling you in really quick, it used to be a church and convent that housed nuns.
So, our experience was actually seeing an apparition of a nun. After experiencing such a frightening encounter, which sent chills down my back, I shared it with the waiters. This is what helped me with learning more about Antigua and broadening my knowledge on local life. Now I’m not expecting you to bring up a ghost story, but asking them questions is perfectly fine! Once they know that you are interested in their culture and that you are eager to embrace it, they will cheerfully show you around and provide you with the information you seek.
These are the three ways to finding help:
- If you are staying at a hotel, don’t be afraid to ask the bellhops any questions. The concierge service center will gladly answer any questions you may have about the locals.
- Another way is to chat with the staff that work in small shops. If the stores aren’t busy, try to interact with them as you would when making a new friend. Exchange any contact information that you feel comfortable providing and ask them to show you around!
- Talk to tour guides that host tours at landmarks. They know the city the best, so approach them with any questions you may have and they will help you locate local participation activities or even places that locals are known to go. After all, it’s part of their job!
If you took the first tip into consideration, you guys will be able to engage in a fun and pleasant conversation and possibly make a new friend. You can always ask them if they can show you around!
Trekking Around the City
Trekking around the city is one of the best ways to connect with the locals. For one, you are able to experience the city while learning new things, and you can find yourself in the same situation as I did with the children. It was one of the most heartfelt moments in my life because, despite the fact I was a stranger, they still treated me as an apart of their group. Even if they were young children, it warmed my heart to know that the locals would go out of their way to make a tourist feel at home. When interacting with locals, the key is to treat them as a family even if you just met them a second ago. Treat them the way you want to be treated!
Two Places to Trek to for Experiencing Local Life
- Churches are the best way to connect with the locals. One reason is that everyone attends church, and the city conducts processions on Good Friday and Palm Sunday where many natives are known to contribute in. The great part about joining in on these celebrations is you get to celebrate with the locals. Once you begin to honor something in common, you are able to easily approach the locals and talk to them. For, they see that you are eager to learn their culture.
- Another quick location to interact with the locals is to visit the Central Park of Antigua. Everyone is already jumping around and having fun, people are eating, and people are communicating! All you need to do is put yourself out there and talk to them! Do what they do and you will find yourself becoming a local already.
Connecting with children is a trouble-free task to accomplish. Children are constantly having fun with some type of toy whether it be a yo-yo or playing with a ball. All you have to do is ask to join in on their game. Have fun with them! After having fun with the children, try talking with the parents! Although the language barrier may be an issue, try your best to communicate with them and make new friends.
Check out my previous blog post for a 3-day itinerary in Antigua! These landmarks are a MUST if you want to find places to experience Antigua with the locals!