With a lucky find of cheap round-trip tickets from SFO ($249 USD each!), we decided to do some extended traveling and stay in Antigua, Guatemala for 4 weeks with no itinerary or real plans. We chose 4 weeks because we wanted to take things slow and really dive into the culture of the country. What could we possibly do in Antigua for 4 weeks with 2 kids? By letting the destination be our guide, this is how we had a memorable travel experience as a family:
We stayed at a top-rated guesthouse: We stayed at a guesthouse with the friendliest hosts and guests. Every morning, we were served delicious breakfast and coffee. Here we were able to socialize with the hosts and other house guests. Sometimes as a family traveling together, it’s hard to meet other people, so living in the guesthouse facilitated these connections. The guesthouse also had 3 cats and 1 dog, which entertained the kids everyday. Altogether, it was the best decision we could have made for our stay in Guatemala and those traveling through AirBnB seem to agree, as this guesthouse is one of the best-rated guesthouses in all of Antigua.
We spent time with familiar friends: We hung out with a family we had met in Nicaragua who now lives in Antigua, Guatemala. With 3 kids (ages 5, 3 and 6 months), they are an inspiration to us on how to live the life you desire rather than getting boxed in the life that society thinks you should be living. They left their nice life in New York City and moved to Antigua, Guatemala to pursue their new, freer life, while also raising their children to be multi-lingual, multi-cultural, and and very curious kids. They helped us integrate into the community and the area faster than we could have ever done on our own and also introduced us to something that changed the entire dynamic of our trip…bilingual preschool!
Our kids attended a bilingual preschool: Our timing worked out that our mid-January arrival in Antigua lined up with the start of the school year at Oxford Bilingual Montessori School. At about 20% the price of what it would cost to send our kids to preschool where we live in the Bay Area, we were able to put our kids in a comparable preschool in Antigua. For a total of $450 for both kids for 4 weeks of schooling, not only were the kids engaged everyday with activities and new friends, but the real prize was that my wife and I were able to get 4 hours of quiet time away from the kids everyday. These peaceful hours from 8am-12pm every morning were sacred for us and allowed us to do some of the things that were best done without kids (ie. visiting local museums, morning strolls in the town, coffee in the park, grocery shopping, writing, reading, etc.) Now that our youngest daughter, Chloe, is age-appropriate for preschool, this will be our new model for traveling this year: Pick a destination and immediately insert kids into local preschool = Kids and parents are both happy. If your kids are over the age of 2, I would highly recommend this approach to extended traveling.
We made time for play: Outside of preschool, we still needed to keep our kids engaged in the afternoons and on weekends. On weekdays, these hours were filled by visiting playgrounds at local hotels, playing at the McDonald’s and every other fast food restaurant’s playground, buying fruits and vegetables at the outdoor market and/or supermarket, and pre-sunset strolls in the town. On weekends, we would fill-up the days with hiking, horseback riding, and 1 or 2-day trips to beautiful places like Earth Lodge and Lake Atitlan.
If you’ve ever thought about traveling to Central America with your family, Antigua, Guatemala is a good, comfortable starting point for your introduction into the region. Antigua is a small, vibrant colonial town located less than an hour away from Guatemala City. A mix of Lima, Peru’s fast-pace and commercialism along with Granada, Nicaragua’s colonial architecture and small-town feel, Antigua has a charm of it’s own that attracts visitors from every corner of the world. Backpackers, language students, global bohemian nomads, noble volunteers, solo and couple travelers, and families all are able to find something that is their own in Antigua.
We also met a lot of expat families who came to Antigua and haven’t left since. Blessed with mild weather and beautiful scenery, Antigua is a comfortable and pleasant environment to live in. Furthermore, Antigua is a relatively safe place to live, everything (ie. food, accommodation, leisure activities) is comparatively cheaper than the USA, and some of the conveniences of home are close by (ie. McDonalds, Domino’s Pizza, Japanese food, Italian food, Wal-Mart). Thus, there aren’t too many reasons not to visit or live here for an extended period of time.
Thanks to all who made our trip a memorable one! We will definitely be coming back to Antigua again in the near future.