I’m making my way down the cobblestones of Arch Street, on my way to meet friends for a glass of wine. As I arrive, the bells of the 17th-century cathedral ring in the hour.
Antigua, in the Department of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, is one of Latin America’s best preserved colonial towns.
With a population of 40,000 people, it’s full of white-washed and pastel-colored churches. Purple flowering jacaranda trees dot the Central Park and the clip-clop sounds of horses pulling buggies mingle with the laughter of uniformed children on their way to school.
A year on and I’m still convinced I made the right decision to stay. I ended my Peace Corps service in Guatemala in February last year. I had been here two years, but I realized I still wasn’t ready to leave the country. I didn’t want to give up the combination of a delightful climate, good friends (a mix of locals and expats alike), and affordable living.
I enjoy the leisurely pace of life here. People take the time to stop and chat on the street. You can join other expats and locals for an outdoor morning yoga class, looking out over colonial ruins. I delight in sipping a cup of locally-grown coffee in the outdoor garden at Cafe Condesa and nibbling on a fresh-baked scone as I check my email via their WiFi service. And you can easily walk from place to place. The climate sees to that, 75 F and sunny most days.
And you are never far from home. There are easy direct flights to the U.S. For example, Dallas is just over two hours by plane. In addition, there are non-stop flights to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago. Transport is also readily available if you want to travel around the country or region.
After living on a Peace-Corps budget for two years, I knew it was possible to stretch a buck. And you can stretch it a long way in Antigua. One of my favorite ways to economize is to visit the local market on Thursdays and Saturdays. On these days, farmers and artisanal craftsmen from all over Guatemala gather to sell their wares.
Everything that comes to the market is incredibly fresh and flavorful. I had sworn off bananas in the U.S.; however, I quickly changed that idea after trying one of five local varieties picked off the sun-ripened bunch. I’m able to get a week’s worth of produce for around $12. I’m not skimping either; I load up on whole pineapples, watermelons, cantaloupe, heads of broccoli, and vine-ripened tomatoes. It’s a lot easier to incorporate healthy whole foods into your diet when they are as flavorful and affordable as they are in Guatemala.
After leaving the security of Peace Corps-provided health care, I was a bit apprehensive, but after exploring the services in town and in nearby Guatemala City and talking with other international residents, I was quickly put at ease.
One friend recently had ACL knee surgery performed by a very reputable orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital Herrera Llerandi in Guatemala City. It was done for a fraction of the cost I paid for the same surgery in the States a few years ago.
Doctors will sometimes make house calls and pharmacies offer a delivery service. I recently went in for a routine physical and the doctor spent over an hour with me, discussing my medical history and putting me at ease.
What a delight—when I can barely secure 10 minutes with my overworked U.S. physician. And the price for this personalized, high level of care? Only $25, including lab work.
There are lots of housing options in and around colonial Antigua. Rents within the city limits of Antigua run anywhere between $200 a month for a small one-bedroom apartment to $700 a month for a fully-furnished, restored colonial house.
For around $100,000 you can find a cute little house in the area, with all the modern amenities. And the choices only get better from there. Many homes include beautiful courtyards and garden areas in which you can enjoy Antigua’s perfect micro-climate while savoring your morning coffee.
I really love my life in Guatemala. The low cost of living makes me feel that the opportunities here are endless, and I feel like I can really carve out my little spot here in paradise.
As I sit on the terrace at night under the stars, take a sip of white wine, and watch the molten lava slide down Volcan Fuego, I know how lucky I am to have found this special place.
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