When I first arrived in Guatemala about a year ago, I had a small idea of what to expect. It’s quite a leap to move from a mostly wealthy suburb in the US to the seemingly chaotic pace of a Central American country, where I was constantly told there would be danger lurking around every corner. It’s not an easy transition for most Guatemala expats.
It turns out those fears were highly inflated. Perception, from afar, is not reality, and just as I wouldn’t choose to live in Camden, New Jersey, or Detroit, Michigan, there are places in Guatemala one would be well-advised to stay away. That is why I chose Antigua Guatemala as my home-base for exploration, and couldn’t be happier about it.
Antigua Guatemala as an expat destination checks all the boxes for me. It has:
Table of Contents
Antigua Guatemala’s Selling Points
#1 – Wonderful Weather
Dubbed the “City of Eternal Spring,” Antigua boasts year-round temperatures that average in the 70s, which makes the use of A/C or heaters unnecessary. There’s a rainy season that runs from May to November, though the rains are mostly an afternoon event and not an all-day occurrence.
San Jose Cathedral (left), Agua volcano (center), Parque Central (right)
Tanque de la Unión, a public wash basin
#2 – Great Restaurants
Almost every type of cuisine is represented here. Argentinian food? It’s here. Japanese, Indian, German, even Danish? Yup. Seafood is also easy to find (try ceviche (seafood dish) with a cold brew on a hot day… delicious!) Guatemala expats have plenty of options should they become homesick.
Antigua is also a great place to sample some of Guatemala’s best local food. San Felipe, a town within walking distance of Antigua, is a great spot to try favorite Guatemalan street food, like tamales, chuchitos, tostadas, enchiladas, rellenitos, and atoles, the last being a favorite hot beverage made from ground corn.
#3 – Safety
Police presence is very visible here. Because Antigua Guatemala is such a draw for tourism, the government has a vested interest in continuing to keep it safe for tourists that land here. Very rarely do I feel uncomfortable walking the streets at night.
It helps that Antigua has its own Tourism Police (PROATUR), in addition to Guatemala’s National Police.
Parque Central at night
San Jose Cathedral at night
#4 – Beauty
As a UNESCO Heritage Site, Antigua has been protected from overzealous investors. The local government has exercised good care to keep the city in the most pristine state possible. You won’t find a building higher than three stories here, which preserves the magnificent views of the volcanoes for everyone to enjoy. You won’t find gaudy neon signs either, and loud music is well-regulated. In fact, blasting your car horn inside the city is forbidden.
View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz
La Merced Church
Compañia de Jesús Convent ruins
#5 – Nearby International Airport
Antigua Guatemala is about 45 minutes away from Guatemala City, which makes flights into/out of the country relatively painless Guatemala expats. Shuttles from Antigua to La Aurora airport are available for about $10 (~80Q). A roundtrip taxi ride to the city will cost about Q500 ($60).
#6 – Easy Internet Access
Awarded the moniker “Digital City,” Antigua has an advantage that because it’s close to Guatemala City, technology makes its way here relatively quickly. Fast Internet speeds of up to 10 Mbps are available here. The Impact Hub co-working space offers a modern, physical office space.
#7 – Culturally Lively
There’s plenty of events going on every week, and live music is easy to find. There are cultural activities on the calendar every month; from religious processions to free concerts, there’s something for everyone.
It’s also a kid-friendly city, and the Spanish Cultural Center (CFCE) has enough free activities on the weekends (puppet shows, movies, plays, etc.) to keep the little ones entertained.
Jugglers, Cooperación Española
Free shows for children, Cooperación Española
Guatemala’s National Ballet Company
Free cultural activities
For these reasons and others (low-cost of food, housing, medical care and relative ease of doing business) I wholeheartedly recommend Antigua Guatemala as an option for short-term and long-term living for Guatemala expats.
Thinking about living in Antigua?
Check out the Living in Antigua Guatemala Guide!
26 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why Antigua Guatemala Is Expat Heaven”
What do you estimate your cost of living is there? I’m wondering how it compares to Chiang Mai.
Read my mind, John! Started a “Cost of living” series this week on the subject.
I have lived in Antigua for a couple of years in total and am in love with the city. It is pretty safe although I got mugged once and so did a few friends, but I also got robbed in Paris. To answer John’s question, the cost of housing in Antigua is superior to Chang Mai and so is food, you can eat at the market for $2 and a small informal restaurant meal would be around $5. All the rest, internet, transportation… is pretty similar.
I always hear about cheap food in Thailand, though I wonder if we’re comparing apples to oranges. Food is pretty cheap here IF one sticks to the local fare. I can have a very filling dinner with a chuchito (or tamale), corn atole, and guac tostada for the same $2. There’s cheap food to be had at the “comedores” (dining halls) behind the mercado. Although knowing what I know about both types of cuisines, I’d probably enjoy Thai food way more than Guatemalan food on a day in/day out basis.
Yeah, Thailand isn’t as cheap as it’s made out to be. You can live relatively cheap in Chiang Mai, but I do suspect similar options exist throughout the Latin world. Bangkok, where most of my entrepreneur friends live, is rather expensive compared to SE Asia. For saving money (and comforts of home) I’d recommend Manila to an expat over Bangkok.
Great article. For Americans and Canadians who want to maintain certain comforts and familiarities, Latin America is a great option, and this piece sells Guatemala. Antigua is a beautiful place and doesn’t fit the mold of what Americans would like to think of Guatemala. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for the comment! I do agree that familiarity is a big plus, specially for first-time expats :)
Definitely love Antigua.
Good to hear that you’ve enjoyed it as a base as well.
I’m planning a final week of Spanish School there before I fly back to the U.S.
I’ve heard antigua is also one of the most expensive places to live. While you currently live there, do you have an income? How much is the rent/tax or the cost of living there?
Hi Raquel! Expensive compared to what? If compared to Europe, or Japan, not really :) But for Central America, yes, it can be expensive, but only if you choose it to be expensive. When thinking about Antigua, it definitely pays to visit and scout areas to find good deals. And you will, if you do your homework.
Our family of three can live here easily on less than $500 a month, and that’s including rent, food, everything. I also know people that pay $1,500 a month just on rent. So it definitely depends on your lifestyle.
Hope that helps!
Great article! You mention a family of three. My wife and I are thinking of taking an extended vacation to Guatemala this summer. Our daughter will be one and a half at that time. Do you see any particular challenges for a young family with a toddler? How old is your child, if you don’t mind me asking?
Hi David! Thanks for stopping by! Our daughter has been here since she was 4. Antigua is fine for toddlers. Even more so if you’re just coming to vacation. Plenty of things to do and places to run around in :)
Keep in touch.
Thank you for your reply! We haven’t traveled in Latin America and are a bit unnerved by the high rate of violent crime in Guatemala, but we are looking at staying in Antigua specifically. Do you have any thoughts on this? Are there any areas to really avoid when looking for a house to rent? If you have an e-mail address available somewhere on this site I’d love to ask more questions about your time there.
Hi David. No problem. I’m glad to help.
The question about safety I covered in depth in chapter two of the book. Basically, it boils down to your own personal experience and what lens you filter your experiences through. What was unnerving to me at first (armed guards everywhere!) is now commonplace and doesn’t raise an eyebrow in the slightest.
As for neighborhoods, I cover each section in the book separately! which ones I recommend, which ones to stay away from. Again, depends on what your expectations are, the quality of life you seek, and what sort – if any – of interaction you want with the locals.
As for my email, you’re welcome to use the Contact form by clicking on the link on the red menu bar above.
I have visited Antigua one time for a week last year and loved it. In fact, I was so impressed that I am considering retiring there later his year. I also bought your ebook last month on living in Antigua and it has been VERY helpful! I highly recommend it. I still am a little concerned about the real cost of retiring there. You stated in one of your replys above:
“Our family of three can live here easily on less than $500 a month, and that’s including rent, food, everything.”
That amazes me! Can you explain how you can leave so cheaply? You said this includes everything. That includes rent, food, clothing, transportation, medical costs, insurance(if any),utilities, cell phones, etc?
Maybe I’ll be able to retire there earlier that I thought!
Hi Jon! Thank you for purchasing the book! Glad you’ve found it very helpful.
Yes, it is possible to live very inexpensively here. But it takes smarts and a willingness to step off the tourist trail to do so. To replicate a first world lifestyle here costs money, but not as much as one may think. To really save money, one has to learn to adjust, which admittedly, is easier for some than others.
You’re not the first one to ask how we do it, and I usually reply via email. There’s a bit of info in the book too. But it’s time I did a detailed budget breakdown for a month. So… Stay tuned! I’ll be doing exactly just that in a post that will be out in the next week or two :)
I’ve been going to Guatemala for nearly 30 years and , of course, Antigua has become more expensive….but as Rich said – depends on your needs and life style . I’ve always felt safe , but then I have good radar for scenarios . Taxi to the airport – one way – yes , probably you can get for $10…..but that’s where I do not scrimp – I usually pay $30 for a known and good driver – savy to things and there is potential for hold-ups in and out of Guatemala City at places along the main route….I’ve never encountered this……one thing is not to go at rush hour times into the city to depart ………..slowed to stopped traffic is more vulnerable .
That said , I am giving very serious consideration to living in Antigua and calling it home . I’m a world traveler and I really love the tranquil feeling of the city !
I just spent four months in Antigua. I agree with Rich on most of his points but I’d like to point out some things that were missed. Here are some reasons Antigua is not a place in which I wish to spend a long time:
1) Brownouts &/or Blackouts occur on a weekly basis.
2) The running water can just stop running. The first place I stayed in Antigua had no running water 3 times in the first week I was there.
3) If you need a solid, high-speed internet connection for a full day’s work on the net, it can be hard to find. The majority of the rentals offered 1 Mbg speeds – good enough for casual surfing but not for 8 hours of phone work via the net. I found better internet service in Vietnam and Malaysia.
4) The electrical heaters on the shower heads don’t always offer hot showers. Sometimes you are lucky to get a lukewarm shower. However, if the water pressure is very low, then you can get scalded!
5) The plumbing can’t handle toilet paper so you must discard your paper in a garbage basket next to the toilet. This just grosses me out. I also consider this to be a health hazard. After Antigua, I have decided that my new baseline level of infrastructure I shall require for living somewhere long-term is that the plumbing can accept toilet paper.
6) Regarding the rainy season which I just went through, it tended to start raining by 2pm and continue to rain all day. Sometimes the rain started earlier. If you are a morning person and not required to be working at that time, you could go out and get your errands done beforehand. However, if your schedule requires you to be in all day and you can’t get out until 6 or 7pm, it will most likely still be raining. I definitely got tired of the rainy season. I’ve lived in other places where the rainy season was not so intense. I think the issue with Antigua is that it is such a small city that if it is raining that day (which it does nearly every day during rainy season) it is raining for you no matter where you live in the city. I only remember 7 clear days sometime in July with beautiful blue skies. Too bad I couldn’t have stayed in Antigua in the dry season.
(date: October 2013)
Interesting observations :) Can’t say I’ve experienced any of the blackout/brownout/water issues on my side of town (near Ciudad Vieja). It helps that the condo we live in has its own water supply.
Connection speeds will definitely depend on equipment and how far away one lives from a terminal. I use Claro’s Internet service at a local place, nearly 8 hours a day, without problems. But then again, the place is close to Claro’s terminal.
As far as the toilet paper… let’s just say people that are accustomed to using a bidet call us gross and uncivilized ;)
Have been here almost two years and love it, issues notwithstanding. I definitely enjoy dry season more, but then again, I know that without the rains, the hills could and beautiful plants here would not be able to keep their verdant green colors.
No place is perfect, some will fit each individual better than others. So far, the good has outweighed the bad for me :)
Thanks so much for your helpful comments; they brought me back to reality. My husband was born in Guatemala and now that we’re retired we often talk about how much cheaper it would be to live in Antigua. Then I think of all we’d give up by leaving Florida and go back to brainstorming ways to make money here. Have to say I agree with you about the toilet paper criteria.
Hi Rich and thanks for providing us with such an illuminating insight into Antigua. I’d spent much of 2012 in South America and have been looking to take a longer stay in the central countries. Antigua seems a good option for Spanish study as well, and together with your positive reports I’m looking forward to getting there next year to check it out myself for at least a few months.
Hi Gary! Glad you like the reports.
Antigua is a great city to learn Spanish. Great schools, most very inexpensive.
Hello! I am moving to Antigua for a year starting in October. I’m moving alone, but am an extremely social person. I was wondering if there are community event calendars, or expat publications or something that exists to help new folks get plugged in and meet friends. Thanks!
Your best bet for calendar activities are the local English-language mags Revue (http://RevueMag.com) and Que Pasa (http://GrupoQuePasa.com), both which are viewable online.
Hope that helps!
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