San Juan del Obispo, Guatemala, hosts a yearly Festival del Nispero, which is held at the town’s main plaza. The plaza has outstanding views of the Panchoy Valley, and on a clear day, you can easily spot La Merced Church in Antigua. Because the town is on the slopes of Volcan Agua, it’s noticeably a few degrees cooler than Antigua.
What is a Níspero or Mispero?
Originally from China, nísperos are also known as a “loquat” – not related to kumquat. It’s popular in Mexico, where it’s known as mispero. The taste is a cross between peach and mango with a hint of orange. The texture is soft, like that of canned peaches.
Nisperos, also known as misperos and loquats
San Juan del Obispo is the perfect place to grow them because when grown at a lower altitude, nisperos tend to be much more acidic and not as sweet.
Festival del Nispero
The festival is held in November – prime níspero harvesting season – and lasts two days. It’s dedicated to all things níspero, as you will see below.
The sign reads “This is the place where Eve gave a Nispero to Adam, turning San Juan into a paradise.” They don’t believe the apple story here.
Because the town is a haven for artisans and Guatemala’s best chocolatiers, the festival is well worth a visit. It is also where Palacio del Obispo (Bishop’s Palace) is located, the former home of Guatemala’s first bishop, Francisco Marroquin – the man on the Q100 bill.
We arrived Saturday at 9 am the supposed start time, but the organizers were still setting up. The band, however, was just starting to warm up.
Musicians at Festival del Nispero
At San Juan del Obispo’s fountain
The festival kicked-off eventually, with the singing of Guatemala’s national anthem.
Singing Guatemala’s national anthem
Handicrafts at San Juan del Obispo
The craftsmanship of Obispo’s artisans is notches above the usual mass-produced stuff you find at Antigua’s handicrafts markets. Not to mention, you also get to meet the artisans.
Procession – Handicrafts
Chicken Buses – Handicrafts
Bought a couple candle holders
In Obispo, there are a few other products made from nisperos – jams are tasty. But by far the most widely sought after product is fruit wine made by fermenting nisperos. It takes a year and a half to produce nispero wine. There are also several fruit wines produced here, such as blackberry, mango, and guava – pretty much any fruit in season.
Vinos del Abuelo, a shop about half a block away from the main plaza, is the most well-known of all the artisan winemakers. I fully took advantage of the free tastings offered, eventually settling for the nispero version. Guava wine came in a close second. Their marketing slogan is as punny as they come:
“El que a San Juan vino y no probó vino, entonces, ¿a qué vino?”
In Spanish, the word “vino” can be translated as either “wine” or “visit/come”. It roughly translates as: “He who came to San Juan and didn’t taste the wine, then why did he come?” I disagree, as there are plenty of reasons to visit other than the wine.
Pick between wines made from fermented nispero, guava, mango, pineapple, blueberry, among others
And of course, the minute there’s something remotely successful business-wise in Guatemala, a copycat will spring up. Didn’t try the other winemakers, though the bottles are definitely pretty. Supposedly, the colorant added is natural and doesn’t change the flavor at all. Or so they say.
Nispero wine – in color
San Juan del Obispo Chocolate
Another sought after product is Obispo’s artisanal chocolate, considered the best in all of Guatemala. While it’s not chocolate in the traditional sense you might be thinking – Godiva, Hershey’s, et al – it is delicious when prepared as a hot beverage, the way that Mayans drank it centuries ago when they first invented it.
Nowadays, you can find many varieties – rice, cardamom, almond, cinnamon, even spicy chile – and San Juan is the best place to see how artisans make it, still using traditional methods. Not to mention, get it cheaper as well. There are several to choose from, though you can’t go wrong with Chocolates D’Taza.
We bought some – a pound will set you back anywhere between Q16 to Q25
depending on the ingredient added to the chocolate.
I also feasted on dulces tipicos (traditional sweets). There’s an excellent shop behind the park, on the other side of the Bishop’s mansion. Try the baked coconut treats – amazing (Q3 each).
Traditional Guatemalan sweets are reeeally sweet – diabetics, keep away
Liked them so much I went back for seconds to take home. They didn’t make it to the next day.
Cocada de Reina (lower center), Canillitas de Canela (foreground right/left),
Cocadas Horneadas (background)
San Juan del Obispo Church
After we check out the stalls, there wasn’t much else to do as the church was closed. We chose to take a tour of the Bishop’s Palace, which is behind the church.
San Juan del Obispo’s church
After touring the palace, we decided to return to Antigua to run some errands. When we came back in the afternoon, I was ecstatic there were weddings taking place, which meant I could finally check out the beautiful art inside.
Wedding at San Juan del Obispo
I mean, it’s a town of artisans, so the figures were supposed to be top-notch. They didn’t disappoint.
Inside San Juan del Obispo Church
Chapel, San Juan del Obispo Church
Image, San Juan del Obispo Church
As we were about to leave, I noticed a stand of tamales colorados (red tamales) at the far end. We ended up buying a few to take home for dinner.
My wife is a picky tamal eater – I’m not – and she declared these to be one of the best if not the best, she’s ever had. We bought them from Tamales de la Abuela Rafa, which is located on 1a Avenida Norte, Callejon San Jose #2B, San Juan del Obispo – Saturdays only.
Tamales de la Abuela Rafa – San Juan del Obispo
In all, it was a great way to spend the day. Ate lots of great food, took home some chocolate, wine, and handicrafts. Don’t miss San Juan del Obispo’s next nispero festival!
Click here for more to do in Antigua Guatemala.