Christmas season in Antigua Guatemala is in full swing right now. There are posadas almost every day and it’s easy to find traditional hot ponches – my wife prefers the more popular fruit version (de frutas – made with pineapple and dried fruits), while I prefer the milk version (de leche – somewhat like eggnog but not as thick and spiked with rum on request). More on Christmas season’s traditional food on a later post, as we’re going to focus on Christmas activities today.
The two big dates remaining on the calendar are Christmas Eve and New Year’s celebrations. Most of the Christmas activities in Antigua happen earlier in the month, such as the Burning of the Devil, Guadalupe Day, and Christmas at Calle del Arco. But don’t worry! You can still catch celebrations in a few different places.
Festival Navideño – Guatemala City
The biggest spectacle taking place is in Guatemala City, at the Festival Navideño, a dazzling display of lights and North American Christmas music. The drawback is that traffic to and from the city is horrendous at this time of the year.
If you’re set on checking it out, I recommend catching an Uber ride early in the afternoon and plan to stay the night in the city and return the next day.
This is a late addition, as it was just announced today. As is the custom every year, there will be a Christmas concert at Parque Central. The event will be held Saturday, December 23rd, at 7 PM, and will feature the Bob Porter Orchestra, a big band outfit.
Bob Porter Orchestra
In years past, they’ve typically covered Christmas songs and some standards – great easy listening music. Light show at the show’s intermission!
If you don’t care to head to the city – or don’t have time, then stick around to check out the convite celebrations held in various towns around Antigua. These elaborate parades, along with posadas, are the most traditional Guatemalan celebrations and worth checking out.
Convite (parade), Ciudad Vieja – held every December 7th
While convites take place year-round in Guatemala, you’ll have a chance to catch at least a couple of convites before the end of the year.
-Parramos Convite: Held every December 28th, this celebration includes music concerts, beauty contest, and horse and costumed characters parades. Parramos is about 45-minutes away from Antigua and rarely visited by foreigners. Go if you’re comfortable with your Spanish and know your way around. Otherwise, I recommend visiting San Miguel Dueñas instead.
-San Miguel Dueñas Convite: Happening on December 30th. This town is much closer than Parramos to Antigua (about 25 minutes by bus) and their parade is well worth visit. The costumes are elaborate and the music loud and festive – don’t forget your camera.
Both towns are easy to reach via direct buses leaving from Antigua. Antigua’s patron saint celebrations happen at the end of July, but you can still catch a small traditional celebration every New Year’s Eve at Calle del Arco.
Celebrations at Calle del Arco on New Year’s Eve
The most important Christmas tradition is the Christmas Eve dinner. Well, technically, the dinner doesn’t happen until the stroke of midnight (December 25th). At that time, Guatemalans take to the streets in front of their homes to light fireworks, returning inside the home a few minutes for a traditional meal of tamales and fruit ponche (punch) and to open Christmas gifts. What if you weren’t invited by a local family to share in their tradition? As it happens, a few Antigua restaurants offer special Christmas Eve dinners with traditional Guatemalan staples such as “red tuna sashimi” and “crab and coconut cream” (yes, that was sarcasm). Check out:
–Las Velas Restaurant at Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Q295 per person for a complete dinner + 10% service charge.
–Las Palmas (6a Avenida Norte #14): Q139 per person for a complete dinner.
New Year’s Eve Celebrations
Antigua is a popular destination for revelers from Guatemala City to celebrate the coming of the New Year. Parties start early and most people hit the street to wait for midnight at two locations: Arco Santa Catalina and Parque Central, in front of the Municipal Palace.
New Year’s Eve events at Calle del Arco
Having welcomed the New Year at both locations, I prefer the park – it’s less claustrophobic and you get a better view of the fireworks going off in the surrounding towns. But these are by no means the only two places to welcome 2018. Many restaurants in town offer special menus, live music, and a midnight toast, along with a few fireworks. Some restaurants will charge a cover. Make sure to call ahead for reservations, as some of these places will be quite popular.
I need to make a special mention of Cerro San Cristobal, which has an amazing view of the valley – great for catching the fireworks going off at midnight in Antigua. They have live music starting at 6 PM. Check out the video below, taken from the restaurant:
Here’s a list of restaurants offering New Year’s Eve dinners and parties:
-Las Velas Restaurant at Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Q290 per person for a complete dinner + 10% service charge.
-Las Palmas (6a Avenida Norte #14): Q139 per person for a complete dinner. Live music at 11 PM.
-Guat Ik (4a Avenida Norte #4): Q139 per person for a complete dinner. Live music, midnight toast.
-NiFu-NiFa (3a Calle Oriente #21): Live music, midnight toast.
-El Viejo Cafe (6a Avenida Norte #12): Live music.
-Welten (4a Calle Oriente #21): Dinner menu starts at Q308 – beverages not included. Live music.
-Hotel Camino Real (7a Calle Poniente #33B): Las Vegas White Party – all you can eat and drink buffet dinner. Buy tickets at the hotel in advance.
-Restaurante del Arco (5a Avenida Norte #25): Hollywood New Year’s Party – live music and cover. Midnight toast.
-Door Eleven (1a Calle Poniente #11): No cover. Live music (Spanish rock covers).
How will you spend Christmas?