Antigua Guatemala Real Estate: What Your Budget Will Get You

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

What can $500 get you in the Antigua Guatemala real estate rental market? A lot turns out.

Yesterday, I showed you the types of communities you can expect to move into for $500, and for $125. Today I’ll show you what you can get for your money here. If you’re interested in the finer points of signing a lease and where to find house rentals in Antigua Guatemala, click here.

As I discussed in my last post, the mid-level and high-end homes are mostly marketed to foreigners. Guatemalans living in Antigua, unless they’re business owners, regularly earn between Q1,500 to Q3,000 ($200 to $375) a month, which puts rental properties priced higher than Q4,000 out of reach. Consequently, the lower the rent, the more likely it is you’ll end up with Guatemalan neighbors.

The exception to this rule is Antigua proper itself. Many Guatemalan families have owned their Antigua houses for generations and are deeply embedded in the culture. They faithfully take part in the yearly religious procession and are unlikely to move or sell. Otherwise, the town would be overrun by foreigners already.

The two properties below are in Ciudad Vieja, about a five-minute car ride from Antigua and easily reachable by chicken bus, tuk-tuk, or taxi. Prices will tend to be higher the closer you move to Antigua, but not by much. By rule, the farther from Antigua’s center you move, the more “house” you’ll get.

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Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Options

That said, below are the features you can expect in each price range:

Garage

$500 House:  A garage big enough for two cars, with locking doors. At first, I thought it highly necessary to be able to secure the vehicle at night. Over time, those fears vanished. Like everyone else, I ended up regularly parking in front of the house. Often leaving it unlocked overnight by accident. Never had a problem.

$125 House:  No garage to speak of, only a small driveway. While the neighborhood appears to be super safe, I now lock the car every night. No cover form the elements mean that the sun beats down on my Jeep’s paint mercilessly.

By the way, as you move closer to the equator, the sun starts to become sneaky-hot. You might not feel it at first, but I guarantee you’ll be quickly sunburned if you don’t pay attention.

Advantage:  $500 house. A garage is a necessity if you want to protect your car, both from elements and from potential break-ins. And while the neighborhood might be secure, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially if you have a newer-type car. Your vehicle’s paint will thank you.

Living Room / Dining Room

$500 House:  This house had both a dining room and a living room. The living room and dining room were furnished, so we were covered there. The realtor took an inventory of the property before we were handed the keys – they also provided us a copy.

As far as size, we found the house big enough but wound up being too much for our needs. The fireplace worked, but we never had to use it. Not even once.

furnished Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

furnished rental in Antigua Guatemala

$125 House:  This one works for us, but barely. We’re a bit cramped but can get by. Not a place to host visitors for any long stretch of time, which suited us fine. We rented the first house counting on loads of visitors coming over to stay – they never materialized.

Antigua has plenty of inexpensive hostels and hotels, so that will have to do from now on. Visitors will be better off anyway since they’ll be closer to the action in the center of town.

The small condo has a diner next to the kitchen, workable once we acquire comfortable stools. As for furniture, we found a sofa-bed at WalMart at a decent price (Q1,225) for when the “mythical” visitors ever show up. More on furniture and where to buy it at a later post.

Antigua Guatemala small apartment

Advantage:  Tie. It really depends on your needs and how realistic they are. Turns out I didn’t need a whole spare-room office to work from, just a place to have my desk in, which is fine in our bedroom for now. As for furniture, it was nice not to have to buy any at first.

If you find an unfurnished apartment at a great price, think twice about buying expensive furniture. There isn’t an active Craigslist market here, so you may have to sell it at deeply discounted prices if you find any takers.

Kitchen

$500 House:  Kitchen came partly furnished, with just a fridge. We bought a small gas stove (Q2,500), which we took with us to the next house. This kitchen was huge and had scores of cabinets.

By the way, if a house is advertised as having “Linea Blanca” appliances, it means they’ve furnished it with top-of-the-line kitchen equipment. Linea Blanca is the high-end appliance brand here, so it’s worth paying a few extra dollars if the house comes equipped with them. Our house didn’t, though the fridge was serviceable.

semi furnished rental in antigua

$125 House:  This house did not come with a single cabinet (see pic above last one). In order to make the most out of the space, we bought a fridge-bar (1,150Q) that could actually fit under the counter.

As for cabinets, there were none. Had to put up a few a couple shelves on the wall and use stackable plastic bins above and below the counter. Not perfect, but wife slowly getting used to it. Slooooowly…

Advantage:  I didn’t realize how important cabinets were until I didn’t have any. The bigger the kitchen, the happier the wife is, so I can tell you that this kitchen will only work in the short-term. For a single guy or gal? More than enough.

Bedroom/Closets

$500 House:  This house had TONS of closet space. In fact, too much. We never needed to throw anything away, because we could just stash it on yet another shelf. Bedrooms were huge. Master bedroom was TOO big. And when you don’t have furniture to fill it up, the room feels even bigger.

Closet space in a rental

$125 House:  This two-bedroom house came with a closet “nook” on each bedroom. No shelves, or place to hang our clothes from. This meant a trip to “El Mastil“, Antigua Guatemala’s biggest hardware store and to Aserradero Lorenzi, a sawmill where you can buy all kinds of wood. They’re’ conveniently located right next to each other on Avenida Recoleccion, right behind the Mercado.

We took some measurements at home and went to the sawmill. After we explained to them what we wanted to do, we picked out the cheapest panels available (melamine) and had them cut to exact measurements.

At the sawmill, they’ll cut your materials to whatever size you need for just Q5 ($0.62) each cut. All materials came out to about Q375 (~$45). After a handy bit of work with the drill, we now had plenty of shelf space to accommodate our clothes.

do it yourself shelves

Bedroom sizes are big enough to accommodate queen-sized beds.

apartment in antigua guatemala

Advantage:  $125 house. While it’s nice to have closet space, it turns out we accumulated, and kept, A LOT of junk. By moving to a smaller house we were forced to get rid of everything that wasn’t needed or useful, which was quite good actually. We gave away toys and clothes to people who needed it far more than us, so that was a plus.

I’m now convinced that big closets, attics, and any space that encourages clutter in a home is not good and only encourages selfishness. Consider clearing them out one day and donating what you don’t use/need/want to someone else. I guarantee you’ll feel better about yourself and someone who needs it will thank you for it.

Bathrooms

$500 House:  This house had a master bathroom with tub and bidet (lots of house have bidets here). The other bathroom upstairs was just a tad smaller, sans bidet. Downstairs, we had a half-bathroom for visitors. Having 2 1/2 bathrooms was nice, though it meant we had to spend more than double the time we do now cleaning them.

Another feature was the central water heater. Unfortunately, most houses here have tank-less water heaters, which can suck up a LOT of electricity. Our electricity bill hovered north of Q400 a month. We’ve yet to receive the bill for electricity here, but I suspect it will be much lower. I’ll keep you updated here when it does arrive. Yup, the electricity bills were consistently under Q100 a month.

$125 House:  One small bathroom, no tub. No central water heater, which meant I had to install a shower-head heater (not hard to do). We found a steal of a shower heater at Wal-mart retailing for Q115 (~$14). Normally, they run Q175+ (~$21). The bathroom is simple, but it meets the need for now.

Advantage:  $500 house because of space, $125 house because of the electricity savings. So it’s a tie.

Extras

$500 House:  This house had a great terrace with direct view to Volcan Agua… which we rarely used. The sun was too hot to use in the afternoons, and it was too chilly outside to use at night. If you don’t have a shaded place to seat, a terrace kind of goes to waste.

The house also had a small water fountain. Increase my electricity bill just to watch water bubble over? No thanks. If I ever “need” to see a real fountain, I’ll go to Parque Central on weekends.

Antigua Guatemala condo with terrace

$125 House:  Nothing extra other than a small space out back to hang clothes to dry, keep the washer and house our pets when it’s nice outside. And since we’re talking pets, here are some gratuitous pics of ours :)

pets allowed in antigua

small pets in antigua guatemala

our guinea pigs in antigua

Advantage:  A pool is no good if you can’t use it. And neither is a terrace that’s too hot/cold to sit outside in.

The Verdict

It really depends on your lifestyle. You can spend as much or as little as you need to here in Antigua Guatemala. Weigh every option and don’t pay extra for things you *think* you might want or need. After all, the point of living in a city with gorgeous weather year-round is to go out and enjoy it, not to be holed up at home.

*****

What do you think about both houses?

Cheap or overpriced compared to where you live?

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate, Expat vs Local

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

What’s the real estate market for rentals in Antigua Guatemala like? Depends on who you ask.

As a popular expat destination and a real estate market worth investing in, Antigua Guatemala has a dual personality when it comes to rentals. Lots of properties here sit empty, often because owners are unwilling to rent to locals, preferring to rent to foreigners instead (they can charge higher rental prices), or because the properties belong to wealthy Guatemalans who come in once or twice a year to enjoy the holidays and religious processions with their families.

This is why many communities here, while immaculately kept, often appear deserted. My wife refers to them as “ghost communities”. But we didn’t know this upon arriving in Antigua Guatemala.

And so when I looked for a house to rent here, I was astounded by how much “house” I could get compared to the states. “Dollar eyeglasses”, what I call the constant tendency to mentally convert everything into a dollar amount, is something you have to get rid of as soon as you travel out of the US. Just because something is relatively inexpensive compared to the US does not mean you’re getting the best price you could get.

Get a sense for what things cost in your new surroundings and then you’ll be able to make better buying decisions.

To give you a better idea of what you could expect to pay, I’ll show you the two rentals I’ve lived in while in Antigua Guatemala. My first rental was a mid-priced house in the outskirts of Antigua (one of the “ghost communities”). My second rental is more in line with what the locals pay for rent down here. Both communities are about 5 minutes from each other.

In this two-part series, I’ll show you what you can expect from both. First, let me show you what sort of community I got for my money:

Ghost Communities

The first house we rented was in a residential development of about 40 houses. Out of those 40, about 10 were occupied full-time. And I may even be overestimating that number. Only during holidays would we notice a spike in activity. The rest of the time, we wandered about as we pleased. The only friends we made were the neighbors across the street. As for the makeup of the few residents there, some were retired, a couple families were foreign missionaries, and a couple more were real locals.

The Good: The place was very well-kept, with two pools (adult and kiddie sized), manicured lawns, electric gate, garage, armed commandos (security guards here looked like disposable extras from a Rambo movie), cobblestone streets and great views of Volcan Agua and Volcan Acatenango. We were stoked that we all this could be ours for just Q4,000/$500 a month (utilities were extras).

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

The Bad: A pool in Antigua Guatemala is no good unless it’s climate-controlled. The weather is always pleasant, but rarely hot enough to make you jump into a pool filled with cold water.

We didn’t do much socializing either and there wasn’t a girl my daughter’s age that she could play with. There wasn’t a single community gathering ever organized. Everyone mostly kept to themselves.

Middle-Class Community

For our second house, we decided to seek something less decidedly upscale. Just about five minutes from where we first lived, we found another gated community. Here, the houses were smaller… MUCH smaller. There were also definitive signs of life here: Children played on the streets and we actually spotted people walking around.

This community had no pool, manicured gardens or armed guards (just a couple of 24-hour watchmen). This residential community had been recently developed and some houses are still being finished up. With about 60+ houses, this community was already filled to about 60% capacity. Just your basic, no-frills community for middle-class locals.

The Good: The biggest draw, besides the community being fairly quiet and secure, was the price. This house, which was brand new, could be had for only Q1,000/$125 a month. And since it was the cheapest of all rentals inside gated communities that we saw, we snapped it right up.

There’s definitely a community vibe here. We spotted flyers on two occasions inviting residents to attend Christmastime parties. My wife has already made a friend and my daughter has recently made several friends her age.

Here’s something that shouldn’t weigh heavily in your decision to rent a place here: Don’t choose a house solely for the views. Volcan Agua, a novelty when one first arrives, becomes part of the background once you’ve been here for more than a couple of weeks. You’re almost guaranteed a clear view of volcanoes either from somewhere in your house or as soon as you step outside, no matter where you live. This community was no different.

We’ve got great views of the volcano and a full view of Antigua and the Panchoy valley. Easily recognizable landmarks dot the landscape below. Arco Santa Catalina, La Merced Church, San Jose Cathedral and Cerro de la Cruz can be spotted from my driveway and even the Arco is recognizable at night when it’s lit up. A beautiful sight… that got old after a week.

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

Antigua Guatemala Real Estate Rentals

The Bad: With a minuscule rental price comes a minuscule house. Then again, it fits perfectly with our goal to continue to simplify this year. You can’t become a hoarder if you don’t have room to put stuff in.

The Verdict

Antigua has options for all price ranges. For us, a lower price and a more active community trumped manicured gardens and huge, empty houses. This is the house I wish we’d rented first until I got my bearings. Less is often more.

You can definitely go the other way and rent a fully furnished villa, with private pool, if you’re willing to spend $1,000+ a month on rent. There are even more expensive rentals here, though most will be around the $550 – $850 range, often furnished.

To get the scoop about real estate in Antigua Guatemala, tun in tomorrow. I’ll tell you what to look for in a house here and show you the difference between a Q4,000/$500USD house and a Q1,000/$125USD house.

*****

Have you thought about living in Antigua Guatemala?

Which of the two communities would you prefer to live in?

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See more about living in Antigua here: https://www.okantigua.com/guatemala-expat/

7 Reasons Why Antigua Guatemala Is Expat Heaven

Antigua Guatemala expat destination

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:

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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.

Expats love Antigua Guatemala's weather

San Jose Cathedral (left), Agua volcano (center), Parque Central (right)

Antigua Guatemala is a pleasure to walk around in

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.

Antigua Guatemala is safe for expats

Parque Central at night

San jose cathedral 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.

Antigua is set in a beautiful valley

View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz

The baroque architecture in Antigua is beautiful

La Merced Church

Antigua Guatemala is easily accessible

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.

Lots of activities for kids in Antigua Guatemala

Jugglers, Cooperación Española

Puppet show in Antigua Guatemala

Free shows for children, Cooperación Española

ballet dancers in Antigua Guatemala

Guatemala’s National Ballet Company

cultural show in Antigua Guatemala

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!

Guatemalan Christmas And New Years Traditions: Posadas

Arco Santa Catalina New Years Eve

On my earlier post about holiday festivities in Guatemala, I had grumbled about how Americanized the whole thing was turning out to be. I’m glad to report that the first experience was the exception to the rule.

In the US, Christmas means mostly one thing: holiday shopping. Pursuing the best deals and completing arm-length shopping lists is the name of the sport.

A backlash against the lemming-like tradition of saturating shopping malls over-capacity has steadily grown over the years. These rebels have refused to follow their marching orders blasted via TV and radio to the masses. These rebels now do their frantic shopping online.

While there’s certainly an attempt by retailers in Guatemala to get people to the stores at Christmas time, I was pleasantly surprised this did not seem to be the all-consuming purpose of Christmas. In Guatemala, Christmas is still strongly rooted in tradition and a bonding of family over Christmas dinner. Gifts were almost an afterthought, except for children.

Not once did I ever hear anything regarding a “War on Christmas”, or the appropriateness or sensitiveness of a Christian nativity scene, of which there were many. The word “navidad” (Christmas) is still very much part of the vocabulary and “Felices feriados!” (Happy holidays!) is not exactly a suitable replacement.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

I was fortunate to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with a wonderful Guatemalan family who made me, a complete stranger, feel more than welcome in their home. I enjoyed ponche (Guatemala’s Christmastime hot fruit punch), tamales, and great roasted pork.

I also saw an awesome nativity scene, which many families take great pride in assembling inside their homes every year. Pictures don’t do it justice. It even featured a running waterfall!

Nativity Scene Guatemala

Guatemala’s popular nativity scenes

Guatemalan Posadas

Religious customs also play a big role in the celebration of Christmas. One such custom is that of “posadas” (shelter). It’s sort of a mini-religious procession reenacting Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, as they sought shelter there to comply with the King’s census request.Many people like to join, as the host of the posada often prepares drinks and food (usually

Many people like to join, as the host of the posada often prepares drinks and food (usually ponche and tamales) for the members of the visiting posada.

I encountered many posadas making the rounds and they always brought a smile to my face, even when it meant the street was now blocked and I’d have to find another way around to my destination.

Posada Guatemala

Small town posada

New Year’s Fireworks in Antigua Guatemala

For New Year’s Eve, our family decided to have a special dinner at home.

Christmas Dinner Guatemala

Christmas dinner at home – no tamales or ponches here

At around 10 p.m., we headed to Antigua to await the new year.

While the streets were busier than usual, the crowds were not nearly as big as those that gather here during Holy Week.

The bars around the park were packed with tourists and they spilled out on the street. Most people walked around, taking in the sights of an Antigua decked in white Christmas lights.

There were two places set up for people to wait for 2013’s arrival. The place most people naturally gravitated to was Arco Santa Catalina.

Arco Santa Catalina

People waiting for midnight

While the Arco looked great, I felt it was too crowded a place and not the best spot for catching the fireworks show that was sure to follow.

The best spot was by Palacio Municipal, right in front of the main park. We headed over to Parque Central, where we were fortunate to find a bench to people-watch from as we awaited midnight.

Antigua Guatemala New Year Celebration

Municipal Palace

I noticed some people had brought small folding tables and chairs and had set them up in front of the park. As the clock struck midnight, many of the people at the tables popped open champagne bottles to celebrate.

A couple of years back the park was declared an alcohol-free zone, but I later learned champagne popping is an old New Year’s tradition of many of Antigua’s old families. This is probably why the Police looked the other way, at least for that night.

Fireworks

The fireworks show was great, all the more enhanced by the beautiful colonial surroundings. Here are more fireworks and pics I took later on in 2015.

I managed to record the video below, even though I came dangerously close to getting fragged by fireworks:

I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas in Guatemala, both the traditions and the great food. Well worth the time to spend Christmas here at least once.

*****

See more activities here: https://www.okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/

*****

Check out other Christmas traditions

in Antigua Guatemala here and here.