Antigua Guatemala Patron Saint Festival

Antigua Greased Pole Festival

I love Guatemala celebrations because they’re fun for the family, as opposed to Holy Week celebrations, where the sheer crush of people – and pickpockets – can make the experience uncomfortable at best.  Patron Saint festivals, or patronales as they’re called here, are mostly attended by the locals, giving it a different feel than tourist-attended celebrations.

Antigua Guatemala Celebrations

Last July 25th was Antigua’s turn to honor its own Patron Saint, San Santiago, or Saint James. The family and I found the event to be entertaining and laid back, which allowed for great picture-taking opportunities. Below are some of the pictures I was able to capture at the event.

Antigua Guatemala Celebrations


Antigua Guatemala Celebrations


Guatemala Celebrations


Antigua Guatemala Celebrations


Did you know Antigua has a “town crier“?


Antigua Town Crier


Antigua Processions

A festival is never complete here unless it involves a procession of some sort…

Antigua Processions

..same goes for Marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument.

Guatemala Marimba Music
Antigua Greased Pole

A popular feature of Antigua’s festival is the greased pole climb.
The pole was easily 30 feet tall.

Guatemala Boy Scouts


The local Boy Scouts were the first to check it out.

Guatemala Boy Scouts


No one would dare be first until a local Boy Scout decided to give it a shot.
He stripped off his uniform, tied himself to the pole with his belt…

Antigua Greasy Pole


But I don’t think he got even three feet of the ground. You see, the trick is to strip off as much sebo – grease – off the pole as one can.

The first one to try never makes it. I hope he got a patch for effort for soiling himself like that. His mamma ain’t gonna be happy.

Since nobody else was willing to try, we went for a walk and some more pics.

Antigua Saint James Festival

When we returned, we found a large crowd assembled around the pole.
That’s because the prize for capturing the flag at the top of the pole was a cool Q500 ($62.50).

What appeared to be homeless people were all over it, to the delight and laughter of the crowd.

Antigua Greased Pole Festival

Eventually, what appeared to be some young, foreign tourists, joined in the effort.

Antigua Guatemala Greased Pole

At one point, the Asian guy below reached the highest anyone had so far,
which brought huge cheers from the crowd.

I overheard an enthusiastic man remark “Necesitamos mas Chinos!” (We need more Chinese!). Of course, in Latin America, anyone that looks remotely Asian is thought to be Chinese.

El Chino promptly tumbled – unharmed – after that.

Antigua Greasy Pole

With the help of some more foreign students – one looked like a tackle from Nebraska University, the efforts got the top man closer and closer to the flag, as each later attempt further stripped more grease off the pole. This is as close as they got while I was there.

Antigua Guatemala Greasy Pole

By now, the prize had climbed to Q700 ($87.50). Heck, I was starting to consider joining in then. But by then, it was getting late and we had to head home, missing out on the concert that was going to be held by Parque Central that night.

That’s what I love about slow travel. You never know what you’re going to see.

Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala: Run a Half Marathon

Things to do in Antigua Guatemala: Run a Half Marathon

“Uh-oh…”, I said to my wife, as I pointed at a few people, effortlessly jogging right down the middle of the busy road connecting Antigua and Ciudad Vieja. Understand that pedestrians on Guatemalan roads have fewer rights than roadkill, so it was startling, for half a second anyway, to see people in alarmingly increasing numbers, running right down the middle of the road on one of Antigua’s busiest roads.

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

We quickly realized – the numbered placard affixed to each jaywalker being the giveaway – that this was annual Half Marathon of the Roses, a popular sporting event I learned later was in its 32nd edition. I knew immediately we’d be late for church that day, the way the road was packed with runners.

This half-marathon is not the only popular race in Antigua – I heard an estimated 5,000 people participated. It’s only Q90 ($11) to register, and you got a cool shirt for the trouble. There are other races run here throughout the year, which are also very well attended. After soccer or futbol as it’s called here, running – and its variants – is one of the most popular sports in Guatemala. It makes sense since little is needed in the way of equipment required to take part. Even acquiring cheap running shoes is a challenge for most people.¡

While millions of quetzals are poured every year into fielding the best national soccer team possible – and nothing to show for it, it was a young man, named Erick Barrondo, from the poor, rural lands of Alta Verapaz, who finally delivered Guatemala its first ever Olympic medal, silver, won at the 2012 London Olympics 20k Marching Race. A mighty feat, considering he was often short on money to feed himself and lacked even basic running shoes to train with, which he had to borrow from someone else during his initial stages of training.

This half-marathon race is well-known outside Guatemala too. I could tell since it attracted professional Kenyan runners. By the way, Kenyan runners captured first place in both men and women categories. A Guatemalan national missed out on winning by thirty seconds – an eternity actually – as he ran the half marathon in 1:02:53 to the Kenyan’s 1:02:23.

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Only a handful of people can compete with Kenyans when it comes to long distance running. This means most people run the race for personal enjoyment and not because they have any remote hope they might actually win the thing. Check out all the other races in Guatemala here:

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Las Rosas Half Marathon Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala Las Rosas Half Marathon

Antigua Guatemala Las Rosas Half Marathon

Antigua Guatemala Half Marathon

Antigua Guatemala Half Marathon

And yes, Antigua’s cobblestones were a problem, which is why most people cleared the sidewalks to allow runners a stable running surface. Saw more than one runner hobbling, cursing cobblestones under their breath.

Everyone gets in on the action and many line up near the meta (finish line) to cheer other runners on, myself among them.

Antigua Guatemala Half Marathon

Antigua Guatemala Half Marathon

Other Things to do in Antigua Guatemala…

Patron saint festivities have been ongoing throughout the month and reach their climax on July 25th, which is the official San Santiago (Saint James) day. It’s common to find random events happening all the time, such as the Zumba demonstration we saw at Parque Central last week.

Antigua Guatemala Zumba

Of more appeal to me was the Gastronomic Festival, a competition/local food fair which took place in the front courtyard of Centro Espanol soon after the half-marathon ended. This is another excellent opportunity to sample some of Guatemala’s best cuisine, inexpensively. You could stuff yourself silly sampling every expertly prepared plate and still end up spending less than Q100 ($12.50).

Festival de Gastronomía Antigua Guatemala

Marimba band Antigua Guatemala

Gastronomy Festival Antigua Guatemala

Festival de Gastronomía Antigua Guatemala

Festival de Gastronomía Antigua Guatemala

If your slow travels take you through Antigua, make sure you check out Holy Week processions first. Once that’s out-of-the-way, come by in July to enjoy the local festivities, which attract considerably less foreign visitors, to take in a wonderful atmosphere and food Guatemalans adore.

Are you a runner?

How would you manage Antigua’s cobblestone streets?

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The Living in Antigua Guatemala Guide is Finally Here!

Living in Guatemala Guide

At last! The “Slow Travel Guide to Living in Antigua Guatemala” is finally here!

After what now seems like ages ago, I set out to create a guide to help fellow travelers and future expats make a smooth transition into Antigua Guatemala and provide up-to-date information about the cost of living in Antigua Guatemala.

I figured writing a guidebook would be just like writing a series of blog posts with a few pictures thrown in – boy, was I massively wrong. Writing and preparing this guide, at least the way I envisioned it, was a lot more work than I originally bargained for.  What started as an outline for a book that would be about six or seven chapters long ballooned to a massive eighteen chapters!

Suddenly, the pictures I had planned to sprinkle throughout the book did not cut it anymore.  I upgraded my camera, learned about photo composition and a bunch of other useful things needed to take great pictures. A few months ago I discovered that amazing photos could be taken using a technique called High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. The OK photos from my point-and-shoot cameras weren’t going to cut it anymore, so I invested time and effort into becoming knowledgeable in the art of HDR photography.

I’m no expert on HDR photography yet, but the photo below won third place in the local magazine’s – Revue Mag – monthly photo contest, for which I was super excited. I can now say I’m a “published photographer,” which is cool. Well, so the photo is on page 88 and terribly cropped, but no matter. It’s always special to see one’s work in print for the first time.

San Felipe de Jesus church Antigua Guatemala

My writing also improved. Nothing like editing and revising a 450-page book to sharpen skills a bit.

I also became a lot more knowledgeable about Guatemalan bureaucracy and the many hoops it makes even short-term visitors jump through. Thankfully, I documented those situations on the spot, since I knew I’d be writing a book eventually.

While it was very hard work – I felt like giving up a couple of times – I stuck through it. The result is what I hope is a massively useful book that helps a lot of people making a move to Antigua Guatemala.

Cost of Living in Guatemala

Many people say living in a Central American country is cheap. Well, that’s not true, especially of Antigua, which can be very expensive depending on which Real Estate agent you talk to. In the book, you’ll learn how to stay clear of expat traps, which is why I made an effort to lay out prices for everything I could think of so that you would have a clear idea of what items cost and how to set up a budget before you get here. No pie-in-the-sky numbers, but real information.

I’m thankful for all the people who have written in, via the blog, Facebook, or through e-mails with your questions. You were really helpful in giving me an insight into how varied the reasons are for people wanting to leave their homeland, move to a foreign country and what sort of thing they were looking for. I’ve already met some readers that have visited on scouting trips and even helped some that have made the move already.

I’m already looking for ways to improve the book, so if you do buy it (wife, daughter and I thank you profusely!), reach out to me if any crucial questions for you went unanswered in the book. Download a sample chapter of the book by clicking the ad-box above. This book is iPad-ready and comes in PDF format, which should be readable on any device, including the Kindle.

Looking forward to meeting with you in Antigua Guatemala!

Patron Saint Festival In Antigua Guatemala

Fiestas Patronales Alotenango Guatemala

Did you know La Antigua Guatemala, literally meaning “Ancient Guatemala”,  is not the city’s original name? Antigua’s full name is… get ready because it’s a mouthful… La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, or “The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala”.Why do I start with this little tidbit? Because I can, for one, but more importantly, because it’s how we get to the root of all the crazy activity going in Antigua the month of July.

Why do I start with this little tidbit? Because I can, for one, but more importantly, because it’s how we get to the root of all the crazy activity going in Antigua the month of July.

Alotenango patron saint festival

Alotenango patron saint festival

You see, each town around Antigua, including Antigua, has a Patron Saint, to which leaders entrusted the well-being of the city. It didn’t do much as far as earthquake insurance, I know that much.

The town’s name is usually a clue about who the Patron Saint is. Antigua’s original name made reference to the city’s Patron Saint, San Santiago, better known as “Saint James” to those in the English-speaking world.

Each town commemorates its Patron Saint holidays with a ton of festivities and cultural activities. While the designated holiday is kept to one or two “official days”, most towns take the opportunity to stretch out the parties into week-long celebrations.

Above is a picture of one such cultural activity taking place last month, in the town of Alotenango.

Well, in this month is when Antigua celebrates San Santiago’s designated holiday, which falls on the 24th and 25th of July. But of course, Antigua has to outdo everyone and instead of a week, they stretch celebrations into a month-long affair.

I love these festivities as unlike with processions (once you’ve seen one processional anda you’ve seen ’em all), you never know what to expect- great for fans of photography.

This is why in my new book, Living in Antigua Guatemala, I’ve included Patron Saint festival dates I could find for every town in the Antigua valley. These are the off-the-tourist-trail activities that make Slow Travel so appealing.

Since apparently the official website for Antigua’s City Hall is virus-laden (or so says my antivirus – can’t say I’m surprised), I’ve painstakingly transcribed all the activities occurring from today until the end of the month.

Antigua’s Patron Saint Festivities

Monday, July 8, 8:30 Declamation Festival | 2:30 pm to Public Speaking Festival, Centro Cultural César Brañas.

Tuesday, July 9, 8:30 Municipal Drawing and Painting Festival | at 11:30 am: Tai-Chi Students Presentation, 2:30 to Municipal Choir Festival, Centro Cultural Cesar Brañas | 8 am to 12 pm (RSVP in CNPAG): Photography Workshop and Use of Digital Camera, Capuchinas Convent.
Wednesday, July 10, to Public Speaking Competition Speech, Capuchinas Convent | 8:30 Singing Festival, 2:30 pm to Choreography Festival, Centro Cultural César Brañas.
Thursday, July 11, Skit “El Medico to Palos”, open to the public, Capuchinas Convent | Awards “Projections Lent and Easter 2013”, Centro Cultural Cesar Brañas.
Friday, July 12, Opening of  XXX Edition Fair Departmental Book, City Hall | Election of Miss Antigua 2013/2014, Memorial to San José El Viejo.
Saturday, July 13, Legends of Antigua, Scouts, General Cemetery San Lazaro.

Monday, July 15, to Guatemalan Films – Presentation of the documentary “Tono Ballena”, Convent Sor Juana de Maldonado.
Thursday, July 18, Athletics Festival,  INVAL | Jazz Concert, Professors at USAC School of Art, Capuchinas Convent.
Friday, July 19, Music Concert – Group Jade Maya, Musical Show with Dancers, Central Plaza | Skit, professors at the School of Art USAC, Capuchinas Convent.
Saturday, July 20, Chess Festival, Ground floor of City Hall | to Expo Las Rosas 2013, race shirt to participants of XXXII Half Marathon Las Rosas, INSOL | 10:30 a.m:  Zumba, Parque Central | XII Edition Kids Race Roses, Parque Central | Central American Championship Male and Female Bodybuilding, Body Fitness IFBB 2013, Centro Cultural César Brañas | Youth Marimba Band, Plaza Mayor.
Sunday, July 21, XXXII Edition Half Marathon Las Rosas, Plaza Mayor | to Food Festival, Centro de la Cooperacion Espanola | to Exhibition “Art for Art’s Sake”, painting, theater, music and dance, Grupo Tres, Arch Street.

Wednesday, July 24, Formal Ceremonial Statement by Distinguished Antigüeños,  Great Hall, Palacio del Ayuntamiento | Gallo Fest Concert, Viento en Contra &  Duo Sway, Municipal Stadium Pensativo (Free admission).
Thursday, July 25, Holy Mass in Honor of St. James, Church of San José Cathedral | Parade of floats in honor of the Apostle James, participating educational centers of La Antigua Guatemala (Departure Plaza Mayor) | Popular Activities: marimba concert, greasy pole **oooh! Looking forward to that one!***, sack races, Plaza Mayor | Cup Finals, MEG Municipal Stadium Pensativo | start: Procession of the Patron St. James, Church of San José Cathedral |  Solemn Session of Ordinary Legion of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, Great Hall, City Hall | Concert, Grupo Explosion Party, Plaza Mayor.
Friday, July 27: Reforestation Campaign.
Saturday, July 27, Soccer Cup Finals, Santiago Interaldeas, Municipal Stadium Pensativo.

Tuesday, July 30, to Drawing and Painting Contest, Educational Centers La Antigua Guatemala and its villages, Audiovisual Hall, Capuchinas Convent.

Wednesday, July 31, Awards for Drawing and Painting contest, Audiovisual Hall, Capuchinas Convent.