Good Eats in Antigua Guatemala: Shtilero Sandwich Truck

Food Truck Antigua Guatemala

***Shtilero now has a permanent location! Find the truck at 1a Avenida Sur #4 – Open from 8 am to 10 pm.***

While there are many food street vendors in and around Antigua and throughout the country, it’s unusual to find food trucks anywhere in Guatemala. Most street vendors usually prefer to set up shop in specific street corners or near/around parks. They rarely – if ever – move around. Add to that the cost of the vehicle itself, Guatemala’s high price of gas and maintenance required and it’s just not feasible for the vast majority of people to set up anything resembling a food truck.

The more I think about it, a food truck makes perfect sense in Antigua – rental rates for commercial spaces here are outrageously expensive, often thousands of dollars a month, making it difficult for business owners to break even. Set up a mobile kitchen and voila, instant restaurant. Prime real estate, very little in overhead, no high rents to pay – something the owner of Antigua’s first food truck, Shtilero, is finding success with.

Shtilero

Food truck Antigua Guatemala

 The unmistakable Shtilero Kombi van

The Concept

Shtilero, a mobile sandwich shop, is the creation of Alex Houel – who came to Antigua via France. This incredibly cool food truck is a Volkswagen Kombi, the van made famous by surfers and road trippers worldwide.

It took a bit for Alex and his partner, Rocio, to find the perfect vehicle – he wanted a German model rather than the newer Mexican and Brazilian models. He found a 1971, Germany-built Kombi and set out to restore it from the inside out. The most notable modifications are the stainless steel kitchen inside the vehicle and the cut-out roof, the latter providing a waterproof roof and when raised up, the needed headroom.

Kombi kitchen Antigua Guatemala

Inside the Shtilero kitchen

Where to Find Shtilero

You can find Shtilero around Antigua on weekends and most weekdays. Because the Shtilero doesn’t have a set location, you’ll have to check their Facebook page to find out where they’ll be on any given day.

Most of the time you can find Shtilero parked either in front of El Calvario Church (at the end of Calle de Los Pasos), next to La Candelaria (1ra Avenida Norte), near Hermano Pedro Church (3ra Avenida Sur), or next to Tanque de la Unión (2da Avenida Sur).

They’ve found a permanent home at 1a Avenida Sur #4 and are open 8 am to 10 pm. They occasionally travel to Guatemala City and are available to cater events (phone # 5157 9176).

Story Behind Name

So what’s the deal with the name Shtilero? As Alex explains it, he’s from the northern region of France, Ch’ti, which when pronounced sounds like “Shti”. Wanting to combine an element of Guatemala into the name, he decided to mix the word “chilero”, which here is slang for “cool”. And that’s how Shti + Chilero begat Shtilero.

Side note: If you want to know what people of northern France are like, watch the French comedy “Welcome to the Sticks” – the most successful French movie ever made. From what I gather, northerners from France are the equivalent of southerners in the US… funny accents, kind people and good food.

The Review

But let’s talk about food. Is it good and how much does it cost? Well, it’s surprisingly affordable. Sandwiches cost Q25, but the combo is a much better deal at Q30 as it comes with rosemary-seasoned salted fries, a natural drink (mandarin orange juice was available when I visited), and a small pack of cookies – the last item nothing to write home about.

Shtilero meatball sub Antigua Guatemala

Meatball sandwich combo at Shtilero

On my visit, I had the meatball sandwich, which had a rich tomato sauce and a good amount of gooey mozzarella cheese – I really enjoyed it. The salted potatoes were an enjoyable and hearty side order, though a bit greasier than I would’ve liked. The mandarin orange juice was good and had the right amount of sweetness to it.

food truck Antigua guatemala

Chicken Pesto and Egg Sandwich at Shtilero

I didn’t try the chicken pesto and egg sandwich – the only other option that day, as the menu varies a bit. A customer that bought one gave it thumbs up, so I might try it when the wife orders one another day – I’m hooked on the meatball sandwich, so it’s not likely I’ll give this one a shot anytime soon.

If you happen to run into Shtilero, give it a try! Let them know Rich sent you. It’s a great alternative to Subway (yuck), especially if you’re craving a meatball sandwich, which can be hard to find in Antigua. Here are some more pics of the Shtilero bus.

*****

More places to eat here: https://www.okantigua.com/antigua-guatemala-restaurant/

*****

Have you eaten at Shtilero? How was it?

Share below!

Thanksgiving Day in Antigua Guatemala: Have Your Turkey and Eat It Too

Thanksgiving day in Antigua Guatemala

Traditions are a funny thing. The things supposed to bond us to each other can sometimes be the very thing that drives us apart. Ever spent a holiday with a dysfunctional family? It’s a wonder so few casualties happen on Thanksgiving day when everyone at the table has a carving knife within easy reach. For many, abroad often entails missing out on holiday gatherings and traditions that used to be a huge part of their social life. Some try to recreate them, others ditch them in favor of new traditions, preferring instead to adopt new ones.

In our household, my wife and daughter are the ones that closely following the seasons. I tend to see each day as its own. Yeah, I’m *that* guy that doesn’t care much for birthday parties. But I do enjoy cake and pretty lights. I didn’t object when the wife decided to put up our tiny Christmas tree up, two full weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Day – excuse me, *American* Thanksgiving Day, as my Canadian friends always remind me.

But if you’re in Antigua and you *must* have Thanksgiving dinner – hey, why not have Thanksgiving dinner every month is what I say – there are restaurants in Antigua who’ll readily accommodate you, which is pretty great if you ask me.

Antigua Guatemala Thanksgiving Day

Flickr @ martha_chapa95

Now, I have to warn you – some of these barely resemble a Thanksgiving meal and are more like an exercise in pretentiousness in order to justify the price. I’m not saying they wouldn’t be great meals, even sublime, but let’s keep our eye on the ball here.

For me – and I stress the “me” part – a traditional Thanksgiving dinner needs four things: Oven-baked turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. The rest, as they say, is gravy. One may not have to or want to eat all items – why??? – but they have to be on the table. And there has to be enough of it so that at the end of the meal, you have to be literally rolled from the table to the couch.

Without further ado, here are the restaurants in Antigua that have a special Thanksgiving Day menu. Just bring your appetite… and a crazy aunt/uncle if you want to make the scenario a bit more realistic.

Las Palmas

Thanksgiving Day in Antigua Guatemala

Cost: Q139 per person | Hours: 12:00 PM – 10:00 PM | Includes – Appetizer: Guicoy (Guatemalan squash) soup. Main Entree: Turkey medallions w/ cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies. Dessert: pumpkin flan, coffee. Drink: Cup of wine or other non-alcoholic beverage.

Reservations preferred if bringing in large parties(7832-9734).

Fusion Restaurante

Thanksgiving Day menu fusion restaurante

Cost: Q175 per person, Q75 for children under 10 | Hours: Starts at 5:00 PM | Includes – Appetizer: Organic Mixed Green salad w/ toasted nuts and raspberry vinaigrette. Main Entree: Oven glazed turkey, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed veggies, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, wine gravy. Dessert: Pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream. Drink: ???

Reservations preferred if bringing in large parties (7873-7000).

Las Velas (Inside Hotel Camino Real)

Thanksgiving Day menu at Las Velas

Cost: Q225 + 10% gratuity | Hours: Lunch and Dinner | Two courses!

Course #1 includes – Appetizer: Clam soup en croute (rosemary bread). Main Entree: Beef brisket in Jack Daniels sauce, grilled vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes. Dessert: Chocolate cone with cranberry mousse. Drink: Not included.

Course #2 includes – Appetizer: Grilled asparagus and portobello mushroom salad w/ warm hazelnut vinaigrette. Main Entree: Stuffed turkey roll w/ cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sauteed carrots with tarragon butter. Dessert: Pumpkin and apple pie. Drink: Not included.

Reservations preferred if bringing in large parties.

Earth Lodge

Earth Lodge Antigua Guatemala thanksgiving day menu

Cost: Q140 per person – small children free | Hours: Starts at 5:00PM | All You Can Eat Buffet includes: Roasted turkey or Stuffed Peppers (for vegetarians), mashed potatoes w/ homemade gravy, sweet potato casserole, steamed veggies with butter, Italian bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, plus homemade apple and pumpkin pies with real whipped cream.

Reservations strongly encouraged as space is limited. Charity pub quiz after dinner to support the El Hato School. Rides will be leaving Antigua at 3:00 PM, 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM with returns after dinner. Transportation is 15Q per person each way.

Restaurante del Arco

Thanksgiving day in Antigua at Restaurante Del Arco

Address: 5a Avenida Norte #28

Cost: Q150 per person| Hours: Lunch and Dinner | Appetizer: Squash soup, stuffed mushroom. Main Entree: Roasted turkey, herb and apple stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole. Dessert: Pumpkin pie, apple pie with ice cream. Drink: ???

Reservations preferred if bringing in large parties (7832-3080).

Don Martin

Thanksgiving Day in Antigua Guatemala

Address: 3a Avenida norte, past 1a Calle Poniente – behind La Merced Church.

Cost: Q149 per person | Hours: From 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM | Includes – Appetizer: Waldorf salad or sweet bell pepper soup. Main Entree: Stuffed turkey with gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and green peas. Dessert: Pecan pie or pumpkin pie. Drink: ???

Reservations preferred if bringing in large parties (7832 1063 – donmartin@itelgua.com).

*******

What if you get into an “I’d like to have a Thanksgiving dinner at home, but I don’t feel like spending a day in the kitchen” mode? No problem, got you covered.

Pappy’s BBQ

Thanksgiving Day menu at Pappys BBQ Antigua Guatemala

Address: 6a Calle Poniente #21

Pappy’s BBQ has your turkey. It’s a minimum of 10lbs – cooked weight. Just looking at it makes my mouth water. Call for orders at 5979-6771 or email ordens@bbqantigua.com.

Epicure

Epicure Antigua Guatemala

Address: 3a Avenida Norte No. 11B

They’ll have a traditional dinner, all-day on Thursday. But they also have your other items – cranberry sauce, stuffing, pumpkin pie, etc – available now for pickup at their deli counter.

Blue Butterfly Bakery

Thanksgiving Day in Antigua Guatemala

I mentioned Blue Butterfly Bakery in my last post. If you’re looking for baked goods for your feast, give them a call. You might be cutting it close if you want to order your butter rolls and pumpkin pies, though. I suggest the sooner you get in touch with Genesis, the better. She delivers – as in literally, she’ll come to your house to drop off your order – at no charge!

So there you have it. Feel free to mention any places I might have missed and I’ll do my best to add them to the list.

*****

Happy Thanksgiving!

Expat Interview: Living in San Juan del Obispo, Guatemala

Plazuela de San Juan del Obispo

On this post, the final in the series about San Juan del Obispo, I interview two expats that call this artisans’ village home and what someone can expect if they choose to do the same. First up is Kimberly, a teacher from the US.

Interview with Kimberly

Rich: Kimberly, how long have you been living in Guatemala and how much of that time in San Juan del Obispo?

Kimberly: I have been living in Guatemala for a year now – and all of that time has been in San Juan del Obispo. I visited Guatemala several times prior to moving, though, each time spending between 3 and 4 weeks here.

Rich: Why did you choose to live here and how much did you know about it before you moved in?

Kimberly: I chose to move to San Juan del Obispo because I had a good friend was already living there and because we found a house to rent for almost nothing. I had heard that an Juan del Obispo was pretty safe, that there were very nice people living there, and that they once (a few years ago) got together as a community and ran out a few gang members who tried to live there. Other than that I didn’t know anything about it, except it was on Volcan Agua, about 10 minutes outside Antigua.

Rich: What do you like most about the town? Anything you can’t experience anywhere else?

Kimberly: The people are VERY nice and helpful. They are very patient with me and help any time they can. I also like that, for the most part, it’s very quiet there at night – except for the dogs who bark at night. There is no nightlife there, except for the soccer games at the school, and that’s nice. It has a definite community feel to it and I appreciate that. I also like the view of the Panchoy Valley and, of course, the view of the volcanoes. I also like hearing Fuego (Volcano) boom!

Plaza San Juan del Obispo Guatemala

Fuego (left) and Acatenango (center) volcanos, as viewed from San Juan Del Obispo’s Main Plaza

Rich: What would you wish most were different about Obispo?

Kimberly: I wish it wasn’t so dusty! But, it’s something I live with because there’s nothing we can do about it. The ash from the volcanoes is the main culprit, I think.
Rich: If you knew then what you know now, would you move to Obispo again?

Kimberly: Yes, I would. I recommend it to everyone who is looking for a place to live around here. Of course, not many people look there (Obispo) because it’s away from Antigua, but I really enjoy it. If I didn’t live here, I don’t know where else I would live. Probably another village on the outskirts of Antigua.

Rich: Thanks, Kimberly!

*********************

Indeed, San Juan del Obispo has a very nice view of the entire valley. Those with good eyesight – or a good pair of binoculars, can easily spot a few well-known Antigua landmarks.

Mirador, San Juan del Obispo Guatemala

View from San Juan del Obispo – Click picture for larger image (new window)

Up next is Genesis, artisan baker, and owner of the Blue Tree Bakery. I gotta say I’ve tried some of her stuff and it’s delicious. Wife is a big fan of her banana bread. Bakery now closed :(

By the way, if you need pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving – or even if you’re craving one like I do – give her a call. She also does rolls, bagels, and other items, as well as take on special requests. Check out their menu here (opens in new window). If you think it looks good, it smells even better. Tell her Rich sent you :)

Bakery, San Juan del Obispo Guatemala

Banana bread – Blue Butterfly Bakery, San Juan del Obispo

Bakery, San Juan del Obispo GuatemalaPumpkin Pie – Blue Butterfly Bakery

 *********************

Interview with Genesis

Rich: How long have you been living in Guatemala and how much of that time in San Juan del Obispo?

Genesis: I came to Guatemala in 2002, on my way to Brazil. I’ve been living in San Juan for 11 years of that since it’s where my husband’s family is.

Rich: Why did you choose to live here and how much did you know about it before you moved in?

Genesis: I actually didn’t plan to move to Guatemala at all, let alone San Juan. This was supposed to be a long backpacking trip, but I had to stop and learn Spanish here. I fell in love with the country and my husband and here I stayed. His father gave us a piece of land to build on and so we did. Prior to moving here, I had visited San Juan a couple of times for festivals, but that was it.

Rich: What do you like most about Obispo? Anything about it that feel one can’t experience anywhere else?

Genesis: San Juan del Obispo is a unique town in that it is very friendly and safe. Compared to some of the other towns that have gang activity, I have never felt unsafe here. The community has really accepted me as a part of the town. There is also a beauty here that is definitely worth seeing. From the old church to the nispero (loquat) orchards, it’s just gorgeous.

Plazuela de San Juan del Obispo

Fountain – Plazuela de San Juan del Obispo

Rich: What would you wish most were different about Obispo?

Genesis: I wouldn’t mind having more takeout options around here and I would love it if the streets were level, but those are pretty minor things. The town is perfect for me. It’s close to Antigua, yet is its own community and it is quiet and friendly.

San Juan del Obispo, Guatemala

Entrance to San Juan del Obispo

Rich: If you knew then what you know now, would you move to Obispo again? Where to if not Obispo?

Genesis: I would definitely move here again if I knew then what I know now. I wouldn’t move onto the same piece of land as my in-laws, but I would still look for a place to live here. It’s definitely home for me.

Rich: Thanks!

*********************

In Conclusion

San Juan del Obispo is about 2 miles away from the edge of Antigua and is easy to reach via car. It’s not really within walking distance to Antigua, so you’ll need a car or rely on public transportation – bus fare to Antigua’s Market is Q1.50 each way. There are stores and you can find fresh vegetables sold nearby, but you’ll have to head to Antigua if you want to do serious grocery shopping.

There are fairs and other religious activities throughout the year, but for the most part, San Juan del Obispo is a quiet town. If you’re looking for an active nightlife or tons of nearby dining options, look elsewhere. Although Antigua is close enough that this isn’t really an issue. The main tourist attraction here is Palacio del Obispo, the former home of Francisco Marroquin.

San Juan del Obispo, Antigua Guatemala

Paseo del Obispo – The town’s lone gated community

As far as rental prices, they’re lower than Antigua’s but higher than nearby villages, as it is a desirable location. If you’re looking for a gated community, Paseo del Obispo will fit the bill. The rental prices there start at $650US. Decent housing outside this gated community can be found for anywhere between Q1,500 to Q2,000 ($250US to $250US).

*****

Live in San Juan del Obispo?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

Palacio del Obispo, San Juan del Obispo: Visitors Guide

Palacio del Obispo, Antigua Guatemala, San Juan del Obispo Guatemala

If you’ve ever visited San Juan del Obispo‘s main plaza, one of the first things you’ll notice – it’s impossible not to – is the immense building that sits behind the church. In fact, chicken buses heading to San Juan del Obispo from Antigua (2.00Q for one way fare) will drop you off next to it, rather than the main plaza, which is located about half a block further up the road.

Massive Palacio del Obispo

Side-entrance to Palacio del Obispo

After almost three years of bopping around Antigua, I finally made the time to visit what is known as Palacio del Obispo (Bishop’s Palace), the grand “getaway” home of former Bishop Francisco Marroquin – he’s the man featured in the 100Q bill.

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Cost and Visiting Hours

This residence, like other buildings in Antigua, almost crumbled due to disrepair. Livestock grazed inside it freely, before restoration efforts began at the beginning of last century.

Main entrance to Palacio del Obispo

 Main entrance to Palacio del Obispo

Today, the former home of the bishop has been restored. While mostly in use as a place for religious retreats, as was the case when we visited, nuns will give you a tour if you show up at the appointed visiting hours (9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. -4:00 p.m.).

Palacio del Obispo - Horas de Entrada

 Hours of operation

The tour doesn’t have a set price, as it’s supposed to be a “voluntary” donation. They should drop the charade, as there’s nothing “voluntary” about it. When we pressed for an amount, they said it’d be Q10 per person – museums here typically charge nationals Q5. A bargain anyway at Q10, though it seemed that more was expected to be donated.

I got the vibe that we were rushed through the place – the tour guide routinely shut off lights before I was done taking pictures and walked several feet in front to pressure us into moving along faster. Believe me, it was before lunchtime, so it wasn’t like I was taking my time.

Touring the Museum

The museum has several, nicely done information panels, both in English and Spanish. Very early on I decided I wasn’t going to read them all, so I did my usual, which was snap close-up pics of the panels to read at home at leisure.

We could’ve easily spent well over an hour and a half there, but were done in well under 45 minutes. In the end, I resorted to ignoring the passive-aggressive impatient attitude of the tour guide and took the pics I needed as quickly as I could.

As mentioned earlier, a lot could be said about Francisco Marroquin, one of the most important figures in Guatemala’s history. You can tell he was because his face is on the Q100 bill, which was the most valuable currency until it recently ceded that honor to the Q200 bill (which hardly anybody uses).

History of Palacio del Obispo

When the second capital of the kingdom, located in present-day Ciudad Vieja, was buried under a mudslide coming down from Agua Volcano, it was Marroquin who organized rescue efforts and the move of the capital to present-day Antigua. He also founded the city’s first hospital and was instrumental in the creation of the first university.

Marroquín worked to release indigenous people from the encomienda system, which was forced servitude, and from the high taxes imposed by the Spaniards on the native population.

He also learned to speak the language of the Maya, on his own, which served him to do the first translations of religious scriptures into their language.

Portrait of Bishop Francisco de Marroquin

 Portrait of Bishop Francisco de Marroquin

Though Marroquin had a home in the city, the Palacio Episcopal in front of Parque Central, next to San Jose Cathedral, he chose to build his private home on the outskirts of the city.Construction was finished somewhere between the 1530s-1540s. It was here that he founded the town of San Juan, now known as San Juan del Obispo in his honor.

Construction was finished somewhere between the 1530s-1540s. It was here that he founded the town of San Juan, now known as San Juan del Obispo, in his honor.

Courtyards

The residence itself is lovely. The entrance courtyard has a small fountain and there are numerous rooms throughout.

Main Courtyard, Palacio del Obispo

 Entrance courtyard

Courtyard garden at Palacio del Obispo

 Entrance courtyard

Benches in the garden

Benches for meditation

Colonial art prints

Prints of colonial-era artwork adorn the halls

The left side of the first courtyard is off-limits, as it contains the private offices of the Order of Bethany, the nuns in charge of managing the building.The hallway on the right leads to a smaller courtyard, which contains what once were the private quarters of Marroquin and a small, richly detailed chapel.

The hallway on the right leads to a smaller courtyard, which contains what once were the private quarters of Marroquin and a small, richly detailed chapel.

Hallway leading to Marroquin's private residence

 Hallway that leads to Marroquin’s private quarters

The front part of the building was likely used to host visiting dignitaries and visitor’s quarters, while the smaller, more secluded rear courtyard was the domain of the bishop. It also offers the best views of the valley, as well as a private side entrance.

Rear Courtyard for Marroquin's personal use

Marroquin’s private courtyard

fountain at the rear courtyard

Fountain detail

The small chapel has been lovingly restored and it is beautiful.

Marroquin's private chapel

 Chapel inside residence

Restoration

The building would not be what it is today were it not for the efforts of Bishop Mariano Rossell y Arellano (below), who used his own money to begin restoration of the palace.

The furniture that is now on display at what used to be Marroquin’s quarters is not original – it belonged to Bishop Rosell.

Mariano Rossell y Arellano portrait

 Portrait of Bishop Mariano Rosell y Arellano

As you enter the Bishop’s quarters, you’re greeted by Rosell’s original desk, in what used to be his office. Behind it, a display shows some of the original artwork that survived to this day.

religious art at Palacio del Obispo

 Bishop Rosell’s private office

The furniture is of the highest quality and made by top-notch Guatemalan woodworkers.

Marroquin's bedroom

 Marroquin’s former bedroom – Furniture placed by Rosell

If you pay close attention to the detail of the furniture, you’ll notice Bishop Rosell’s coat of arms and many references to it – mainly roses – a play on words with his last name, I imagine, as “rosa” is the word for “rose” in Spanish.

Rosell's coat of arms

Rosell’s coat of arms

Roses are everywhere, very visible on furniture and doors.

 Artwork on door - roses

 Artwork on door – roses

Rose-shaped curtain holdback

 Rose-shaped curtain holdback

While not as visible as Rosell’s coat of arms, Marroquin’s coat of arms and references to it can be seen in many details.

Coat of Arms, Archbishop Francisco de Marroquin

Marroquin’s coat of arms

One of the most distinctive details are the dragon waterspouts, which encircle the building and courtyards.

Waterspout, Palacio del Obispo

 Waterspouts with Marroquin’s signature design

From accounts I’ve read, people are given a look at some of the items produced in San Juan del Obispo at the end of the tour – chocolate and handicrafts are made available for sale – but nothing like that was suggested, as we were ushered to the exits. I guess they figured they were getting all the money they were ever going to get from us.

Display of local artisans' work

Display of local artisans’ work

In all, I recommend visiting. We probably caught them on a bad day, as the place was buzzing with activity from retreat-goers, leaving them little time to deal with pesky, low-budget tourists.

*****

Find more cool stuff to do in Antigua here.

Nispero Festival In San Juan Del Obispo, Guatemala

Festival del Nispero, San Juan del Obispo, Antigua Guatemala

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.

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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.

Nispero, or Mispero, or Loquat

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.

Vino de Níspero, San Juan del Obispo

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.

Huge sculpture of nisperos

Nispero sculpture

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

Musicians at Festival del Nispero

Fountain at San Juan del Obispo

At San Juan del Obispo’s fountain

The festival kicked-off eventually, with the singing of Guatemala’s national anthem.

Singing the Guatemalan anthem to kick off the festival

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.

Handicrafts, San Juan del Obispo

Procession – Handicrafts

buses, San Juan del Obispo

Chicken Buses – Handicrafts

handmade candle lanterns

Bought a couple candle holders

Nispero Wine

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.

Vinos del Abuelo - nispero 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.

wine for sale at the nispero destival

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.

Chocolates d'taza in San Juan del Obispo

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).

Dulces Tipicos, San Juan del Obispo

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, Canillitas de Canela, Cocadas HorneadasCocada 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.Iglesia San Juan del Obispo, Antigua Guatemala

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, San Juan del Obispo

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.

Interior of San Juan del Obispo Church

Inside San Juan del Obispo Church

Chapel at San Juan del Obispo Church

Chapel, San Juan del Obispo Church

statue, 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 in San Juan del Obispo

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.