San Francisco Church, Antigua Guatemala: Visitors Guide

San Francisco Church is one of the biggest attractions in the city – even Tarzan has paid a visit! But more on that later.

For tourists, Iglesia de San Francisco is an opportunity see a restored colonial church. For locals, it’s a place of pilgrimage – they come to pray for miracles at the tomb of Saint Hermano Pedro de San José Betancourt. Native to Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, he’s the first canonized saint in Central America.

San Francisco Church

Facade, San Francisco Church

This complex houses a church, a museum devoted to Hermano Pedro, ruins of the convent and vendor stalls.

Handicrafts Market, San Francisco Church

Handicrafts Market, San Francisco Church

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Entrances to San Francisco Church

There are two doors from which to enter the church grounds: Saint Bonaventure‘s entrance, which dates back to the early 17th century and is located near the intersection of 1a Avenida Sur and 7a Avenida Poniente. Saint Francis‘ entrance, a late 17th-century addition, is accessible via Calle de Los Pasos.

Main entrance to san francisco church

St. Bonaventure Gate

Side entrance to San Francisco Church

St. Francis Gate

The changing architectural tastes of the 17th century are reflected here, as the Saint Bonaventure door has simpler Doric columns, while the newer St. Francis gate sports Solomonic columns. The Saint Bonaventure entrance featured a replica image of its namesake saint – the original statue can be seen at the Museum of Colonial Art.

Construction of San Francisco Church

The Franciscan missionaries were one of the first religious orders to arrive in present-day Guatemala. When the second capital was destroyed, they were also one of the first to move to the site of present-day Antigua. The first church Franciscans built, in 1541, was located at the current site of Escuela de Cristo Church, which is just a couple blocks south. That church was damaged during the earthquake of 1575.

Atrium, San Francisco Church

For 10 years, Franciscans collected funds to build a new church, which they eventually built at the location it occupies to this day.

Franciscans carried on a heated rivalry with the Dominican friars of Santo Domingo Convent and the Jesuits of Compañía de Jesús, each trying to outdo the other in wealth and political

influence. Franciscans succeeded in obtaining permission from the Spanish Crown to establish Saint Bonaventure College, a prestigious institution where famous painters studied, such as Alonzo de la Paz, Cristobal de Villalpando, and Thomas de Merlo.

Throughout the years, there were many additions and renovations to the church. Master Architect Diego de Porres finished the current Baroque-style church in 1702. It features Solomonic columns and above the entrance, a coat of arms of the House of Habsburg, a two-headed eagle, representing the ruling Spanish monarchy at the time.

Abandoning The Church

Damaged substantially by the earthquakes of the 18th century, the complex was mostly abandoned, though a small chapel was built on the premises in 1774 to serve the needs of the small number of people that refused to move to the new capital.

In 1871, the chapel of the Third Order was rebuilt. Most of the temple remained in ruins, serving as a playground and housing a small number of families.

Restoring San Francisco Church

Inside San Francisco Church

Main nave, San Francisco Church

The church was returned to Franciscan friars in 1960, who began a controversial restoration process, as they focused on rebuilding a structurally healthy church. Historians and architects were up in arms about the approach, which did not place more emphasis on restoring colonial-era details.

The current temple is but a shadow of the opulent temple it once was, and lacking the richness of the artwork the original temple possessed.

Dome, San Francisco Church

Dome

The temple’s north bell tower was rebuilt in 1967. The southern tower originally had a clock, but now remains in the condition it has been since the 1773 earthquakes.

Inside San Francisco Church

At the temple, look for Cristo de las Ánimas, located on the transept left of the main altar – it features a crucifix made out of corn husks, hence the locals’ name of this image as Cristo de Tuza (Corn Husk Christ). It dates back to the 17th century and is thought to be the work of Felix de Mata.

Cristo de las Animas, San Francisco

Corn Husk Christ, by Felix de Mata

Though buried at San Francisco since his passing, Hermano Pedro’s body has been relocated numerous times. His current resting place, Vera Cruz Chapel, is accessible through a separate entrance by the church’s north entrance. Access is restricted to the church from here by a metal fence.

Visiting Hermano Pedro’s Tomb

To visit, walk past the Esquisuchil tree (scientific name Bourreira Huanita), planted on March 19, 1657, one of several planted by Hermano Pedro throughout Antigua.

Hermano Pedro garden

Hermano Pedro Statue

Adjacent to the tomb are the ruins of Concepción Chapel, housing the Garden of Saint Hermano Pedro, along with a bronze sculpture. A stained-glass window behind the tomb depicts the death of Hermano Pedro and his arrival in Heaven.

Sained glass window, Hermano Pedro

Commemoration of Hermano Pedro’s death

San Francisco’s Prayer Candles

Hermano Pedro's tomb

Hermano Pedro’s tomb

At the tomb, take note of the different colored candles, each representing a specific prayer request. These candles are for sale on the stalls outside the church. Some candles are shaped in the form of the petitioner’s affected body part – ear and eye-shaped candles are among the most common.

Candles for sale at Iglesia San Francisco

Candles for sale on the market

Each candle has a specific meaning, based on the request of the petitioner. Their meanings are as follows:

Red = Love
Blue = Work success
Pink = Health
White = Children
Purple = To overcome vices
Green = Business success
Yellow = Protection
Light blue = Success at school

Black candles aren’t sold at the church and are removed if found out by clergy. What is the prayer request attached to black candles? The destruction of enemies.

Hermano Pedro Museum

Next door the church are the ruins of San Francisco Convent. There’s a small fee of 5Q to enter the museum and convent.

Your first stop should be the small, one-room “museum” – more like a shrine, to Hermano Pedro. The entrance hallway to the museum is lined with crutches and gift offerings to Hermano Pedro, thanking the saint for his answers to their desperate prayers. By the way, photography is not allowed in the hall.

Bell, Hermano Pedro Museum

Hermano Pedro’s bell

After a few steps, you’ll enter the spacious room, which is filled with the earliest known paintings of Hermano Pedro, as well as his personal artifacts. Look for his famous bell, which rang at night as he walked the streets warning the residents to repent and helping those he found along the way.

Also worth checking out are his self-flagellation instruments, to mortify his flesh, as well as the human skull he kept by his nightstand to remind himself of the brevity of life. I get itchy whenever I see the rough underwear he forced himself to use on a daily basis.

San Francisco Convent Ruins

In its time, the Franciscans had one of the largest convents in the city, trailing only in size to that of the Dominicans at Santo Domingo Church. Most of the Convent is in ruins and there’s very little signage, unlike the ruins at La Merced Church’s Convent.

Missing fountain at San Francisco Convent

Missing fountain

The convent’s signature fountain is missing, which was moved to Santa Teresa Convent and served as the bath for prisoners when Santa Teresa was used as the men’s jail cell in the late 1900s. When the jail was closed and moved to Chimaltenango, San Francisco’s fountain was once again relocated to the atrium of La Merced Church, where it sits today.

San Francisco Convent Ruins

Convent ruins – San Francisco

Wander around the ruins, as they’re mostly empty. There are some tables in the back if you’d like to have a quiet time to read or pack a lunch for an enjoyable picnic.

A Place to Meditate

The chapel next door, Capilla de Adoracion Perpetua Anunciación del Señor was established in 2009. Be sure to be as quiet as a mouse, since they strictly enforce silence inside the chapel – chatty tourists and those with photographic cameras are discouraged from sticking around.

Annunciation Chapel, San Francisco Church

Annunciation Chapel

You can visit the chapel anytime – it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s an excellent place to meditate, or if you want to disconnect from the outside world. Fiddling with your smartphone inside is not allowed. Visit and try to sit still, alone with your thoughts, for 15 minutes – you’ll be surprised how unbearable/terrifying and/or enlightening it is.

Tarzan Comes to Antigua

Before San Francisco Church was restored in the 1960s, it served as a backdrop for The New Adventures of Tarzan (1935), a Hollywood film directed by Edward A. Kull. It follows the adventures of explorers searching for the Green Goddess, an idol worshiped by natives “deep in the jungles of Guatemala.”

Filmed in various locations in Guatemala, the movie starred Bruce Bennet, a.k.a. Herman Brix, a silver medalist in the shot put in the 1928 Olympic Games. Brix also did his own stunts.

tarzan movie stills

The New Adventures of Tarzan

You may be surprised to discover that the grunting Tarzan of today bears little resemblance to the well-mannered, almost James Bond-like cultured Tarzan originally created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Bennet was praised by film critics for accurately portraying Burrough’s version of Tarzan on film.

This black and white film can be easily found on YouTube, as it’s now in the public domain.

Skip to about the 50-minute mark to see how severely damaged the church was before its restoration. Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes can also be seen.

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Check out the full list of things to do in Antigua Guatemala, here.

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Ever visited San Francisco Church?

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Antigua Guatemala’s Coffee Tours, Teas and Chocolate: A Guide

coffee shop guide antigua guatemala - okantigua

Antigua Guatemala is very much linked to coffee, both in tradition and culturally. Antigua’s resurgence is due in part to its abundance of fertile volcanic soil, which is suitable for growing coffee beans.

Today, you can’t walk half a block without stumbling into yet another coffee shop – great news for coffee-lovers. Even Starbucks has its special brand of Antigua Guatemala coffee for sale – check it out here.

In addition to great coffee shops, you can go on informative tours of Antigua’s coffee plantations, which are listed below. Did you know that the Mayans discovered chocolate? In Antigua, you can taste the original chocolate drinks that so enthralled visiting Europeans. Learn below where to find the most authentic chocolate in town.

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Coffee Shops in Antigua Guatemala

coffee, antigua guatemala

Antigua Guatemala is a coffee lover’s paradise

Everyone here has their favorite coffeehouse and barista. However, you won’t go wrong if you start your search for the perfect cup in any of the excellent cafés in town. In no order of preference, check out:

Bella Vista Cafe

6a Avenida Norte #1

The coffee bar is on the first floor, but they have a huge terrace on the third floor with great views of nearby volcanoes.

The Refuge Coffee Bar

7a Avenida Norte #18A

Recently spruced up, Refuge has been carefully roasting and serving their coffee for years to faithful patrons. You’ll smell the wonderful roasting beans from half a block away.

Gato Gordo/Fat Cat

4a Calle Oriente #14A

These two brothers have made a name for themselves by serving quality coffee for a while now.

Cafe Boheme

5a Calle Poniente #12B

Unassuming place, Boheme has great coffee at a good price.

Ganache

6a Avenida Sur #1

Coffee and dessert at Ganache, antigua guatemala

Coffee and dessert at Ganache

One of the prettiest coffee shops in Antigua, as it has a French flair and pastel colors to match. Go here if you’d like to pair up your coffee with an incredible dessert.

GuateJava Roastery

6a Calle Poniente #26

Sitting on the corner of 6a Calle and 7a Avenida, this small shop invites visitors to linger, and people watch.

Fernando’s Kaffee

7a Avenida Norte & Callejón Camposeco

A little bit out of the way, Fernando will reward those persistent enough to find him with excellent coffee, which he carefully selects and roasts on site.

Cafe Condessa Express

5a Avenida – Across from Parque Central

If you need a quick cup of coffee, there’s no reason to enter the restaurant. Just pop in next door, to their small coffee counter. Condessa brews strong coffee and opens at 6 a.m.

Casa Blanca Gastropub

5a Avenida Sur #13

Casa Blanca Gastropub

Great iced drinks at Casa Blanca

If you like iced-coffee drinks, this is the place to visit. I highly recommend their Dirty Chai (spiced chai + espresso). Their courtyard is huge, and they have a lovely terrace you’ll often have to yourself, as very few people know about it.

El Portal – 5a Avenida

Across from Parque Central

A popular expat hangout, they serve good coffee as well. Sit on a stool at the counter, and people watch – as close to a sidewalk cafe as you’ll see in Antigua.

La Parada

6a Avenida and 1a Calle

La Parada coffee shop in Antigua Guatemala

La Parada coffee shop in Antigua Guatemala

Recently expanded, La Parada has inexpensive, quality coffee, and a limited assortment of croissants and cold sandwiches – good WiFi too.

Coffee Tours in Antigua Guatemala

For those wishing to go beyond enjoying a good cup of coffee, I recommend taking a coffee plantation tour.

Filadelfia Coffee Plantation

Finca Filadelfia Unimog Shuttle

Free rides to Finca Filadelfia in this cool truck

Reachable from Carretera San Felipe to Jocotenango, Finca Filadelfia has in-depth tours, showing you all the stages of coffee production, from plant to cup. You can catch Filadelfia’s cool, green Unimog shuttles in front of Capuchinas Convent (2a Avenida Norte & 2a Calle Oriente) every day at 8:20 am, 10:20 am and 1:20 pm and at the ruins of San Jose El Viejo (5a Avenida Sur & 8a Calle) at 8:30 am, 10:30 am and 1:30 pm.

The shuttle ride is free whether you want to take a coffee tour or visit one of their restaurants. For connoisseurs, they offer professional coffee tastings and latte-art workshops.

De La Gente Tours

De La Gente will give you an inside look at the working conditions of Guatemalan coffee farmers, among other fascinating cultural experiences.

Chocolate Shops in Antigua Guatemala

Mayans introduced chocolate to Europeans, and the town of San Juan del Obispo offers some of the best examples of Mayan chocolate in Guatemala. Visit the town for an opportunity to see artisanal chocolatiers at work and even take part in making authentic chocolate.

For a fun experience – especially for kids – visit ChocoMuseo, (4a Calle Oriente #14 – 502-7832-4520), an international chain dedicated to selling and teaching all things chocolate.

Tea Shops in Antigua Guatemala

Last, but not least, visit Samsara (6a Calle Poniente #33 & 3a Calle Oriente #35). They have a wide selection of teas and funky atmosphere.

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Guatemalan Food Guide – See The Top 14 Dishes!

pork dobladas from guatemala

In 2007, Guatemala’s Ministry of Culture designated specific dishes as the Guatemalan food most emblematic of the country – a fifth dish was added in 2015.

Most of these Guatemalan dishes can be found throughout the country, though pinol (or pinole) is specific to the Sacatepequez region.

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Traditional Guatemalan Food

Here’s the official Guatemalan food list, as recognized by the country’s Ministry of Culture:

Jocon

A green sauce, slightly acidic, served with meat

Pepian

Mildly spicy stew with meat

Kaq Ik

Mayan spicy turkey soup

Platanos en Mole

Sweet plantains, with a spicy, sweet chocolate sauce

Pinol

Mayan drink/stew made from corn and spices

The country of Guatemala has 19 departments or administrative zones, and Antigua Guatemala happens to be the capital of the Sacatepéquez department. Though there are dishes that are familiar in all of Guatemala, there are also many regional variations to traditional Guatemalan food.

Here is a list of local Guatemalan dishes you should give a try if you’re in Guatemala – it will greatly enhance your understanding of the local culture:

Tamales

There are hundreds of types of tamales in Guatemalan cuisine. Guatemalan tamales can best be described as containing corn, rice or potato dough, sauce, some meat, and often hot pepper, all wrapped in green maxan leaves or corn husks. Some tamales are eaten once a year; others are available only during specific days of the week.

guatemalan tamalesTamales colorados

In Antigua, you’ll find “Tamales Colorados” (red tamales), a favorite local variation that has a unique tomato and achiote based paste called “recado” and filled with pork and a hot chili pepper inside. These tamales are available every Saturday, and if you don’t eat them that day, it’s very likely you’ll be eating a reheated dish.

Every local has their favorite tamale vendor, and tamales are purchased to either eat at home or to save them for Sunday morning’s breakfast. We can recommend tamales from Doña Chuz (corner of 7a Avenida Norte and 1a Calle Poniente), a grandmother who has been setting up shop at the same corner for over 20 years. She also sells paches (potato tamales, which others usually sell on Thursdays) and the hard-to-find Tamales Negros (black tamales); the latter made with a sweet corn dough, mole (chocolate sauce), along with raisins, prunes, and chicken.

You can also find great tamales and paches at the Portal (strip mall) at Alameda Santa Lucía, in front of La Repostería bakery (she sets up shop at around 5 pm).

Tamales Colorados are eaten with coffee and Guatemala’s version of french bread, while hot chocolate is served alongside Tamales Negros.

A tamale or a pache is a filling, inexpensive meal, costing about Q6-Q10 each. If you want an authentic sit-down experience, La Canche (the hidden, hole in the wall restaurant on 6a Avenida Norte, in front of La Merced) serves up tamales every Saturday.

For a more upscale – and expensive – presentation, visit Los Tres Tiempos (5a Avenida Norte #31) – a far better bet than other tourist traps in town.

Chuchitos (Choo-CHEE-toes)

Another item you can easily find everywhere is chuchito (also slang for “small dog”), made from the same dough as tamales, but firmer and wrapped in dried corn husks. They usually have a bit of pork or chicken on the inside and are topped with a tomato-based sauce and a sprinkle of hard cheese. You can substitute the tomato sauce for a spicy sauce at no cost.

Chuchitos a cheap, filling street breakfast, also available for lunch, but most commonly around dinnertime. We recommend the chuchitos sold near La Merced, on the corner of 1a Calle Poniente and 6a Avenida Norte.

Pepián (peppy-ANN)

No Guatemalan dish is more emblematic of the country than pepián. This dish, once a regional specialty, has become a national dish. This spicy and slightly bitter stew is a fusion between Maya and Spanish cuisine. What gives pepián its characteristic flavor are the toasted pumpkin seeds (known as pepitoria), tomatoes and guisquil (a type of squash). It also contains corn, carrot, potatoes and other vegetables and the meat in it can be chicken, pork or beef, though there are versions with combinations of two or more meats.

Guatemalan pepian

Pepian, one of Guatemala’s national dishes

This stew is available from the most humble of restaurants to the fanciest, and often offered as the meal of the day special. We recommend Rincón Tipico and El Portón, both authentic, inexpensive, and within a half-block, from each other (3a Avenida Sur & 6a Calle Oriente) though you may find a version that you like elsewhere.

Jocón (hoe-CON)

Jocon is another traditional sauce – also a national dish, made from green tomatillo sauce, heavy on cilantro, and thickened with sesame seeds. It’s usually accompanied by chicken and white rice.

Revolcado (reh-voll-CA-doh)

This pig head stew is one of those dishes that might take some time to get used to – local old-timers love it. It’s fine, as long as you’re not overthinking about the bits of pig’s heart, tongue, ears, kidney, brain, and liver you’re eating. Usually accompanied with white rice. If you can get past the squeamishness, it’s a tasty stew worth eating.

Chiles Rellenos (CHEE-leh re-YEH-no)

These pork-stuffed bell peppers are another popular street food item. The cooked pork is mixed with sauteed carrots, green beans, potatoes, onions, then seasoned, and stuffed into bell peppers. The stuffed peppers are then covered in egg batter and fried. Once you order them from your favorite street vendor, the peppers are placed on a bread roll and garnished with onions and parsley. In a restaurant, they might be served with white rice.

Rellenitos (re-yeh-NEE-to)

rellenitos from Guatemala

Rellenitos

This street-food item fits more in the dessert category and usually available at dinner time. Fried egg-shaped balls made with sweet plantains boiled in water along with cinnamon, filled with a sauce made from black beans, chocolate, cinnamon, and topped with sugar. Delicious stuff.

Buñuelos (Boo-new-EH-loss)

sweet bunuelos

Tasty, sweet buñuelos

Another traditional dessert, this somewhat fluffy, fried dough balls are served in a small bowl and covered with a light, anise-flavored syrup. Can be addictive.

Pupusas (Poo-POO-sass)

This filling street food comes to Guatemala from neighboring El Salvador. It’s a tortilla filled with cheese or pork cracklings, fried to a slight crisp.

street pupusas in antigua guatemala

Guatemala’s version of Salvadorean pupusas

The Salvadorean version can include refried black beans, though this is not commonly seen in Guatemala. Pupusas are topped with curtido, or pickled cabbage, and are usually sold at dinner time. Though I prefer the Salvadorean version (with beans), I quite enjoy the Guatemalan ones.

Dobladas (Doh-BLAH-das)

Guatemala’s version of empanadas (meat or potato filled pastries). Topped with pickled cabbage, salsa, and grated cheese. A close variation is a Guatemalan taco, which is nothing like a Mexican taco.

pork dobladas from guatemala

Dobladas

Guatemalan tacos resemble small flutes, and their hard, fried corn shells are stuffed with either seasoned potato or a mix of beef and potatoes. Also, receives the same topping as dobladas. Hit or miss, but a well-made doblada (not chewy and greasy) is glorious.

Piloyada Antigueña (pee-loh-YAH-dah)

Piloyada is a dish that’s somewhat hard to find, even though it originated in Antigua. Usually offered as a special dish on Sundays. It’s not quite a salad, and it’s made with a particular type of bean, known as “piloyes,” hence the name. Once beans are cooked, then the rest of the ingredients are added: chorizo, sausage, “butifarra” (Spanish sausage), pork, farmer’s cheese, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, among other things – some versions include chicken. A hearty dish – not the type of salad you’ll have to keep the diet going. Typically eaten cold.

Atol Blanco (ah-TOLL BLAN-coh)

One of the most popular drinks in Guatemala, which you’ll see being consumed in bowls. Unlike other atoles mentioned below, this white-corn based drink is not sweet, and it’s made with the same corn that’s used to make tortillas. More like soup, it’s served hot and consumed straight from the bowl. It has a bit of spicy chili pepper, black beans, salt, and lime. Sellers will dump a spoonful of cooked blacked beans at the bottom of the bowl, leaving a signature bean-colored streak.

Atol de Elote (ah-TOLL deh eh-LOH-teh)

A traditional yellow corn dough-based drink, with milk and sugar, added. Very sweet, available everywhere, and usually topped with a few corn kernels. Great drink on chilly nights.

sweet atol de elote

Atol de elote

Other drinks available are atol de plátano (plantain-based drink), atol de habas (lima bean drink), atol de arroz (like a more liquid rice pudding), and atol de arroz con chocolate (similar to atol de arroz, but with chocolate).

Corn Tortillas

And of course, we can’t forget the ubiquitous corn tortillas, which are consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Tortilla makers are a common sight throughout Guatemala, especially at noon time. Shaping the corn dough to a flawlessly round shape is a skill that takes a lot of practice to develop.

tortillas on the comal

Preparing corn tortillas

In fact, consuming tortillas is so ingrained into certain segments of the population (usually indigenous), that a meal served without tortillas is like a proper meal was never served at all – it’s the quintessential Guatemalan food. A tortilla made with real ground corn, not the commercial corn flour sold everywhere in the country, is sublime. I love black corn tortillas.

guatemalan black corn tortillas

Black corn tortillas

There are a lot more dishes to be found in Guatemala, of course, but this list is a good start, and the items are readily available in Antigua Guatemala. Bookmark it, as there are a lot of traditional dishes missing here I’ll be adding to this list in the future.

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More food options here: https://www.okantigua.com/category/foodies/

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What are some of your favorite

Guatemalan dishes not on this list?