New Closing Time City Ordinances

22 Hours is Closing Time

There is new seismic activity in La Antigua Guatemala’s grapevine. For a while now, I’ve been hearing rumors about new closing times imposed by the Municipalidad, Antigua Guatemala’s City Hall for certain kind of businesses. Like everything in life, there are at least two sides to the story, but before I present you with details of the new city ordinances, a little background information is needed.

There are a lot of bars and some discotheques in La Antigua Guatemala which operate with Restaurant licenses. As a matter of fact, there’s only one Discotheque/Bar license that I know of, which is held by La Casbah on Calle del Arco. If you’ve visited Antigua Guatemala you would be wondering how is that possible since there are plenty of bars all over town?

Well, the disorder or mess has been caused by the very nature of the fast business life cycle in La Antigua Guatemala; in other words, how fast businesses open and fail and are bought again in La Antigua Guatemala. Foreign residents are also part of the mess equation since they fall in love with Antigua Guatemala and one sure way for them to stay and make a decent living in Guatemala is to become business owners; this also apply to Guatemalans. Furthermore, the lax regulation by previous City Hall administrations have caused the current mess. The combination of these factors and others created the unregulated bars, discotheques and restaurants environment present today.

Let’s explore one “over-simplified” scenario to get the general idea of the causes of the mess. A residential space is put on the rental market and soon enough the property is rented by a foreign resident looking for a steady income and a way to stay in Antigua Guatemala. She invests in the place and turns it into a high-end French bistro; she hires Guatemalan workers, then she gets a new or previously owned Restaurant license and opens the doors into the highly competitive restaurant market in La Antigua Guatemala. For one reason or another, she runs into economic trouble after six months and she’s forced to sell or close; with luck she finds another ex-pat who’s willing to take over her rental agreement, furniture, facturas (legal invoices), business license and Restaurant license for a small investment. This new business owner knows nothing about French sandwiches and doesn’t even care; he decides to turn this failed French bistro into the new hot bar for backpackers and salsa dancing students. After a month and a new paint job, he opens its door as a Bar-discotheque. Because of his cheap Guatemalan labor, cheap drinks and cheap DJ and a constant influx of backpackers and salsa dancers he manages to make a living. No one from the local government comes knocking at his door to let him know that his Restaurant license does not allow him to operate his business as a bar and/or discotheque. Repeat this over-simplified scenario with a few variations over five or ten years and you end up with lots of bars and discotheques all over town.

Fast forward to the present and all of sudden there is a new Municipal administration that wants to create a new city ordinances and close some of those troublesome noisy bars and bring some peace and quite nights to the still living in town Antigüeño residents. You have to remember that most Antigüeños are extremely conservative and church-going people with profound religious rituals and traditions. A quick review of all the extended licenses show that there’s actually only “one” license for a bar or discotheque, so they passed new closing time ordinances for cafeterias y comedores (cafes and diners), restaurants, cevicherías (ceviche vendors), abarroterías, depósitos, pulperías and the venerable tiendas (basically convenience stores), cantinas, bares and discotheques.

New opening and closing hours:
6 to 22 hours for Cafeterias y comedores
6 to 22 hours for Restaurants
6 to 18 hours for Cevicherías
6 to 21 hours for Abarroterías, depósitos, pulperías and tiendas
12 to 22 hours for Cantinas
12 to 24 hours for Bares
12 to 24 hours for Discotheques

Of course, if I inherited or bought a business with the wrong license and now I am being forced to close the doors so early I would be very mad. These new city ordinances put many businesses at risk in the already week economy. So a group of business owners took these new municipal ordinances to court and believe it or not, this lawsuit ended all the way up to Guatemala’s Corte de Constitucionalidad (Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest court) which resolved in favor of the Municipalidad of La Antigua Guatemala this past July 15. See El Metropolitano newspaper clips below. In short, the Corte de Constitucionalidad found the new ordinances to be within the legal jurisdiction of the Municipal government.

There are many questions I would like to get answered. How difficult will it be for the current bars and discotheques to obtain the proper licenses? Will the Municipalidad be willing to compromise and allow restaurants, bars and discotheques to close a little later as to not hurt current businesses? As a tourist or traveler, how do you feel about the closing hours, will they affect your travel plans?

What’s your opinion now that you have a general overview of the situation? What other questions would like to ask?

Acknowledgments: I thank Antonio Palomo for providing the official Municipal position. Several business owners for providing me with their opinion and position. El Metropolitano newspaper for providing the photo opportunity and specific details of the lawsuit and the final court’s decision. Renata Avila, my epistolary Guatemalan lawyer friend, for explaining the differences between Corte Suprema de Justicia and Corte de Constitucionalidad and other background details which I will use in future posts.

CC ampara horarios impuestos por la Municipalidad de Antigua New Hours for Bars, Discotheques and Restaurants in Antigua

© 2010 – 2013, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Well, a difficult subject indeed. For one, I do like to dance (not that much salsa though), have fun and of course have a good time. Nonetheless, a good ambience to rest is most particularly always welcomed. Being from Puerto Barrios, that is, being as an outsider here in Antigua, and in so many ways Antigua has welcomed me, I go by the rules, as I am still considering myself as a guest here. I love Antigua as much as every single part of the Country, and even though it is my Country, I am always a guest wherever I go. So I behave like one. Then, this is me, I don’t have a bar, nor restaurant, nor a discotheque. Anyway, I even still feel a guest in my own hometown, and that’s because I’ve been away from it since I am twelve years old.

    Socially and culturally speaking, my opinion, regardless how much I love some of the bars/restaurant/etc here in Antigua, is that Antigueños have full right to decide what’s best for their City. I doubt that the foreigners that genuinely love Antigua would have a problem with the new regulations. If there is someone disagreeing due to something related to a business, then my answer is adapt to the new regulations, and do it respectfully, as like me you are also a guest here.

    In the end, I am no one to judge the new regulations. Who are we to impose on anyone when we are guests? Of course we can question, and doubt, but to impose? (I am pretty sure of what’s coming in the following comments, so at least try to be constructive instead of destructive)…


  • As an Ex business owner in Antigua I can see this new law turning the city into a ghost town.
    The municipal needs to look at the age of the tourists and students learning Spanish.
    The city needs the younger crowd to survive, so I in vision this as a disaster for all businesses. I never seen many problems that the bars created at night, but was constantly kept awake by the after parties on 6th de calle. All I see now is an influx of more after parties with the cops looking the other way. this is Guatemala’s version of the Taliban at work.

  • David

    As a tourist about to head to Antigua for the fifth time, I think it will be very interesting to see how this works. I often stay on or near Calle del Arco, which is quite loud late into the night. If the new laws take effect right away, I’ll probably be able to notice a difference next week!

  • Stephanie

    I love dancing, but I am NOT one to stay up late(unless I’m working on my computer to meet a deadline). So it wouldn’t affect me personally. Actually, it might affect me positively as I prefer a quiet night — it’s good for sleeping, looking at the stars, enjoying the cool night air, etc.

    While I understand the potential economic impact, I agree with Arturo that the citizens of Antigua should be able to define what they want life in their town to be like and it is up to the visitors/outsiders to respect their wishes. So if they think the potential loss of some jobs is worth a quiet night, then that’s their decision to make. Foreigners who are living and doing business there, no matter for how long, need to remember that they are still guests.

  • Eric

    My thought is to second Arturo, only because I have many friends who live within Antigua’s limits, and I feel these regulations will be beneficial for everyone. The antigueno friends that own businesses view these ordinances as a good thing, and hope (in the manner all chapines hope)that they are carried out in a reasonable manner.
    As a former resident of Orlando, Florida, I have seen the residence/restaurant/bar/disco scenario many times…from my experiences, regulations like those approved in La Antigua would have done much more good than bad. To add my own version of el Sr. Arturo’s comments, I always remember that I am a guest, regardless of where I visit, and respect for the people who live there is priority one. I party with the best of them, spend plenty at local businesses, meet many new friends for life on every visit (Hola @ Yoly, Juan Carlos, y Maria Helena!), AND I play by the rules. The new regulations are a fair compromize, in my view, between local business owners and the beautiful, amable and TOLERANT residents of La Antigua.
    Look, if you want hedonism, go to some ridiculous resort in the Bahamas. If you want to celebrate along with the residents of the best time-space vortex on the planet (bonus:volcanoes!), come to La Antigua…and please, pack your manners in your mochila (they will fit right between your neoprene water bottle and your flip-flops, I promise).

  • Luis

    The headline of the newspaper is misleading? Not all the businesses will have to close at 10pm.

    I don’t the City’s economy will be impacted too much. Most tourists spend their money during the day time in a more variety of businesses.

    Even the bars and discotheques won’t suffer that much since late at night people already in these places might be already a little bit drunk and tend to stop drinking thus spending their money.

    To provide for more peaceful nights for the permanent residents of La Antigua Guatemala, the new regulations make sense, and I am not saying only because in 26 months I will be moving permanently to La Antigua Guatemala.

  • Anne Groombridge

    As an adult I feel that the local government should not decide on my behalf whether or not I need to be home and in bed by 10 pm! The vast majority of the bars and restaurants are not overwhelmingly noisy, in my experience. Why not fine the offending bars instead of targeting the whole lot? Or modify the regulations so that closing times are earlier during the week and later on the weekends, when many people are in the town, spending their money, and enjoying themselves? In my opinion this legislation was not well thought out or debated. I might understand if the closing hour was was set a little later, like 11 pm or midnight, but 10 pm is too early, and this will lead to private, illegal operations which will be much more difficult to police. There are always ways to get around prohibition, as history has shown. As I recall, several years ago there was an ordinance that permitted only the sale of beer, but not liquor, in most local bars. That didn’t last long, and neither will this….that is my prediction.

  • Isa

    like most towns a districts for clubs or designated street for bars might be the way to go.Leaving the majority of the town quiet and tranquil as most of us like it that live here.Backpackers on the whole aren’t big spenders and having a peaceful environment that people would like to bring their families to or retire should be the priority to my mind.All that aside there will always be after hours
    clubs running semi legit trying to keep a low profile to stay in business that if given a free licence might not be too accommodating to the locals trying to get a good night sleep.

  • Jesper

    I have lived in Antigua more than 10 years, and have a restaurant in town. Will this new law destroy my business? Nope, I doubt it. BUT this is only because its too small to have a late night crowd. Will this law change something in Antigua. Absolutely. Is it for the better…? That depends on who you are. If you are Old Antigua Money, the life will go back to times 20 years ago, with a lot less people, and nice and calm streets. That is great! If you live in one of the small villages around Antigua, and support you family with money from one of the many tourist services in Antigua, such as Spanish teacher, Bar/restaurant,taxi, laundry, internet ect. ect. well this might have an impact on your income… No one knows how big an impact, this law will have on Antigua. It might be that it will attract MORE tourists that will 1-3 days in town, but the fact is that the Spanish school business is the biggest moneymaker that Antigua has created 100s of jobs. I doubt that young people (now the majority) will choose to come to Antigua to study 3-4 weeks, if they cannot have 1-2 nights out, to practice the salsa they have learned… And what impact it will have for, not Antigua, but the many many 100s of people living around Antigua and rely on tourism in the form it has now, and might not be able to adapt to a new tourism that MIGHT grow… Seems like no one think about them…. I cross my fingers they will be fine, and the fliers we have received in the village I live in,: that people should respect the new law and keep calm, will be respected. Seems like even the municipality might be worried about the reaction when people realize that trough a chain of reactions they might be hurt….

  • Juan Murillo

    Poor Antigua, in the hands of ignorant and stupid people along with neighbors who still want to live like in the middle ages. Well, no wonder why I sold my restaurant-pub and came to Oaxaca. Belive me, it’s very different here.

    • Lipe

      Mr Murillo
      Thank you so much for moving away from La Antigua, we are neighbors who still want to live like in the middle ages, we are who desided to let ignorant and stupid people to take care of the Municipality. we are the only ones that have full right to decide what’s best for the City. As Mr Arturo Godoy says, at least try to be constructive instead of destructive. You are so smart, so please show some respect to yourself do not come back to Antigua. I wish you the best in Oaxaca.

  • Sylvia Conn

    I visited my city Antigua, “The Ghost Town” I enjoy night life like New York,I was very sad after attending my niece wedding when we were having the most fun, everything had to end. Then we went out to a bar again the same thing, I just do not get it, we need people in power with a open mind an business mentality from century 21

  • Antonio

    there should be a diference between new york and Antigua, even if both are living the 21 century. antigueños want theyr city calm and quiet. young visitors should respect that. as tourism income worries, older tourist and family groups, which spend more, feel better in the silent Antigua of 20 years ago´that in the drunk filled, noisy and dangerous Antigua of today, (look at the american embasy notices). Antigua economy does not depends on young kids getting drunk on cuba libre´s at Q2,00 ($0.25)and if it does, it´s time to change that

  • Santiago

    Thanks Rudy for the information. I have to go along with Arturo, Stephanie, Eric and Antonio. I really don’t think this is going to turn Antigua into a ghost town. Most real restaurants close by 10pm anyway. Bars and disco’s need to get the proper licenses and permits in order to stay open until midnight. The Muni should make this possible to accomplish without the normal bureaucratic BS.

    Now, what about the other rumor being circulated that sale of alcohol will be prohibited beginning 9 August?

  • Paul

    I also agree with Arturo and the rest. All of the restaurants I frequent close at 10pm so no loss for me. And I do not care to drink past midnight anyway. A simple compromise would be to allow for any establishment to get a waiver to stay open later. If there are any future problems and complaints then the waiver can be taken away. That is the fairest solution.

    Antigua will not become a ghost town, but instead a quieter and more dignified town which sounds great to me! We have plenty of money to spend on local shops to keep them in business.

    BTW, La Antigua is NOT New York City! I am surprised the level of arrogance of foreigners who visit a place and complain that it’s not like someplace else. You are a welcomed guest. So please show some respect.

  • alvis

    Very interesting historically. I just completed an essay on Alcohol laws and the venues in which people drank in mid-18th Century Antigua. Some of these same issues, only slightly different, were in question at that time as well! Pubs were divided between those that could sell the government sanctioned and manufactured aguardiente de cana (there were 4 of these bars) and those that could only vend imported liquor and wine from Spain and Peru (the number of these fluctuated over time from between 8 and 24). No bar could be more than 4 blocks from the Plaza Mayor, all had to close by the tolling of the evening bells, and licenses had to be renewed every six months. Additionally, the municipality had the right (and exercised it) to call for weekly inventories of all bar stock and sales figures in order to ascertain whether or not the proper taxes were being paid and the blends sold were those for which the establishment was licensed.

  • Begonia

    Rudy, it seems to me that the hours of operation are not the whole story here? On Facebook someone just forwarded to me an image of the new regulations and it appears that restaurants, banks, cafes, internets, and tour operators will not be allowed to operate in the central areas of Antigua!

    If this is allowed to happen, then yes, I think Antigua will become a ghost town. And yes, I think that’s exactly the point.

    The new regulations are breathtaking, both for their arrogance and their hubris.

  • alvis

    Surely the new regulations do not prohibit the businesses that you list from operating in the central blocks! That goes quite a bit farther than even the colonial ayuntamiento. At least the eastward facing block on the Plaza Mayor where one finds the Portal de los Panaderos was, from the very beginnings of the city, dedicated to commerce.

  • Begonia

    I took a look at the new reglamentos on the Municipalidad de Antigua website and it isn’t quite as drastic as I stated above. There are certain streets throughout the city designated as “corredores comerciales” which will basically not be affected. Even so, I am a land use planner here in the states and I am shocked at how ambitious and strict the new land use plan is! I think a little bit of public participation and promotion would have gone a long way towards smoothing out some of these problems. (Also, some better mapping! Muni de Antigua, do you hear me? Do you need a GIS expert? I’m willing to relocate. ;))

  • Lipe

    Begonia,did you offered your professional services to the USA goverment when you were shocked due to the ambitious and strict new land use plan?. As you are doing it to La Muni de Antigua, (in a country where you are a guess).