48 hours in Antigua, the Ancient Capital of Guatemala

Who I am
Alejandra Rangel

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Antigua it was once the capital of Guatemala, then an earthquake destroyed most of them: although many buildings and monuments were destroyed, the city remains one of the things to see in Guatemala not to be missed.

We spent a few days here during our trip and if we have found more tourists than elsewhere there is a reason: Antigua is absolutely fascinating.

Antigua, Guatemala

Brief History of Antigua

Antigua it was founded in 1524 with the name of “Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala”, 1500 meters above the sea level and in a region not stable from the tectonic point of view. For hundreds of years Antigua survived floods, natural disasters, volcanic eruptions and continuous earthquakes until 1773 when the earthquake known as Santa Marta earthquake it almost completely destroyed it. After this catastrophic event, the Guatemalans decided to move the capital to a more stable and safer area and Guatemala City, today's capital was created: despite this, many inhabitants decided not to abandon their homes and the city became "La Antigua ".

Before the transfer of the capital, Antigua was the cultural, economic, religious, political and educational center of the entire region. In the span of less than three centuries the city acquired a number of splendid monuments which remain as ruins to this day: the buildings in the Baroque and Renaissance style have survived, along with squares and fountains, cobbled streets, churches and monasteries.

Central Park

How to get to Antigua

The constant concerns about safety have made getting around Guatemala a little complicated, even if on the tourist itineraries the situation is quite calm (always taking into account the fact that every now and then "shit happens" and there is nothing to do)

The best and fastest way to get to Antigua is directly fromGuatemala City airport, which is just over an hour away.
Armed assaults on shuttle buses, taxis and private cars are reported every week in Guatemala.

The safest (and most expensive) way to get to Antigua from Guatemala City is with Safe taxi, an airport service approved by INGUAT, the Guatemala Institute of Tourism, or by private transport: practically all hotels and hostels in Antigua, if contacted before, can arrange a shuttle to pick you up at the airport and drop you off directly in hotel.

Also to get to Antigua starting from Lago Atitlan it is advisable to rely on one of the private transports organized by hotels, hostels and agencies: the journey is in fact long (about 4 hours) and with the Chicken Bus you risk taking the whole day.

The Agua volcano behind Antigua

Antigua today is a picturesque town that attracts many travelers every year: it is a colorful, lively and animated city, in which on every block there is a ruined church, a square or some ancient building.

Unlike Guatemala City which apparently can be really and in some areas very dangerous, Antigua is quiet, surrounded by hills and its three volcanoes, full of people, tourists and young travelers.

In addition, Antigua can also boast excellent restaurants and luxury hotels, very expensive compared to the rest of the country and by Guatemalan standards. However, moving away from the center it is possible to find little tourist places where you can eat very well and spend little.

We arrived in Antigua during the New Year and the city was full of people and in fervent activity: although it was December and it was cold at night, our days were characterized by a warm sun and spring temperatures.

Three or four days are ideal to spend in the city, in short, the panorama of what it offers is so wide that it depends on the activities you want to do. In fact, the streets of Antigua are dotted with agencies that organize all kinds of adventurous activities, trekking, cycling or horseback riding.

A day trip that generally all tourists take is theexcursion to the Pacaya volcano which lasts half a day: the advice is to take the excursion in the afternoon in order to enjoy the sunset from the slopes of the volcano.

For those who like trekking like me, the two-day excursion in camping on the Acatenango Volcano it is highly recommended and also a little tiring: but the nocturnal spectacle of the incandescent lava and lapilli fountains of the Fuego volcano repays any effort made to get to the top.

Antigua, along with Lake Atitlan, is also one of the best destinations for study Spanish. The choice of schools and courses is very wide, from courses for beginners to those who speak Spanish but want to improve it, up to real experiences with accommodation in local homes. If you have extra days this is a really good choice.

Arch of Santa Catalina

What to see and do

The first stop when you arrive in the city and after having placed your things in the hotel should be the tourist office, where a free map is given with the walking routes for visiting the cities and the various points of interest.

Central Park

Il Central Park it is the heart of little Antigua, surrounded by splendid colonial buildings: this is the right place to start the visit of the city and observe the busy people in their daily work.

Controlled practically day and night by the local police, it is a safe place at all times. In the center of the Parque there is the famous fountain with sirens, a reproduction of the original which was destroyed in the early XNUMXth century.

Central Park

Arch of Santa Catalina (Saint Catalina Arch)

The icon of Antigua is a photograph of this arch, best taken on a clear day with the Agua volcano behind it, which was built to allow the nuns of the convent to cross the street without being seen. The turret with the clock was added later.

Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)

The best place to enjoy the view of Antigua and its three volcanoes (Agua, Acatenango and Fuego). Best to go there during the day, when the police check the trail to get there, and on a nice clear day.

San Francisco Church

Although Antigua is full of churches and ancient monasteries, the San Francisco Church it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and important of all: it was in fact the first church in Antigua to start its activity.

The church is dedicated to Santo Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancourt (here is his tomb) a missionary who arrived in the city in the mid 1600s; A small museum dedicated to him has also been set up here, which houses some of his personal effects.

In the church there is also a part dedicated to devotions, where objects of all kinds are placed (photos, old crutches, wheelchairs) donated by people to ask Hermano Pedro to answer their prayers and to ask for miracles for their loved ones. .

While these things bring a sense of sadness to me, I think it's worth a visit.

In the back of the ruins of the Monastery there is a tree called thelovers tree: here couples engrave their names, to swear eternal love.

Facade of an ancient church

La Merced Church

My favorite church in Antigua, for two reasons: the first is its yellow facade and the second its fountain, which by the way is the largest in all of Central America.

The exhibition that tells the mission of the convent, its history and the ancient life of those who lived there is well done and in two languages, English and Spanish.

One advice, or rather two: try to visit it early in the morning so the fountain will be in operation and climb to the top of the convent from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of the three volcanoes.

Museum Promenade

Although there are many museums in Antigua this is one of the best, as it is very well maintained and well maintained.

The Museum is part of the Hotel Santo Domingo, but it is open and free to the public, like the ruins. Varied and very interesting.

Convent of the Capuchins

One of the most popular ruins in Antigua for the peaceful atmosphere of its gardens and its strange architecture, perfect for playing "hide and seek".

Better to opt for a guided tour and visit the private rooms of the nuns.

Central Park, Palace of the Captains General

Shopping and local craft shops

Antigua is by far the best place I have found to buy local handicrafts (along with the chichicastenango market), which for me is like a double mission: I support the local economy and take home some gifts to friends and relatives to make them. knowing also in Guatemala I had a thought for them; on the myriad of stalls and in the shops there is so much of that trinkets to put your hands on your head, but the authentic and particular things are there, even if you have to look around to find them.

Here are three places from which to start looking for your "treasure".

(5ta Avenida Norte 29 - very close to the Arch of Santa Catalina)
A real shop with excellent craftsmanship, but the prices are fixed and you can't bargain.

 Mercado next to the ruins of El Carmen
(3ra Avenida Norte and 3ra Calle Oriente) Open on weekends is a series of stalls displaying all kinds of things. Here you bargain big and you can get great deals.

Mercado de Artesanias (Handicraft Market)
(At the end of 4th Calle Poniente) Various stalls full of stuff sold directly by the artisans or their relatives. The quality is very high and the prices are also above average: the password is bargain and you will get good discounts.

Clearly this list of things to see it is not exhaustive at best as it is based on our visit and our experience, but it is a good starting point to know what Antigua is capable of giving.

The best choice is undoubtedly to take a good guide and follow the itineraries recommended by the tourist office.

Antigua it is one of my favorite destinations around the Guatemala.

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