Antigua - Guatemalan Gemstone
Antigua Guatemala, meaning ancient Guatemala, is a city located in the heart of the highlands of Guatemala, approximately 50 kilometres West of Guatemala City, the current modern capital. The city served as the third capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala (an administrative division of the Spanish Empire) for more than 200 years. The city was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in 1773, commonly referred to as the Santa Marta earthquakes, leading to its abandonment. Nowadays it's one of the major tourist attractions of Guatemala and well-known for its Spanish-colonial architecture (becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979), a large number of Spanish schools, the close proximity to three major Volcános (Acatenango, Fuego and Agua), and its central location in Guatemala which makes it an ideal starting point to explore this great country. It can be reached from La Aurora International Airport in under one hour by taxi or minibus. All important country destinations, e.g. Flores & Tikal, Lago de Atitlán and so on, are easily accessible by minibus from here.
Here is my small guide to the city.
Parque Central, also Plaza Mayor, is the place where all the locals (called antigüeños) meet. Because it's so central and almost impossible to miss (situated between Avenida/Calle 4 and 5) it also became a backpacker meet up. It's surrounded by colonial buildings and lots of cafés. The centre of the parque/plaza is dominated by a fountain and plenty of benches invite you to linger and watch people.
The Arco de Santa Catalina is the most important architectural landmark of Antigua. It's located three blocks from the Parque Central on 5a Avenida Norte. Try to get a photo facing South with Volcán de Agua in the background. Depending on the season it's quite challenging to get a clear shot, best advice is to get up early and take the picture in the morning.
Views of the city are plenty: Cerro San Cristóbal boasts a fabulous restaurant, bar and organic farm on top. There is a minibus/shuttle which leaves at the Arco for Q10 (Guatemalan Quetzal). Cerro Santo Domingo is located in the East of the city. Free shuttles leave at the five star hotel & restaurant Casa Santo Domingo which is worth a look itself. It's a former convent, now turned hotel & restaurant with amazing colonial architecture and great food. Starting point is 3a Calle Oriente 28 A. Cerro de la Cruz is located in the North and the most easily accessible hill. You can reach it by foot, but be aware of pickpockets and always go in groups, or by taxi for Q15. The footpath starts at Calle Ancha de los Herreros.
The Museo Caso Santo Domingo, located in the aforementioned hotel with the same name, is an ancient Americas cultural museum and worth a look if you want to learn about Central American culture. The ChocoMuseo, they have other branches across Central and South America so you might have seen it in Peru or Nicaragua, is close to the Parque Central and a must visit if you love chocolate and want to learn everything about how chocolate is made and where it comes from. They offer workshops and even visits of the cacao plantations.
Iglesia de San Francisco, at the corner of 1a Avenida Sur and 7a Calle Oriente, is one of the most visited churches by the antigüeños and famous for its shrine of Santo Hermano Pedro de San José Betancur. In my eyes Iglesia de la Merced, at the corner of 6a Avenida Norte and 1a Calle Oriente, is the second church worth visiting. The baroque style building with its yellow facade is just a real eye-catcher, especially at night when locals and tourists alike gather and enjoy the atmosphere.
Several earthquakes left ruins in and around Antigua. The most prominent are the Convento Santa Clara, the Church and Convent of Capuchins, the Ruinas Convento e Iglesia de la Recolección and the Ruinas de la Catedral de Antigua Guatemala. Especially the first two are worth a visit.
There are tons of Spanish schools in Antigua and picking one can be quite a difficult task. Antiguena Spanish Academy is located at 1a Calle Poniente 10 and I selected it for a number of reasons, among them: the possibility of home stays, the price and the quality of the lessons. Guatemala365 can be worth visiting when selecting the right fit.
Be sure to like my Antigua picture on Instagram!