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In a highland valley some 1500 meters above sea level, the charming colonial city of Antigua lies, surrounded by three volcanoes. It’s tickled by the skirts of Volcán de Agua to the south and is within the gaze of two active volcanoes to the southwest, the double-ridged peak of Volcán Acatenango and the smoking Volcán Fuego.

Once the seat of the Spanish colonial authority in Guatemala, Antigua oversaw a vast area stretching from southern Mexico to the impenetrable Darién Gap. The city is officially named La Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, (“The Very loyal and Very Noble Knight’s City of Santiago of Guatemala”) but shortened to La Antigua Guatemala, or simply Antigua.

Nowadays, Antigua’s population stands at about 47,000 and its status as a world heritage site has preserved and restored its colonial architecture and old-world appeal. The local government only approves certain shades to paint the exterior walls of buildings and prohibits the display of signs or notices that are out of character with the rest of the city. Cobblestoned streets are splashed with colorful house and shop fronts and old churches and crumbling ruins are dotted throughout.

Due to its location, beauty, history, variety of cultural activities and outdoor excursions both inside Antigua and close by, it has become a thriving landing-place for globetrotters. The mixture of locals, travelers and expats gives it a certain worldly air.

Get a birds-eye view of the city and surrounding volcanoes and villages from the cross on the hill, Cerro de la Cruz, to the north. For security reasons it’s always advisable to go with a Tourist Police escort.

If your time is limited, take a city walking tour of the main sights, ruins and museums. Wander through the handicrafts market to pick up souvenirs and take a look at how jade is transformed into jewelry and masks in one of the store factories. Get out of town to visit a coffee plantation and trek up to the edge of a flowing river of red-hot lava on Volcán Pacaya.

Many travelers hang out here a while to recoup energy and recharge on the good eats. There is no shortage of restaurants in Antigua. Grab tasty bites from street venders, comedores (eateries) or restaurants serving cuisine from most corners of the world. There are also plenty of bars to wash it down after.

Scores are lured by the well-earned reputation of the city as one of the choice spots to study Spanish and there are hordes of language schools of all calibers vying for the bucks. Volunteering opportunities are endless both in Antigua and in outlying areas with NGO organizations and projects all focusing on different social, educational, health and environmental issues. Many students invest their afternoons donating whatever skills they can offer. Forever a popular place to learn salsa, there are qualified instructors running classes for all levels in dance studios around town.

There are infinite options for laying your head at night. The streets of Antigua are brimming with hostels, guesthouses and hotels of every description and for every pocket from penny-pinching to luxury.

Tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy and language schools are one of the major employers along with hotels and restaurants. The production of typical handicrafts and fabrics and the cultivation of coffee, macadamia nuts and veggies are other big income earners.

High season is June through August and November through April. On July 25 the streets come alive with colorful parades for the Day of Santiago, the city’s patron saint.

Antigua is at its most crowded during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when thousands of people engulf the city to participate in and observe the ceremonies. Solemn religious processions slowly trudge the streets trampling in their path the beautifully elaborate and artistic alfombras (carpets) of dyed sawdust and flowers. Not to be missed for visitors in Guatemala at this time. Accommodation during Holy Week is filled to bursting and needs to be booked months in advance.


Other places nearby Antigua: El Hato, Santa Maria De Jesus, San Juan Del Obispo, Pastores, San Lorenzo El Tejar, San Antonio Aguas Calientes and San Filipe De Jesus.

By Lucy Brown

09 Feb 2010

Things to do in Antigua

Iglesia y Convento de la Recoleccion

105217If you choose one ruin to visit in Antigua, choose this one. Formerly a church, this massive set of ruins is probably the most impressive in town. Inaugurated in 1717, it survived just half a century ...
Historical Building
Antigua, Guatemala

Mercado Central

134435A visit to Antigua's central market is an excellent way to experience local culture first hand. Open daily (6am - 7pm), rows of wooden stalls are alive with color and the hustle and bustle of vendors ...
Antigua, Guatemala

Finca Filadelfia Coffee Farm Tour

135318Anyone curious about how we get that morning cup of coffee will find the answers at Finca Filadelfia, ten minutes by mototaxi ride from downtown Antigua. You can visit the coffee fields by mule or ...
Other Activity
Antigua, Guatemala

Parque Central

135709Surrounded by important buildings dating back from colonial times, this central plaza is the main hangout for locals. It’s always packed on weekends and festivals, when it is the scene for ...
City Plaza
Antigua, Guatemala

Palacio de los Capitanes

135711The Palacio de los Capitanes, the first two-storey building in Antigua, lines the entire south side of the Parque Central. Built in 1558, for more than two centuries, it was the seat of the Spanish ...
Historical Building
Antigua, Guatemala

Cerro de La Cruz y El Hato

134277Overlooking Antigua from the north, Cerro de la Cruz is the perfect spot to enjoy the beautiful view of Antigua and Volcano de Agua. This easy walk starts at the end of 1 Avenida Norte. Keep walking ...
Antigua, Guatemala

Centro Cultural La Azotea

134276The Centro Cultural La Azotea is an excellent family friendly three-in-one coffee, music and costume museum. The exhibition explains how the coffee fruits of one tree are transformed into 40 cups of ...
Antigua, Guatemala

Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo

135712The ruins of Santo Domingo church and convent complex stand inside the grounds of the beautiful Hotel Casa Santo Domingo on the eastern edge of town. Between 1542 and 1666, the Dominican order built ...
Historical Building
Antigua, Guatemala

Paseo de los Museos

135713Located on the grounds of Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, the beautifully-presented Paseo de los Museos, or Museums Promenade, allows access to the most significant areas of the Santo Domingo convent ...
Antigua, Guatemala

Monumento a Landivar

135714This large, white monument was built in 1953 in honor of Rafael Landivar, the great poet of colonial Guatemala who died in 1793. His ashes rest inside. Closed to the public, the monument is ...
Antigua, Guatemala

Around Antigua: Ciudad Vieja

136083Just four kilometres south west of Antigua and a pleasant walk or bike ride away, Ciudad Vieja is a peaceful and stress-free little village in which to while-away a few hours. The pretty, tree-framed ...
Other Activity
Antigua, Guatemala
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