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Architecture In Guatemala

When it comes to Guatemalan architecture, visitors are delighted to discover Mayan temples, colonial buildings, and modern skyscrapers all within a country slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee. Ruins from the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization can be found in countless sites throughout the country, most notably in Tikal National Park, once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. Starting in the 16th Century, the Spanish brought Baroque touches to many Guatemalan cities, including the magnificently preserved colonial capital of Antigua. Guatemala City is an urban area of stark contrasts, where spectacular skyscrapers cast shadows on colonial buildings and tin-roofed shantytowns. Architecture lovers will find so much to see and do in Guatemala, the hardest part is deciding where to begin.


Deep in the jungle of northern Guatemala is Tikal, one of the largest archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The dense rainforest is dotted with thousands of limestone structures, only a fraction of which have been excavated after decades of archaeological work. Six steeply stepped pyramids are the most iconic structures at Tikal, but the site also contains plenty of palaces, tombs, and temples to explore. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, daily flights from Guatemala City reach Flores, about 64 kilometers (40 mi) southwest of Tikal.


Three volcanoes tower in the distance of Antigua, once the colonial capital of Guatemala. Despite a number of earthquakes, the Spanish Mudéjar-influenced Baroque architecture is spectacularly well preserved in Antigua's colonial churches, monuments, fountains, and other ruins. Antigua, the Old City of Guatemala, has been designated a World Heritage Site. The city makes a great home base for exploring the rest of the country.

Guatemala City

In Guatemala City, colonial buildings exist side-by-side modern skyscrapers. At the heart of the city is the Centro Histórico, home to the National Palace and Cathedral of Guatemala City, the main church of the city that began construction in 1782. Another must is the neo-Gothic Iglesia Yurrita is rumored to be the work of famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Admission to the building is free, and only takes 15 to 20 minutes to tour—so your best bet is to have a cab wait for you outside.


Flores town proper is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, instantly recognizable for its patchwork of colonial, red-roofed buildings. The city's narrow, cobblestone streets are easily walkable, and a circle around the village takes only 15 minutes. Spend some time taking it all in at the Parque Central, where you can easily spot the two white domes that top off the Flores Church, the most striking architectural attraction on the island. The twin towns of Santa Elena and San Benito are connected to Flores by causeway, but are in general less safe and more littered with trash.


Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second largest city, has a mix of Greek and colonial buildings. The city's central plaza, Parque Centro América, is surrounded by buildings with neoclassical flourishes, most of which date from the early 20th century. The Catedral del Espíritu Santo on the southeastern corner dates from 1535, although only the walls of the original building remain. Near the Parque Benito Juárez is Iglesia de San Nicolás, a building known for baroque finishes of gold moldings and arches.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Guatemala: La Antigua Tours and Archaeological Tours.

20 Jul 2010

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