The city of Antigua Guatemala, or “Ancient Guatemala”, is one of the Guatemala's most popular destinations for international travelers. Located in the central highlands, Antigua Guatemala is famous for the 16th-century colonial-style Spanish architecture lining its cobblestoned streets, as well as the three volcanoes looming in the distance.
Antigua Guatemala was the capital of Guatemala until it was severely damaged by a series of earthquakes in 1773. Today, its population soars above 33,000. Thousands more people visit each year, many to attend the numerous Spanish schools for which the Antigua is famous.
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What to do:
Antigua Guatemala is extremely visitor-friendly. The city boasts countless hotels, restaurants, pubs, coffee cafes, and shops, all catering to the foreign traveler. Travel agencies are numerous as well. The artisan market by the bus station offers first-rate shopping, and the opportunity to perfect your bargaining skills.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll discover new examples of Antigua’s exquisite colonial architecture. Some of the best are the ruins of the San Agustin Church, the Municipal Palace, and the Cathedral ruins. The Central Park is Antigua’s social and geographical center, a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
Views of the city from the tops of nearby volcanoes Agua and Pacaya are well worth the hike up. Another breathtaking view is that from atop the hill at Cerro de la Cruz; however, robberies and assaults have been reported along the trail. Fortunately, tourist police escort groups every day around 10am and 3pm.
When to go:
Antigua Guatemala enjoys a rather mild climate year-round on account of its highlands location, experiencing warm days, cool nights, and less rain than the rest of the country.
The week before Easter Sunday, called Holy Week or Semana Santa, is Antigua’s most elaborate celebration. Most remarkable are the brilliantly-colored sawdust carpets, sifted into beautiful designs, which are laid on the streets for the costumed religious processions to step on. Travelers interested in visiting Antigua during this week must book hotels far in advance.
Getting there and around:
Transportation to and from Antigua Guatemala is abundant. Droves of public buses (“chickenbuses”) arrive and depart from the large bus station at the extreme west side of town, which also serves as an expansive market for local goods and tourist-oriented merchandise. Buses service drop in frequency as afternoon approaches, so it’s best to leave early.
If you’d rather not brave public transportation from Guatemala City, Guatemala Reservations will arrange a shuttle to pick up from your hotel or the international airport.
Although foot traffic is the preferred mode of transportation within Antigua itself, taxicabs and motorized rickshaws, or “tuk-tuks”, are useful for longer distances, rainstorms, and nighttime travel. Make sure to have the driver quote a price before departure.
Tips and Practicalities
Antigua Guatemala can be dangerous at night. At all times, use the same caution you would in any Central America destination, i.e. don’t carry large amounts of money, don’t wear flashy jewelry, and for heaven’s sake, don’t wear a fanny pack. Women will want to use extra caution, especially when walking at night. When in doubt, hail a cab.
When the conquistadors first settled in Antigua Guatemala in 1543, they designated it “La Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala”, or “The Very Noble and Very Loyal City of Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala”. What a mouthful!