Antigua, Guatemala is one of the top tourist attractions in the Americas and because of this; it is referred to as a “Gem of the Americas.” The city has three majestic volcanoes protecting its historical plazas, cobblestone streets, churches, convents and monasteries. For those that visit Antigua it will seem as if time has stood still for centuries.
Antigua was founded as “Ciudad de los Caballeros de Santiago de Guatemala” in 1524. It was one of the most important cultural, political and religious sites of the Spanish Crown. Its power and influence covered the majority of territories in Central America and a big portion of Chiapas, in what is now southern Mexico. At this time, many monasteries, convents and churches were built and the city became home to numerous religious orders and a centre of cultural influence.
Most of the city’s structures were destroyed in 1773, when several earthquakes killed hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, forcing the survivors to leave the city behind and establish a new settlement in what is present day Guatemala City. Nevertheless, not everyone left as hundreds stayed to try to preserve the history of the city and its people. After hundreds of years of obscurity, Antigua started to see a restoration in the 19th century when coffee plantations took hold in the fertile valley that surrounds the city.
A visit to Guatemala without a trip to Antigua is like going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower or enjoying Rome without stopping by the Coliseum. Only 45 kilometres separates this ‘sister city’ with the capital, making Antigua a must on every visitor’s to see list. Even though there is only a short distance between the two cities, the two are worlds apart from one another.
A colonial city possesses everything you would expect from an ancient historic site. You can walk through the cobblestone streets and purchase attractive and colourful fabrics, candies, sandals, handcrafts, and many other items to remember your visit. You can tour the many ruins of centuries-old monasteries, convents and churches. Imagine yourself recreating in your mind the historical events that took place in any one of the magnificent buildings that line the streets and avenues. The city was given the title of World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Central Park is the meeting place for not only those living in Antigua but for all those that visit. Bordering the park is the city’s cathedral, the Plaza de Capitanes, which is an historical site and a centuries old building that houses the municipal offices. The park has a beautiful fountain in it centre. Benches are scattered about throughout the park allowing visitors to sit and enjoy the many vendors selling handicrafts and other trinkets.
Ruins of note are those of the convents of Capuchinas and Santa Clara. Architects used short, stocky columns to try to withstand the forces of the many earthquakes that plagued the area. La Merced is a beautiful church with its intricate decoration adorning its bright yellow exterior. One of the best ways to enjoy the history, cultural and tradition of Antigua is to take a walking tour with a registered guide. The tours will take you to the many ruins, Central Park and the different handicraft markets found within the city.
If you like recreational sports, you can take advantage of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua. Go ahead and experience new sensations while climbing to the summit of Agua or Acatenango volcanoes. Make sure to ask for a local guide to ensure your safety reaching the summit.
One of Guatemala’s most celebrated traditions is Semana Santa (Easter Week) and is most enjoyed in Antigua. Visitors from the Americas and around the world flock to Antigua to enjoy the many processions that take place throughout the city. Enjoy the beautiful alfombras (carpets) that people design in the streets. These carpets are made of coloured sawdust, flowers, fruits and vegetables. The processions that carry long floats known as “andas” walk over the carpets. The anda, weighing as much as 7,000 pounds have a depiction of Jesus carrying the cross or the Virgin Mary. Only Spain exceeds the size of the celebration of Semana Santa in Guatemala.
Hundreds of poets, writers, painters, and other artists have decided to make Antigua their home. They have left their country of origin in order to get inspired to produce their pieces of art. You can see many artists sitting on different sidewalks throughout Antigua painting beautiful cityscapes with the beautiful towering volcanoes as a backdrop.
Antigua is known for its many hotels and restaurants. The hotels range from one star to five and prices range from less than $10 a night to more than $300. Service is excellent at most hotels. The restaurants around the city offer everything from typical Guatemala cuisine to international fare. Visitors can enjoy Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Indian and many other types of food on offer throughout the colonial city.
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