The story of Antigua´s eventful arrival to the site where it presently lies is a rich story that . plays itself out like a novel full of adventure, conflict and passion. The first Antigua was founded near the Maya city of Iximché, It was soon abandoned when the Kaqchiquel residents rebelled at the Spanish demands for gold. The Spanish moved their capital to the valley between the Agua and Fuego volcanoes. But fate was against them and the town was swept away by a flood. Soon after the town was moved to its present day location where it has stood for more than 400 years.
After a particularly devastating earthquake in 1773, the capital of Guatemala was moved to Guatemala City and Antigua was virtually abandoned. It wasn´t until the late 1800´s, that Antigua was virtually rediscovered and interest in the colonial city reawakened.
The surrounding countryside became the focus of coffee farmers and the valley once again became prosperous.
Named a World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, Antigua brings visitors to its cobblestone streets by the thousands. Some come to visit the town and wander through its ruins, while others come to take advantage of the many Spanish schools.
No matter the visitor´s reason for visiting Antigua, there are few that leave the town without heaving a sigh regret. Its picturesque streets, richly textured ruins and friendly residents work their way into the heart of any visitor and remain there for quite a while.
Today´s Antigua is a cosmopolitan town that somehow manages to conserve its small town ambiance. Its streets are quiet enough for artists to set up their easels and attempt to paint or sketch their perspective of a particular church to paper.
Another facet to this town is the educational scene. Aide from a wealth of Spanish schools, the town boasts a fine library and research institute for visiting archaeologists. Here scholars may travel back in time and read about the many churches, convents and homes that once bustled with colonial activity.
Visitors will also find the town to be a cultural center. A biennial arts festival is hosted here and showcases ballet, opera, symphonic orchestras and theater.
In recent years, a host of restaurants and hotels have opened their doors on these quiet streets. While they hold to the small town atmosphere, they welcome an international crowd of both vacation and business travelers.
From typical Guatemalan cuisine to Italian dishes, restaurants cater to their guests with first-class service and hospitality. Many of these are located in renovated buildings complete with indoor patios and fountains. Whether you´re there to enjoy a good meal or a cocktail, the ambiance is comfortable and pleasant.
The hotels in Antigua are varied and accommodate every budget. Quaint bed and breakfast make you feel like an antigueño as you enjoy a typical breakfast on a flower bordered patio!
Still other hotels offer European style spa facilities complete with aromatherapy and relaxing Swedish massages. Churches, museums and more.
There are plenty of activities for the visitor to experience while staying in Antigua. The town itself offers a wealth of churches and ruins where you can while away the hours. Visit a bevy of museums that showcase original colonial art, silverwork and religious status.
The Museum of Santiago contains colonial ceramics, ironwork, a cannon and a sword used by Pedro de Alvarado. A book museum in the same building, which once housed the country´s first printing press, details the history of printing.
The grounds of Casa Santo Domingo are a treat to walk through. This first-class hotel is located in a monastery that dates back to the 1500´s. One of the richest in Antigua, it once held a sumptuous collection of colonial artwork. Today, visitors can wander around the beautifully manicured grounds and see how the monastery was laid out. The hotel also offers a tour through a small museum that houses colonial art and archeological artifacts.
For a more active way to spend a day in the area of Antigua, take advantage of the many tours we offer. Mountain bike tours in the surrounding hilly countryside are a great way to explore the area. Outlying towns offer fabulous shopping for those interested in textiles, ceramic and woodwork. Those eager for adventure can scale the Agua volcano for a dramatic view from its summit.
How to get there:
From Guatemala City, take the Roosevelt Boulevard out past Mixco. The highway is three lanes and boasts quite a few curves. The drive to Antigua takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour. There are extra-urban buses that make several stops along the way, thus increasing the time to about an hour and a half.
During the months of November through February, the average daytime temperature varies from 60 to 70 degrees, with the thermometer rising as March and April arrive. April is the city´s hottest month. Once the rainy season comes in from May through October, the skies remain somewhat clear mainly during the morning with showers moving in during the afternoon and evening. Light rain gear is advisable during these months.
A light jacket is comfortable during the evening when temperatures drop a bit, and sweaters are ideal during the months of December and January.
Places to visit in Antigua:
Cathedral of San José
Built between 1543 and1680 only the façade and wall structure remain. Excavations in 1935 revealed crypts beneath the Cathedral. One remains open and contains an altar, a crucifix and statues of saints. Legend claims the tomb of Don Pedro de Alvarado, conquistador is buried in the cathedral. Open daily from 9-12a. and 3-7p.
Built in 1743, it remains occupied and shows the rich colonial architecture.
Occupies the Old Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos de Borromeo. A library with colonial art treasures, including a painting of Don Pedro de Alvarado are fascinating to see. Open 9-12p. and 2-6p.
Compañía de Jesús Church, Convent and School
The building is crowded with colorful markets on Monday, Thursday and Saturday.
Convent of Santa Clara
Many of its arches and walls remain intact and surround a fountained patio.
La Merced Church
Survived the earthquake of 1773. The façade is decorated with lacy white stucco and the church contains many statues. The courtyard contains an elaborate Spanish colonial fountain.
The Palace of Captains General
Made up of 26 two-story arches which extend over one hundred meters. The provincial government of the department of Sacatepequez offices are located there. The building has been renovated but still contains some ruins.
Plaza de Armas
The central plaza has a fountain with fine tile works. And remains the center of activity today were fiestas, celebrations and public events are held.
Home to hundreds of monks, the revered Brother Pedro de Bethancourt, who died in 1667, is buried here. The chapel contains fine paintings and other artifacts.
Colonial arms, artillery pieces, costumes and other works of art. Open 9-12a. and 2-6p daily.
Antique Book Museum
Guatemalas first printing shop. Displays valuable first editions and ancient documents. Some fine 17th century etchings in stone. Open daily 9-12a. and 2-6p.
San Antonio Aguas Calientes
Small town known for its weavings. Some of the best in Guatemala are found here in terms of tightness, design, and color combination. Admire the weavings at roadside stands throughout the town.
A small town known for its good workers. Beautifully had-carved items are sold in the doorways ti family-run workshops. Just five minutes out of Antigua.
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