In December 2018 we made a 18-day trip through Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. We start and finish in the lovely city of Ancient, so in this article you can read in detail what we did during our stay three days in Antigua Guatemala.
Antigua Guatemala, commonly known today as Ancient, is the city of Guatemala where all tourists necessarily pass. The reason is that it is a beautiful city. Therefore, in 1979 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. And that is why, since then, one centimeter of its streets or houses cannot be altered. That makes it perfectly preserved and that, when walking through its streets, you can admire the beauty of its colonial architecture and its historical heritage. Not for nothing Antigua was founded in the time of the Spanish conquerors. In fact, it was the first capital of the kingdom of Guatemala and in those times it wasn't called Antigua (I'll explain later). It is also a good place to start visiting the area of high plateau of Guatemala Due to its situation, because it is only 45 minutes by car from the capital of the country and its airport.
Another attraction is the excursions that can be done around the city. The most famous are visiting one of the volcanoes surrounding Antigua Guatemala. And the high plateau area has more than 30 volcanoes, although only three are active.
On our first day in Ancient We are dedicated to exploring the city. It is worth spending at least one day to walk quietly through the streets of Antigua. Being a population of about 45,000 inhabitants, it can be easily explored on foot. In addition, the temperature of the high plateau, which is spring year-round, contributes to make the walk very pleasant. When leaving the street early in the morning it is a little cool, which encourages walking, but at noon it is already warm and the sea is good. I will always remember the first morning of our stay in Antigua. We had arrived last night in dust after 14 hours of travel. Luckily, sleeping in the comfortable room of the B&B Casa Girasol We had sat very well. When we went down to the dining room, we lived our first encounter with Guatemalan cuisine, since they prepared the typical Guatemalan breakfast: a little mashed beans, some fried plantain, and scrambled eggs. Butt energy to start the day.
We left the hotel in a very good mood. Besides, it was a radiant day. Looking up, I saw the huge smoke that was expelling the Fuego volcano in the near horizon. The thick column of smoke rose above the roofs of the houses on the opposite sidewalk. When we recovered from the excitement, because we are not used to seeing active volcanoes so close, we go first of all to the tourist office on 5th street Oriente. There, a very kind gentleman guided us and recommended about the points of interest that we could visit, and gave us a Map. He also gave us information and several brochures and maps of the following points of our itinerary: Chichicastenango, Panajachel and Tikal.
This is what we saw on the first day of walking through Antigua:
The hill of the cross: we head down First North Avenue to the starting point of the steps that lead to the viewpoint at the top of the hill. There, in front of a huge cross, there is a lookout from where you can contemplate all of Antigua at your feet. The views are tremendous, and from here you can see perfectly three volcanoes Surrounding the city The volcano Water, huge and majestic, just in front of the other end of the city. And then the volcanoes Fire and Acatenango on the right hand side Is impossible Don't take a picture
Returning from the hill down the same street, if you turn left you will reach A church in ruins: La Candelaria and the nearby Santa Rosa church. Two of the various ruined churches that Antigua hides. Why so many churches in ruins? You will have to keep reading to find out… ;-P
Convent of the Capuchins: the order founded a convent here in 1736 that was collapsed by the earthquake of which I speak later. The ruins are restored and can be visited. There is a model at the beginning of the visit that lets you see how it was in its time. Then you can visit the cloister, the remains of the church and the area of the nuns' cells, arranged around a small round square. Curiously, in those days the families of the nuns who entered the convents had to pay a dowry, but this was not the case and another oddity was that they also accepted indigenous women as novices here. The entrance to see the convent is only worth 40 quetzales.
Then we continue walking along the second avenue of Oriente until we reach the junction with the fifth avenue South. Here we run into one of the most famous postcards of Antigua: the arch of Santa Catalina. It is a yellow painted arch with white details and topped by a clock. In the seventeenth century, it was part of a cloistered convent, and the nuns used the arch to pass from one side of the street to the other without being seen.
At present, the convent is in ruins, and through some bars on the street you can see a homeless part where some procession steps are kept. This arch is so photogenic that there are always tourists taking photos and also street vendors. In this section of the street there is a large craft store called Nin Pot where you can buy any kind of souvenir: fabrics, brightly colored masks, saints, colored wooden skeletons and much more.
La Merced Church: following until the end of the street and turning to the left on the 1st street of the East you reach this temple. In front there is a small park where there are usually street food stops. The facade of the church is very beautiful, orange yellow with white details. It is the image that Lonely Planet chose for the cover of his guide from Guatemala. The interior is not so decorated.
Then we went to the Central plaza, where is the town hall and the cathedral. Before arriving, and as it was hot, we stopped at an ice cream shop to have a glass of ice cream. The Exotic Ice Cream Tabletop ice cream shop has hundreds of different flavored ice creams. I ordered one cheesecake.
The Central plaza is the navel of Antigua Guatemala and there are always people walking or resting on the benches around the fountain. On the porch of the town hall some afternoons some musicians play the marimba, which is a kind of xylophone. After a walk, we decided to enter the Santiago's cathedral, whose white facade occupies the entire east side of the square. We were surprised to run into a smaller church than we expected. But we understood everything later, when we visited the ruins of the old cathedral.
Although Antigua Guatemala There are lots of restaurants, at noon we decided to start our culinary route through Guatemala with a very authentic and native experience: a dining room. These types of small funds are places where you can only choose between two dishes, but the food is homemade, tasty and very cheap. We ordered the most famous dish in Guatemala, which is the chicken pepián. It is a traditional stew that is served in a bowl overflowing with rich broth with a chicken leg or chicken breast cooked inside. The remote origin of this recipe dates back to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards, when it was cooked in great Mayan rituals. Later, the recipe merged with Spanish influences. The chicken itself was good, but the stew was delicious. With a lot of foundation.
In the afternoon we dedicate ourselves mainly to look for information about excursions That can be done around. In Ox Expeditions we saw that they offered excursions to three volcanoes, but we didn't dare. Finally, we hired a bike tour for the morning of the next day.
The second day: cycling route through Lost City
Early in the morning, we headed to Ox Expeditions to take a bike tour through the surrounding villages. On the way to the office, we stopped at the Union tank square, where there are some pools that used to be used to wash clothes.
The route we made is called "Lost City". They lent us some good bikes and a guide led us from 9 to about 2 in the afternoon through the towns closest to the southwest end of Antigua and to several points of interest. We loved it.
First we stop at the Calvary church, almost leaving Antigua Guatemala. In this church is where one of the steps of the religious festivities of the city ends. The guide also told us that the tree that is planted in the yard is called esquisúchil and it was planted in 1657. We also learned a little more about the history of Antigua. Before being "old" and calling itself Guatemala, it was located a little further from its current location and was called Santiago of the Knights. In 1541, a earthquake He collapsed a part of the top of the Agua volcano where there was a lake. When all the water of the lake fell down the slope of the volcano, the tromba swept the first city of the Spaniards. Therefore, they rebuilt the city where it stands today and called it Guatemala, the capital of the kingdom of the same name. However, that was not the only earthquake that the city would suffer.
That kingdom had very different borders from the Republic of Guatemala today. At that time, the kingdom of Guatemala comprised more or less the current countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. And his capital was called Santiago of the Knights of Guatemala (not to confuse with the city Santiago de los Caballeros of the Dominican Republic, is that the Spanish conquerors did not have much imagination).
But why did they change the name of the city for Antigua Guatemala? Being surrounded by volcanoes, the area where it rises is prone to suffer earthquakes from century to century and destroy most buildings. So, when the Spaniards got tired of rebuilding their cathedrals, churches and councils over and over again, they finally decided to move the capital to a safer place. And that's why the current capital of Guatemala, which is also called Guatemala, is somewhere else, and that's why the first city of Guatemala was renamed Antigua Guatemala. Although today everyone calls her directly «Ancient». The numerous ruined churches of the city are a living testimony of the seismic history of the area.