Fuente de Pescados in Antigua Guatemala © Adam Baker
Antigua is reminiscent of an old colonial city in
Latin America, with the Spanish-Baroque buildings set in a valley
between three volcanoes. The town has experienced multiple
earthquakes, frequent floods, and a number of devastating fires
over the centuries. It was the country's capital until 1776 when,
after sustaining severe damage in a series of earthquakes, the
capital moved to the present day Guatemala City, 25 miles (40km)
During the height of its popularity as a colonial
outpost, it was the headquarters of Central America's most
important administrators, as well as a religious centre in the
region, with over 30 resident monastic orders. Today it is a
fascinating journey into the past down the quaint traffic-free
cobbled streets, past multi-coloured buildings and mansions,
magnificent churches, monasteries, and convents.
Plazas, inner courtyards and fountains are all
well-preserved remnants of the Spanish legacy in the Americas.
Indeed, the town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and
is a popular destination for visitors. Buildings of interest
include the Iglesia de San Francisco, La Merced, and the Las
Antigua becomes extremely busy during the Easter
celebrations of Semana Santa (Holy Week), when people from all over
the region flock to see the colourful street processions. The rest
of the time, it has a relaxed and convivial atmosphere with a
strong indigenous culture, prevalent in the Sunday market. It is
also a popular place to learn Spanish at one of the many language
schools, and most students are able to stay with a local family as
part of the learning experience.
For the more adventurous, the three volcano peaks
offer superb hiking opportunities and views, and many tour
operators in town offer trips to the surrounding countryside, as
well as excursions to Volcán Pacaya, one of two active
volcanoes in the region. Villages nearby, like San Antonio
Aguascalientes, offer visitors a closer look at indigenous life and
are centres for beautiful hand-woven textiles.
Capuchinas © John Pavelka
Las CapuchinasThe ruins of Las Capuchinas, the biggest and most remarkable of Antigua's convents, are the best preserved and most beautiful in the city. The convent was founded in 1736 by Spanish nuns and is now a museum dedicated to religious life in colonial times. The nuns who lived here followed a strict daily routine that focused around fasting and praying. Their tiny cells can be found in the walls of the round tower, which has good views from the top. There are also fountains, gardens, and several lovely courtyards within the compound.