Panajachel we booked a minivan for the 2.5 hour trip to
Antigua. We paid 43 Quetzales each, but if you are
planning this choice of transport instead of a bus,
check around for the best deal. Prices ranged from 40
Q's to 100 Q's per person.
Privacy and quiet from our corner hotel room
traveling companions had left for Antigua a few days
before us, so we had the luxury of arriving and having a
hotel room reserved and waiting for us!
Quaint, family-run, strategically placed to the Main
Plaza, and reasonably priced, it was such a treat to
come into town and simply move into our room.
Antigua Cathedral, Main Plaza
had heard so much about Antigua that right after we
unpacked, we went straight down to the Main Plaza to see
what was going on.
the 1970's, Billy drove his van from the States down the
Pacific Coast of Mexico and into Guatemala. The internet had not yet been invented
so real time news was
impossible and he had no idea there was a Civil War
going on. He encountered many military checkpoints
along the roads and figured that this was normal life in Guatemala.
was in this city of Antigua that his van was broken into
and his passport and vehicle entry documentation was
stolen. So on this return trip, Billy kept looking for a
guy who was using his passport and who resembled him now
some forty years later!
These days, Antigua has been designated
a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is famous for its
well-preserved Baroque architecture and dramatic ruins
of colonial churches.
La Antigua Guatemala means the 'Old Guatemala' and
Antigua happens to have been the third capital city of
Guatemala. The first was founded on the site of a
Kaqchikel-Maya city, now called Iximche, located in the
western highlands of Guatemala.
Palacio de los Capitanes, Plaza Central
several Maya uprisings, the capital was then moved to
Valley of Alotenango, which is
starting point for the ascent of Volcan de Agua. When
this city was destroyed in 1541 by an avalanche of
volcanic mud and water that rushed down the slopes of
that same volcano, the Spanish Conquistadores moved the
capital once again and founded the present-day Antigua.
was spring of 1543.
Central Plaza, the heart of the city, with reconstructed
fountain and Palacio de los Capitanes in background
hundred seventy-five years later, in the autumn of 1717,
an estimated 7.4 earthquake hit this beautiful city and
destroyed over 3,000 buildings. Since most of the city's
architecture was ruined, authorities considered moving
the capital yet again to another city.
Almost 60 years later another earthquake hit and the
Spanish Crown finally ordered the capital to be moved to a safer
location, where Guatemala City stands today. Christened
Nueva Guatemala (New Guatemala), Antigua de
Guatemala was then referred to as the city of 'Old
Volcan de Agua as seen from our hotel rooftop
large volcanoes make a commanding presence in Antigua,
with Volcan de Agua being 3,776 meters high. (12,388
the Spanish arrived, Mayans called this volcano Hunapu,
and still call it by that name today. Hun-Apu was a Maya
Hero who later became a sun god.
Volcan Acatenango on the right and smoking Volcan de
Fuego on the left, as seen from our hotel rooftop
Volcan Acatenango last erupted in 1972. Volcán de Fuego
is famous for being continuously active at a low level,
with smoke spouting from its top daily.
Akaisha with a Greek version of Simon Cowell
Though he didn't speak English and never heard of Simon
Cowell, he graciously posed for this photo.
hotel was conveniently located in Antigua's center and
we had a spectacular rooftop view of all 3 of her
volcanoes. In the early mornings it was a beautiful
place to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee. In the
afternoons, hotel guests would gather for a snack of
cheese and wine and have delightful chats with fellow
Merced Church with cake icing-like decoration
religious Order of Mercedaries was founded in 1223 by
Saint Peter Nolasco who was a native of France. They
the first to establish a male monastery.
of low height and wider arches and columns was built to
withstand earthquakes and was opened in 1747.
Over the years,
even though much of the architecture has fallen to
ruins, there are still quite attractive buildings to
Antigua Street with Volcan de Agua in the background
Clean cobblestone streets and brightly painted buildings
make for pleasant walks.
The Adventurer's Guide to
Don’t go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
Parrot at Hotel Casa Santo Domingo
Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is considered the best hotel in
Central America, and offers modern rooms, a swimming pool
and an upscale restaurant.
many years, the owners of this hotel have been carefully
uncovering and restoring magnificent ruins from
Antigua's colonial time. The hotel has been carefully built around
these ruins and funds the restoration work. You can visit the ruins for a reasonable fee,
or have a meal in the restaurant without being a guest
in the hotel.
Colonial style horse-drawn carriages for a tour
Antigua is laid out in a traditional grid system with
Avenidas running north and south of the Main Plaza and
Calles running east and west.
you arrive by bus, you will find yourself in the main
bus terminal, a large open space near the market and 3
blocks west of this Plaza.
main bus terminal at the daily market
is the location where you will pick up busses to other
locations surrounding Antigua, or to continue your
journey onward. There is no written or posted bus
schedule or prices. If you are interested in either, you
must ask around when you arrive here. It is best, if you
want to go forward onto your other destinations, to come
here and inquire the day before. Of course when you are
ready to leave, inquire again to be sure.
Afternoons are lovely in the Plaza with the fountain
running, the blooming trees offering shade, benches to
sit upon and a gentle breeze running through the park.
Sundays, this area is jammed with vendors and musicians
with streets on the east and west sides closed to
Peruvian musicians playing for tips, selling their CD's
selection of music, food, clowns, mimes, and Maya
handicrafts is mind boggling. If your stay in Antigua is
short, be sure that it runs through a weekend so that
you may enjoy the energetic Sunday displays.
Façade of the former El Carmen church
were fortunate enough to stay in this mesmerizing city
for more than 2 weeks. Three times we attended free
international jazz concerts here in front of El Carmen.
With starlit evening skies, musicians who are famous in
Italy, the U.S., Germany, France, Mexico City, and Peru
played to an intimate, well-dressed cosmopolitan crowd
Ancient Mayan history, Spanish Conquistadores, and
modern music blended into unforgettable experiences.
arrived early enough to sit in the chairs provided, but
after the allotted amount of people were ushered inside
the designated area, an eager audience still
gathered outside the low stone walls to listen and revel
in amazing percussion, saxophone, keyboard and guitar.
Looking at the photo above, if you were to enter the
doorway in the maroon colored building, you would
offices surrounding this courtyard offer tourist
information as well as a calendar of cultural events
like the free jazz concerts we attended.
your hotel does not offer kitchen privileges and your
room does not have a refrigerator, it's important to
find a dependable and reasonably priced restaurant for
daily meals. Finding such a place will save you a
considerable amount of cash on your trip.
Around the corner from our hotel, we discovered an
unpretentious restaurant with 5 tables that served
the most delicious comidas for a remarkable price of
22 - 30 Quetzales per person ($2.75 - $3.75 USD). Daily,
the place was packed and we'd often see the same people
over and over returning to this obviously favored
there were no seats available, a small crowd would wait
just outside this door.
Remarkable international cuisine for bargain prices
particular day we had tender pepper steak, baked potato,
fresh garden vegetables, newly made guacamole, hot corn
tortillas (or garlic bread) and an agua fresca
all for 24 Quetzales or $3 USD.
Choices of fresh fish, shrimp, beef, chicken, or pork
was offered with their preparation changing daily.
we ate at other locations and paid more than 3 times
this price, but sometimes we asked ourselves:
so Santa Maria Cafe didn't have a view or fancy gardens,
we'll give you that. And it wasn't set in an astounding
Colonial ruin. Many times we'd eat here and then go see
the gardens and ruins elsewhere. Or have a drink or
coffee in a lovely setting, paying more than the price
of this meal!
and boys waiting their turn
arrived in Antigua before Easter (Semana Santa)
and were able to watch this remarkable Lenten
Procession. All the devout in town take part in this
display of religious pageantry. Those who are chosen to
help carry the elaborate floats are dressed in this
purple head-to-toe attire.
was one of the main floats with the Apostles, Mary
Magdalene, and Mary, His Mother, with tongues of fire
displayed above their heads. Jesus is carrying His cross
at the end of the float with the Roman centurion next to
considered a privilege and honor to carry these floats
in this procession throughout the city. It is all very
organized, with the carriers being changed at every new
block. The men with the float on their shoulders do a
sort of 2 steps forward, one step back swinging motion
so that the weight of the float does not get out of
hand, no one goes too fast and the weight is distributed
person in front of the float controls the speed of the
carriers by digging his heels into the cobblestone
street if the float is moving too quickly.
Everyone participates on some level!
young boy here is a part of a larger group, and will one
day be a carrier himself.
float of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is carried by women
and young girls. As you see, there is a woman in the
middle front who is controlling the speed of the
walkers, and the women on either side at the corners are
coaching the carriers to stay in rhythm.
saw several dyed sawdust carpets called alfombra de aserrin
which were done in remarkable patterns and colors. They
are made for this occasion and the carriers with the
floats on their shoulders walk through these beautiful
carpet with butterfly depicted, representing the
particular carpet is made from freshly cut flowers and
pine needles. Some designs take minutes, others
take hours. They last for only this one afternoon, when
the procession walks through them, thereby disrupting
the artistic work.
Eventually, it all leads here to the Main Plaza and
Church. A crowd had already gathered there, waiting for
the floats to arrive. It takes several hours for the
parade to go from the beginning of the procession to the
end here at the Cathedral. It is now nightfall, and
candles are lit and lighting glows through the Plaza and
real unifying community experience.
Hiking up Vulcan Pacaya
in volcano country and neither of us had seen a live
volcano up close, so we thought we'd give it a try.
Tours to hike the volcanoes are advertised in many
locations, so be sure to get a reputable guide from an
established service. Ask if the guide will give you
information on the volcano, the history of the lava
flows and more as you are hiking, because some guides
will not. Having these stories and facts told you as you
hike make all the difference.
also recommend paying the few Quetzales for a walking
stick, like the ones you see here in the photo. You
won't really need that stick for 90% of your hike, but
the last 5% almost requires it.
were told that this was an easy hike, but I'm here to
say it was no stroll in the park.
sturdy shoes, bring a jacket, a protein snack and some drinking water.
Walking along the volcanic rocks can shred your shoes,
your footing is precarious and your ankles can get
stressed. By this point in our hike, I surely
wished I had a walking stick! They help keep your
balance on the shaky lava.
Pacaya stands at 2552 meters (8372 ft.) and the altitude may give
you a challenge. Horses are offered at the beginning of
the hike, but they only go about a third up the volcano.
When purchasing the ride and horse guide, this small
fact is not mentioned. The most ambitious parts of the
hike are after the horses drop you off.
lava flow you see here was from an eruption in 2006, and
it was massive.
this point in the hike, signs were posted warning of
poisonous gasses and unstable footing. You can see the
mist enveloping the volcano top.
Proceed at your own risk!
Having reached the top, we were supposed to have 45
minutes there, wandering around. However, other groups
were joining us at the top and with 80 people there in
such a small area, it was getting crowded!
is an event of nature, not a theme park. There are no
designated safe places to stand, no
fences, no viewing platforms, nothing. Not that
we expected that, after all, it is adventure tourism,
but it seemed irresponsible to crowd this many people in
a perilous situation
such as this. The lava beneath our
feet was fluid, and heat from the center of the volcano
was being released through the visible cracks.
similar to walking over an oven with hot blasts of air
blowing up through any escape vent. Billy got the hair
on his legs scorched and they looked like Brillo pads!
of the crowd were young people in their 20's and 30's,
scampering around these razor sharp hardened lava rocks, with scrapes
on their arms and legs from having fallen.
were ready to head on back down to stable ground!
descended this irritable volcano, Pacaya was spitting
out smoke, rocks and fire with a distinctive
ffffftttt sound. We looked to the sky as we saw
these rocks flying, wondering if we should somehow dodge
them... but how? Where would these rocks land?
you unknown helicopter pilot that took this shot.
Looking back, climbing this volcano was one of the
dumber things we have done in our adult lives.
months after climbing Pacaya, it blew with a violent
eruption May 28th, 2010, and on
the next day, a 90 meter
wide lava flow traveling an estimated 100 mph burned
houses and people were killed. Some explosions of ash
were reported to be as high as 3-4 kilometers above the
Guatemala airport closed due to the significant amounts
of falling ash, and thousands fled their homes or were
we were able to avoid this disaster on a personal level
was by the Grace of God. That and our lucky stars.
suffice it to say that there is nothing boring about
have a fine selection of historical ruins, restaurants,
hotels, music, wines, adventure travel, nearby
indigenous villages, markets and more. No matter what
your price level or activity interest, you should be able
to find something to bring enjoyment during your stay in
this fine city of Antigua.
onto your hats! You see the bus in the photo above?
We're going to show you how they are made...