Nestled between a ring of volcanos the location of Guatemala’s capital may seem to have been misplaced. Indeed it was. Hence the capital is now Guatemala city.
This is to the advantage of travellers and adventurers passing through this exciting Latin American country.
An- tig- u-ah not to be confused with the caribbean island with the same spelling is the ancient (antique) capital of Guatemala. Located in the central highlands and only an hours drive from the traffic congested Guatemala city the two cities couldnt be different. Antigua is based on a block system of narrow cobbled streets lined with traditional low level buildings which in many cases are painted in contrasting bright colours.
The city, known as Santiago de los Caballeros was originally was founded by conquistadores in the 1540s following the previous two capitals being overrun or flooded. The Guatemalan kingdom included El salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Costa Rico and part of Mexico. As such the city was a major centre and had a population of 60 000 in the 1770s.
As the city was situated was in a siesmic area resulting earthquakes caused significant damage particularly in 1717, 1751 and 1773. this resulted in moving the capital to the present Guatemala city. The city was declared abandoned and the majority of people moved away. Despite this the city remained and inhabitants grew.
The city now is a UNESCO world heritage site and is now an excellent palce to visit.
Starting at the large central square with shaded collonades and fountains a walk towards the Merced Church will take you under the famous Santa Catalina arch.
Designed to allow nuns to cross the street unseen it provides an iconic image of Spanish style architecture. On passing through if you look back down the street it frames the Volcano de Agua.
Continue down the street and you will come to the square in front of the Merced Church, an impressive baroque fondant fancy structure. In lemon yellow with white adornments is stands above a bustling square where street stands serve small dishes and the ubiquitous corn.
Head East a few blocks (easy as the streets are all N-S-E-W.) then South.
Ramble through the small streets and you will come across derelict churches and past small bars with patios and restaurants serving a variety of styles.
Head back towards the main square and you will come upon the cathedral. This was built in 1545 and rebuilt in 1680 and has suffered a number of earthquakes. The front is still intact but much of the site is a ruin which you can wander around following a donation. If refreshment is required a bar called Tartines has a roof terrace which overlooks the cathedral ruins.
For some more culture head to the hotel, Casa Santo Domingo that is at the site of a convent but whilst alos being a 5 star hotel spa and restaurant houses a number of museums.
From there wander back to the main square and enjoy a helado or a gallo.
Antigua has many sights and attractions but the main one is the atmosphere and the unexpected.