“A place of rare beauty, major historical significance and vibrant culture, Antigua remains Guatemala’s must-visit destination.” Lonely Planet
Laid back Antigua is less than one hour by car from the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City but with its cobbled streets and colourful handicrafts it couldn’t feel more different.
Until the destruction of the original city by an earthquake in 1773 Antigua was the capital of Guatemala. Many of the Spanish colonial buildings were subsequently restored. Antigua is a small city being compact enough to walk from end to end in about 30 minutes. Locals call “buenos dias” as you walk past and chicken buses, tuk-tuk’s and cars rumble slowly along the cobbled roads which add to Antigua’s calm and easy-going feel.
We spent 4 nights in Antigua and were joined by Annabelle, Chris’s daughter. The 3 of us are on the verge of embarking on a Central American Journey a 17 night tour with Intrepid Travel which will take us from Antigua and through Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to finish in San Jose, Costa Rica.
With the hectic tour looming we decided to indulge in some leisurely activities and spent our days wandering around exploring the streets, sights and colour of this historical town.
Antigua is easy to navigate as it is basically a large square with roads set out like a grid. It sits in a valley with each vista dominated by huge volcanos. Like Panajachel, Antigua is located in the Guatemalan Highlands and as such retains a fairly constant temperature. While we were visiting (in early September) we enjoyed temperatures of around 22 degrees which are ideal for sightseeing.
The volcanos were often shrouded in clouds and mist which added an almost eerie and dramatic feel to Antigua.
We spent a morning trekking the Finca el Pilar trail. You pay 50 quetzals (£5) each which gives you entrance to both the bird trail and 3 natural spring swimming pools. We bypassed the pools and headed off on the bird trail eagerly looking out for hummingbirds which are apparently common on the trail.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any hummingbirds but had great views of Antigua as we climbed higher.
Following a recommendation, another day we walked to Caoba Farm which takes about 20 minutes from the centre of Antigua. The farm contains a wide range of organic produce which is served in its open air restaurant. And we also saw a couple of hummingbirds at close range as they came to collect nectar from the flowering trees!
You can wander around the grounds of the farm and look around the crops and then have a delicious meal in the rustic Annie & Felix’s cafe. Some of the food is prepared by local women who barbecue it right next to the cafe tables. Much to Chris’s delight Felix also has a large selection of international beers available. These went down well with a snack of freshly made tortillas, filled with locally produced cheese and cooked by the women in the photo above.
Many people come to Antigua to wind down and relax. There is an abundance of up-market, vegetarian and health restaurants and great little cafes and coffee shops so you could really spoil yourself with a few days of indulgence. Antigua is a ideal place for North Americans to pop down and visit for a few days.
Finally, during our last night in Antigua we saw in the distance orange lava glowing in the dark as it flowed down one of the surrounding volcanos, a truly amazing sight!