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Our traveller friends whose @pasaporte_a_la_tierra tell us about their experience in the beautiful city of Antigua in Guatemala. And if that was not enough, they describe it to the smallest detail with beautiful photos and they recommend essential places to see and the excursions that we can carry out near the city.
This fantastic article has taught us the beauty of such a little-known destination as Guatemala and encourages us to get to know this incredible country. Thank you very much friends for this great article!
What to see in Antigua, Guatemala
In this post we will focus on what to see in Antigua, a beautiful post-colonial city that was once the capital of Guatemala. As we passed through Central America we traced a circular route with a common point of origin and exit in Cancun (Mexico).
Along 18 days we traveled through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize where we could enjoy a great variety of landscapes, beaches, jungles, volcanoes, lagoons, as well as enjoy first hand the intriguing Mayan culture, its traditions and legacy.
For us Guatemala was a very pleasant surprise, a jewel which is less touristic than Mexico and which offers enormous wonders to the adventurer.
The History of Antigua
Antigua in Guatemala was devastated in 1773 by the earthquake of Santa Marta and many of its main buildings were damaged or even destroyed, some were subsequently renovated, but for others only the ruins remain.
That is why it was decided to move the capital to Guatemala City, leaving Antigua in the background.
Antigua was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, and it is not surprising, as it is a beautiful city with an idyllic setting that allows visitors to relax while returning to the past.
What to see in Antigua
Among all its historic buildings, with 30 churches, 18 monasteries and convents, as well as hermitages and chapels, below, we will detail the most essential places to see in Antigua.
The Arch and Convent of Santa Catalina
The convent of Santa Catalina was intended for cloistered nuns and was abandoned after the catastrophic earthquake in 1773.
It has been refurbished to this day and is undoubtedly one of the most essential places to see in Antigua. In addition to being able to walk through its corridors, it is also possible to stay in the rooms where the nuns used to sleep.
At the height of the city’s heyday, it made many women want to join the cloister, which is why they needed to purchase the building across the street.
Since it was not possible to cross the street from one building to another, the arch of Santa Catalina was created to make it easier to cross the street without the nuns being seen. The Arch of Santa Catalina has become one of Antigua’s main attractions and perhaps the most photographed site. It is located in the North 5th Avenue, which is one of the busiest and liveliest shopping streets in the city.
Convent of Santo Domingo
In addition to the Convent of Santa Catalina, one of our favourites was undoubtedly the Convent of Santo Domingo. This beautiful convent was also abandoned in 1773 due to the earthquake, and today it is one of the most luxurious hotels in the entire city. Although the rooms are not entirely affordable it is possible to visit it completely free of charge.
It has beautiful gardens and a museum, and you can not miss the chapel, the church and the crypt.
The Church of San Francisco
The church of San Francisco is a beautiful place where Guatemalans still go to pray and attend Mass.
Although you can still see the scars of the 1773 earthquake, the church of San Francisco is beautifully preserved.
In this beautiful church you have to visit the chapel of Veracruz as it keeps the remains of the Holy Brother Peter, who helped the poor, sick and helpless as well as teaching the illiterate to read and write.
Convent of the Capuchins
Built in 1736, this convent of the Capuchins was intended for the order of Capuchin Poor Clare Sisters. Due to the great earthquake, and consequently the transfer of the capital to Guatemala City, the convent was completely left to its own fate. Subsequently, it was sold to private individuals who used it as a dry cleaner or to dry coffee.
It is possible to visit it from the inside and discover more about this beautiful convent by paying a small entrance fee of 40 quetzales (4,70 EUR).
Other places to see in Antigua
In addition to the above places, you should not miss the Convent of Santa Clara and the church of La Merced in Antigua.
In addition to churches and convents, we would also recommend you to get lost among its colourful markets, both the Nim Pot market and the handicraft market.
If you want to clear your head and do some hiking, don’t hesitate to stop by Cerro de la Cruz.
What to see away from Antigua
Our stay in Guatemala served us much more than just seeing this beautiful city of Antigua, we also made excursions to learn a little more about the culture and people of this beautiful country.
The first excursion we made was to the Pacaya volcano, which is an hour and a half from Antigua. Pacaya volcano is an active volcano at an altitude of 2552 metres.
We made a hiking excursion of just over an hour, where we climbed to the highest point permitted to tourists. It is crowned by the crater MCKenny, making the visit impossible to avoid possible accidents.
If you are as lucky as we are, you will be able to appreciate the tongues of fire released by the volcano and cooking delicious clouds like a barbecue.
An experience not to be missed if you like nature and hiking.
Another of the excursions we made was to the Chichicastenango market, an hour and a half from Antigua. Chichicastenago known as Chichi will be key in your trip to mix with the local people and Guatemalan culture.
Its endless and colourful market that is only open to the public on Thursdays and Sundays, will make you have a unique experience.
It’s a good place to shop and bargain, but always responsibly thinking about the local economy.
In addition to getting lost in the narrow streets of the market, you can visit the church of Santo Tomás, where two religions coexist: Christian and Mayan.
A little further away from the market it is very common to witness Mayan rituals. In these rituals you will observe the shamans asking for all kinds of prayers for the families that are in charge of them. Most of these rituals are to ask for love, health or money among others.
Also noteworthy is the cemetery of Chichicastenango, a colourful cemetery where both Christians and Mayans rest.
And the last visit we made was to Lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is a beautiful place to disconnect and merge with nature, as well as get to know the traditional crafts first hand. There are incredible views of the lake next to the volcanoes that surround it.
Around the lake are small charming villages with each having its own history. The largest of all the villages is Panachel, or also known as Pana, where all local transport comes in.
One of the most colourful is Santa Catarina de Palopó, a small town characterised by its painted houses creating beautiful designs.
We crossed the lake to visit San Juan, San Pedro and Santiago de Atitlán where we were able to see how they make handcrafted products.
After this 4 day trip through Guatemala, we headed on a flight from Guatemala City to Flores to visit the incredible Mayan ruins of Tikal and Yakxa, but we will tell this in another post with more detail.
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