Churches, convents and colonial houses characterize most of Antigua, the old 1700s capital of the Central America kingdom. Gated by Volcán de Agua, Volcán Acatenango and Volcán de Fuego, the city resembles the Spaniards idea of what a capital must look like. Small callejones (“little streets”) embellished with cobblestones mark the way for tourists to walk around this marvelous city that takes you centuries back with its colorful, antiquated buildings. Declared a UNESCO cultural heritage site in 1979, Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala) is reminiscent of the colonization the Spaniards inflicted throughout Central America.
Volcanoes have destroyed this city three times in its history. Each time it was relocated and rebuilt by Guatemalans with no industrial equipment, just the sweat and effort of their hands. Today, Antigua is essentially a tourist town full of restaurants and bars embedded in the well preserved architecture. You would never guess what lies inside until you get close enough to realize that a beautifully architected and preserved 1700s building now holds a Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonalds or Burger King. Ironic, I know.
During our stay in Antigua, we visited different historical sites such as Las Capuchins, an old convent where Spaniard nuns lived centuries ago. Built around a perfectly symmetrical square, this building displays the way catholicism was infused into the Maya culture. A curious fact about Guatemalans is that the majority practices Catholicism, but they continue to hold their sacred rituals to the Maya gods. Maya culture catches the eye of the foreigner in every corner of the streets of Antigua with women dressed in colorful, patterned skirts and speaking the beautiful and complex Maya dialects.
Food in Antigua is some of the best we’ve had in the country thus far. For lunch on our second day in Antigua we headed to a garden-to-table restaurant, El Cerro de San Cristobal. Developed by an American who fell in love with the view that this pristine location provides, this restaurant exemplifies the values that we need to see in modern agriculture. After eating this delicious lunch, we headed back to town to catch the shuttle towards el Volcán Pacaya. We were supposed to be there by 2:00pm but the restaurant’s shuttle taking us back to town was delayed and we didn’t arrive until 2:30pm. Thinking that we lost our chance to visit the volcano, we headed to the travel agency to explain what had happened. To our surprise Guatemalans, unlike Cubans, are pretty much never on time. The bus arrived just in time at 2:30pm to pick us up! We were on our way to the volcano and performed a two hour, easy hike and had some spectacular views at the base of the volcano.
Next San Marcos de Laguna!