"Whole Lotta Shaking Going On" Top 5 Page for this destination Antigua Guatemala by Hopkid

Antigua Guatemala Travel Guide: 665 reviews and 1,903 photos

Colonial Guatemala

The Spanish colonial capital of Guatemala was based in Ciudad Vieja on the lower slopes of Volcan Agua. As one might expect, this wasn't the best location as a large mudslide devastated the town in 1541 at which time they began to think it might be better to find a safer location. This location turned out to be the present location of Antigua, approximately 15 km to the north of Ciudad Vieja. The city was founded in 1543 and a lot of money was spent to produce some great colonial architecture during the 17th and 18th centuries. However the seismic nature of the area resulted in damage due to numerous earthquakes. Seemingly everytime they rebuilt another devastating earthquake would occur, again toppling the magnificent churches and cathedrals. Finally, after a particularly devastating quake in 1773, the powers that be once again decided to look for a new, safer location for their capital and in 1776 the government moved to Guatemala City which is outside of the circle of volcanoes where Antigua is located.

Antigua then fell in to a state of disrepair and obviously suffered from a significant decrease in population. It was never completely abandoned, however, and began to grow again in the mid-19th century. Renovations of many buildings, long-neglected and some still left in the state of destruction suffered from that quake in 1773, began in order to bring back the unique colonial character of the city. Although some have been partially renovated, many of the magnificent churches and the cathedral still show evidence of the last major quake with large boulders of fallen building materials lying on the ground where they fell over 200 years ago.

Some things never change...

On our visit to Antigua we were delighted to see the colonial architecture and ruins of churches that we had only read about and seen photos on the internet. The town has a certain historical feel as there aren't many modern buildings as there has been a good attempt to maintain as much of the old architecture as possible. Many of the streets are cobblestone and very few buildings are more than one story except for the government buildings that surround the Parque Central and the various large churches and main cathedral.

We drove in around noon-time and after checking in to our hotel we walked up to the Parque Central to find a place to have lunch. We decided to eat at Cafe Condesa with their homemade breads, sandwiches, and desserts. We sat at a stone table with stone benches (pillows were provided to improve the comfort factor) in the courtyard of the former16-th century mansion. Not long after our arrival we experienced an earthquake. The waitstaff were visibly shaken as everyone waited to see if the quake would get worse before it ceased. Having lived in California for nearly 30 years I knew it was an earthquake and could tell it was a pretty good-sized one. I forecast that it was at least 6.0 on the Richter scale. Later reports measured it at 6.8 and centered in the Pacific Ocean approximately 100 km from Antigua. Luckily there were no reports of injuries or major damage.

A different side of Guatemala

After having spent the previous few days in Panajachel and the Lake Atitlan area, we were struck by the obvious decrease in the numbers of Maya in Antigua. Despite its old colonial appearance, Antigua serves as a getaway location for the upper classes that come from Guatemala City and it is also a big tourist destination. So naturally it is also a bit expensive to live and work here. The only Maya dressed in their traditional traje were those selling crafts in various locations throughout town.

In Antigua one will encounter many young people, many students from abroad who come to learn Spanish from the many language institutes. As a result there is a nightlife consisting of bars, live music, and some hip restaurants as well. There is also a variety of lodging options beginning from inexpensive hostels to some pretty posh places such as the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel which is set within the ruins of a former 16th century monestary. There are also many opportunities to witness native Antiguans going through their normal rituals such as going to work or school and events that seem to revolve around the church. We witnessed the start of a quinceanera and a procession celebrating Corpus Christi. We were also fortunate to interact with many Guatemalans as we were visiting with friends who were there to celebrate our friend's parents' 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows at the 17th century Iglesia de la Orden Betlehemita and partied down afterwards at the Hotel Antigua.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, history
  • In a nutshell:A beautiful colonial city
  • Last visit to Antigua Guatemala: Jun 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (47)

Comments (6)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Aug 7, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Thank you for this excellent page! Very helpful in planning our trip to Antigua this coming November :-) Great restaurant & shopping tips especially!

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Mar 3, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    Your history of the country and the old capital are very well described and interesting to read. Also you have done a wonderful job of pictures and comments for sites to visit.

  • gkitzmil's Profile Photo
    Feb 16, 2009 at 2:44 PM

    Your pictures really bring back memories. Antiqua is a wonderful city to visit.

  • Stephen-KarenConn's Profile Photo
    Apr 12, 2008 at 6:39 PM

    Thanks for this truly outstanding page. I just arrived in Antigua and am in an Internet cafe on a rainy night. Can't wait to get out and explore the next couple of days.

  • b1bob's Profile Photo
    Dec 16, 2007 at 9:27 AM

    Nice job! Your visit to Antigua was, in some ways, similar to my visit to Ecuador.

  • Dabs's Profile Photo
    Dec 1, 2007 at 1:30 PM

    That must have been some earthquake!!!! Interesting page on a place I knew absolutely nothing about.


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