"A colonial gem" Top 5 Page for this destination Antigua Guatemala by toonsarah

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

Street in Antigua

Antigua was our base for the first few days in Guatemala, and although I loved everywhere that we visited in the country, it was probably my favourite. I imagine that must be true of many visitors to the country. Anyone with even a passing interest in history will be happy to spend a few days poking around its photogenic ruined churches, and photographers will also enjoy the colourful small houses (especially when lit by early morning or late afternoon sun), the views of distant volcanoes and the lively local market.

When the sun goes down the air cools (we are quite high up in the Guatemalan Highlands here), and there are bars, cafés and restaurants to suit every budget – although this not a place to come for boisterous nightlife.

Antigua, or Antigua Guatemala to give it its full name, was the country’s third capital, founded in 1543. Despite the ravages of several earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the city was for over 200 years the capital and economic centre of the whole Kingdom of Guatemala (today’s southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.). But in 1773 came the most destructive of all the earthquakes, the Santa Marta, and much of the city’s political and religious infrastructure was destroyed. A proposal was drawn up to move the capital for a third time, and despite some opposition, in 1775, a royal letter was written to order the foundation of a new capital.

Left largely in ruins the city might perhaps have crumbled away completely, but enough fabric and people remained to keep it alive. Today’s Santiago de Guatemala, Antigua, is a National Monument and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. At its heart is an almost perfect grid of streets and avenues, each of them a gem, lined with picturesque houses (many single storey because of the constant threat from the forces of nature) and dotted with the skeletons of those ruined colonial churches.

Antigua might strike you at first, as it did me, as something of a museum piece: a colonial city preserved in aspic, its ruined churches frozen at the moment of destruction, its once grand houses turned into posadas and restaurants to cater to the whims of tourists.

But you only have to walk a few blocks from the centre to discover that “real” life happens here too. Visit the locals’ market; sit for a while in the Parque de Union; pause for a while in one of those same churches to watch local women take a moment from their day to light a candle. This too is Antigua.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Compact, full of charm and a photographer's dream!
  • Cons:None - unless you have difficulties in walking on cobbles
  • In a nutshell:Not the museum piece it at first appears
  • Last visit to Antigua Guatemala: Nov 2010
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (28)

Comments (17)

  • hunterV's Profile Photo
    Jun 10, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    Hello, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your insights and impressions! Your virtual tour is great indeed!)

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Jun 11, 2013 at 1:27 AM

      Thank you Victor :-) This is still one of my favourite cities to have visited!

  • Yaqui's Profile Photo
    Oct 3, 2012 at 8:39 PM

    Such a beautiful country with beautiful people! What a lovely adventure!

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Oct 4, 2012 at 1:29 AM

      Thanks so much Dee! We loved Guatemala and Antigua was a wonderful introduction to the country :-)

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Apr 16, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    What a lovely hotel! Antigua looks so colourful and sunny :-) Like your stamps/wifi tip.

  • MalenaN's Profile Photo
    Jan 23, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    Antigua is lovely! I visited both in 1990 and 2009, and hope to be back one day. Unfortunately none of the postcards I posted from the post office reached their destination (and I was there on two separeate days in 2009).

  • tere1's Profile Photo
    Jan 2, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    Wonderful page Sarah! Lovely tips and beautiful photos. I am considering a trip to Guatemala çlater in the year...

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Dec 28, 2010 at 7:02 AM

    very inspiring page thanks - me and my camera would love it here!

  • illumina's Profile Photo
    Dec 24, 2010 at 3:31 AM

    Lovely page, your tips are informative and chatty - great!

  • spidermiss's Profile Photo
    Dec 23, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Great page! Love to see Guatemala some day!x

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Dec 18, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    Another fine new page, with very detailed and informative tips!

  • barryg23's Profile Photo
    Dec 17, 2010 at 6:02 AM

    Antigua is a great city and your page brings back nice memories. Is El Portal the coffee bar with all the seats up at the counter? If so, it's the same one we went to every day here, what i'd give to be back there now!!


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