Set in the Central Highlands, volcanoes dominating the horizon – the most commanding of the 3 Volcán de Agua, rising some 12,356 feet – Antigua Guatemala is one of Latin America’s loveliest cities, a vibrant mountainside community of approximately 35,000, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 for its outstanding display of 17th and 18th century Spanish Baroque architecture.
Founded in the 16th century, Antigua once ruled over Spanish Central America, and was the capital of Guatemala until 1776 – the city having been home to some 60,000 inhabitants at the height of its power. The wealth Antigua saw generously funded the construction of palaces, mansions, convents, and over 30 monasteries and churches. A massive earthquake would leave the city and some 3,000 of its structures devastated in 1773, the relocation of the capital and semi-abandonment of the city for almost a century in turn helping to preserve many of its civic, religious and civil buildings, along with plazas and cobbled streets. A lucrative trade in coffee would soon allow for restoration efforts.
A strict guideline on the restoration of buildings ensures the colonial character of Antigua remains. Decorative stucco, pastel facades boasting a central window niche and low bell towers are characteristic of Antigua’s architecture, evident, for example, in the notable religious masterpiece Las Capuchinas, and the church of La Merced, whose facade is one of Antigua’s most beautiful. Today, the city’s ever-increasing international interest sees several of the country’s finest colonial buildings converted into boutique hotels, shopping centers and galleries, a dozen eateries and Spanish-language schools drawing students worldwide. With a well-developed tourism infrastructure, it is often used as base for exploring the country and the rest of the continent.
The fountain located in the European-style plaza of Parque Central – Antigua’s heart – is the spot to socialize, nearby iconic Santa Catalina Arch among the city’s several significant architectural landmarks – having magnificently stood firm since constructed in 1964.
Also notable are the city’s elaborate religious celebrations during Lent, which sees beautiful carpets of dyed sawdust and flowers, etc., adorning the path of the Procession which floods the streets.
Outside the city, you will find the region ripe with exploration opportunities with its volcanoes, small coffee farms and indigenous communities.