Winter in Europe, we wanted to escape the cold for a while in December. We have primarily started this trip to Cuba, where we spent one week touring this part of the Caribbean.
Afterward, we flew to El Salvador — visiting four countries of Central America: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize for three weeks. It was a tough trip, crossing borders, and the long bussing journey, but was a great adventure.
After two night stay in El Tunco Beach, we took the shuttle to Antigua. El Tunco and Antigua are on the tourist trail, and there are daily shuttles for 18 dollars which can be booked online in advance with Gekko Explorer.
The travel time from El Tunco Beach to Antigua is approx 5 hours, but our trip takes longer than the expecting hour due to a long queue at the border. So we reached the city at 8 p.m., and it was cold.
Antigua has relatively night low temperature in the winter due to an elevation of 5,029 feet. So visiting at this time of the year certainly packed a jacket. In the daytime, is moderately warm but chances of rains.
We spent a couple of days in Antigua. In most part, as it is not a big city, this can be seen in one day. However, it such a relaxing town so to get the most of it, we lingering around.
The city has outstanding universal value and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the best place to start a journey to Guatemala, and do the various tour from here, it is also a departure point to the neighboring countries.
What to do in Antigua city?
The former capital of Guatemala has several sights. Most of the buildings destroyed by earthquakes and never rebuilt. Some of the ruins are viewable while exploring the city. Also, there are various tour offers in Antigua, such as hiking to the volcano, but, will have a separate blog from it. Below is a list of things to do while in the city.
1- Santiago de los Caballeros
While strolling through a cobblestone street with colonial houses on both sides feel like walking in Trinidad Cuba. It is wondrous that in 1543 Spain decided to build the capital for its Central American colonies at this place. The Spaniards called the city of Santiago de los Caballeros. Antigua, a charming town with a noble street, was declared cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 1979, is one of the main tourist attractions of Guatemala.
2- Cathedral of San Jose
There are about 30 monuments used for public Christian worship in Antigua, and most of the temples destroyed from earthquakes. The original San Jose Cathedral was built in 1541 but was damaged by various earthquakes to such an extent demolished in 1669. Instead of rebuilding on the old location, it was decided to preserve the remaining ruins and turn them into a monument. One can see the current and the old cathedral. The beautiful ruins of the temple are just behind the present cathedral and are impressive.
3- Arco de Santa Catalina
Walking to 5 Avenida Norte, and will find this most photographed site in Antigua. Astounding, also, an essential landmark in the city constructed in the 17th century. The famous archway has an old four-sided clock atop an ornamental column. The clock is notable showing the Roman number four as IIII, instead of the traditional IV. The arch initially connected to Santa Catalina convent which now turned into a colonial hotel.
4- The church of Iglesia del Carmen
The Church, Our Lady of Carmen, was one of the most luxurious cathedrals in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. After the earthquakes of 1717 and 1751, the church has been restored, but the earthquake of 1773, the building heavily damaged and no longer rectify. It appears today in a spectacular ruin with striking architecture due to its imposing facade. Moreover, if coincidently passing through on Sunday, there is a typical tourist market where they sell just about everything.
5- La Merced Cathedral
The cathedral of La Merced is an iconic monument of Antigua and one of the most recognizable sights. The architect Juan de Dios Estrada was in charge of its construction since 1749. In the year 1767, the cathedral inaugurated. The same as other buildings in Antigua, the church partially restored. The intricately designed facade and color from the outside and the inside is impressive. The convent right next to the church and biggest colonial fountains also a must-see.
6- Plaza Mayor (central park)
Antigua’s central park is beautiful and greeny with picturesque benches all around, and a large fountain right at the center. An excellent spot to watch the mix of tourists with the locals, especially the indigenous people. Sundays are particularly busy with activities and music.
If one spends sometime around, the beautiful park of Antigua encircles with colonial buildings. Not only that, shops and restaurants and the avenues surround the square. The only thing that may be annoyed is the vendors. They can be pushy sometimes, but say no, they understand; these people are making a living.
7- Palace Of The Captains General
The architecture of this building is impressive, located on the north side of the Plaza (Parque). The facade is double-arched with Tuscan columns stripped from the base located a few steps above street level. The view from the terrace is very picturesque, an excellent place for a picture over the Plaza. The palace is built in 1740 and has been open to the public since 2010 after reinstated. As of today, the building still in use and one can visit the palace.
8- The public Markets
Love the market, is a great way to see the local people and handicrafts. It is also, a place for a regular gathering of people for the purchase and sale of provisions, and other commodities. There are different markets in Antigua where everything for sale if one does not mind walking through the crowds, and haggling. The tourist price is higher than the locals. Moreover, besides handicrafts and woven clothing, also Guatemalan coffee and chocolate are available.