Antigua Guatemala: History and What to Do
January 1, 1970
by Aly Montuori
Welcome to Antigua Guatemala
Guatemala is a small country located in Central America, right below Mexico and above Honduras and El Salvador. Due to its geographical location, Guatemala’s most known motto is “The Country of the Eternal Spring”. The latter means that the climate doesn’t change much throughout the year, which only makes visiting the country even more attractive.
Out of the twenty-two departments the country is divided into, one of them stands out from the rest: Sacatepéquez. Located near Guatemala City, Sacatepéquez possesses a big part of Guatemala’s history: a 16th century-like small town called Antigua Guatemala.
Founded in 1524, “Antigua”, as the locals call it nowadays, was the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala and its name used to be “Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala”. The country’s “guardians” are its thirty-three volcanos, three of which are located in Antigua: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. As beautiful as it may be, the volcanos and its geography have proven to be quite a problem for this incredible place. From 1541 to 1776, Sacatepéquez suffered from many natural disasters including volcanic eruptions, floods, and serious earthquakes.
In spite of the various destructions, Antigua Guatemala has risen from the ashes over and over again and now stands as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage. Its architecture is inspired in the Italian Renaissance, protecting it so that any new project must follow the same construction style. Today, Antigua is one of the most concurred and touristic places in Guatemala and very rightfully so. Being the old capital, this place is full of history, culture, and traditions.
What to do in Antigua…
I’ve been living in Guatemala for many years now and the first place to visit on your list should be Antigua. Only by listening to a tour guide explain its rich history you will understand so much more, not only about the region but about the entire country. The most impressive part of the journey is entirely visual: acquiring knowledge of the people’s history by immersing yourself in a whole different era. Entering Antigua Guatemala is like going back in time to the 16th century, where life was simpler and more relaxed.
Antigua has the power of distancing you from the rest of the world and your everyday life. Get away from the stress of traffic, the office, and the city. Surrounded by volcanos, its location offers a peaceful ambiance full of small shops, original hand-crafted art pieces, colorful architecture and amazingly kind people. So, after reading all about this incredible place, you’re probably wondering what to do if you ever get there. Let me suggest a few things you might enjoy:
Guided Tours Around The City
Many places around Antigua, including lots of hotels, offer guided tours around the city. These guided tours not only take you to the numerous cathedrals with impressive architectures, but you can also get a chance to know old government buildings, parks, and locations with amazing century-old stories. For example, Antigua is very well known for having lots of ghost stories prominent in Latin America’s folklore. “La Llorona” (“The Weeping Lady”, in English) is one of many. Ask your tour guide about them, I promise you won’t get bored!
Road-trips From Antigua to Another Destination
Why only stay in Sacatepéquez when you can visit even more beautiful Guatemalan places? It’s one of the perks of being in a small country, after all. And as such, it magically offers lots of different landscapes for all tastes. Many travel agencies in Antigua offer road-trips from Antigua to Panajachel (in the department of Sololá), for example. Panajachel is located in front of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world (as described by National Geographic and Aldous Huxley!) and it’s an adventure worth taking.
Check Out Coffee Plantations and its Production
Guatemala is very well known for its high-quality coffee, especially one of the most important coffee brands in the country located right next to Antigua: Café de Acatenango. Embark yourself on an exploring adventure to the coffee plantations, see the production process from the fruit to your mug and, best of all: coffee tasting! Yes, you have the opportunity to taste one of the best coffees around the world, being so thanks to Guatemala’s geography and auspicious climate.
Hike a Volcano
For those who like physical activity and impressive landscapes, many places in Antigua offer shuttles and guides to Pacaya volcano, completely safe to hike and majestic to watch if you’re ever close to watching it erupt! Don’t worry, it’s actually completely safe to watch and it happens a lot since it’s one of the few volcanos in the country that is still active today.
Watch a Maya Spirituality Ceremony
Guatemala is also very known for its impressive Mayan background. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest Mayan architectures is right here in Petén. In Antigua, you have the opportunity of knowing more about the Mayas and assist to one of their beautiful spiritual ceremonies that take place once in a while. Dare to know more about the country’s rich historical background and multiple cultures!
Casa Santo Domingo
Take a look at one of Antigua’s jewels: Casa Santo Domingo. The latter is a hotel, restaurant, and museum containing vestiges of Guatemala’s culture. The restaurant is managed by an awarded chef: Mario Enrique Campollo, and it serves most of Guatemala’s traditional foods. All of these are worth a try, being that they create an explosion of flavors in your mouth that are impossible to miss. The gardens inside the hotel are immense and impressive, decorating the ruins of century-old architecture you can also visit.
Visit Antigua’s Very Own Chocolate Museum
Following with Mayan tradition, ChocoMuseo in Antigua Guatemala offers a tour of their facilities, where they make delicious chocolate made 100% out of the cocoa plant. Discover new chocolate flavors by trying the different mixtures ChocoMuseum creates for their customers, aside from learning the process of chocolate-making!
There are many other things to do in Antigua Guatemala if you let yourself give it a try! The options previously mentioned in this article are in no way the only ones you should try. Many tourists like to walk around the town, which is very pleasant to do since its surroundings and architecture are very friendly to pedestrians.