Antigua Guatemala is certainly one of the world’s most unique cities-surrounded by towering volcanoes, the once-capital boasts beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and a contained culture you simply need to discover. There is more than enough ways to spend 2 days in Antigua, here’s what I managed to get up to!
HISTORY OF ANTIGUA
Once the capital of Guatemala, the city was ravaged by an intense earthquake back in 1773, and the Spanish Crown then ordered for the capital to be moved to the Valley of the Shrine, where Guatemala City (the current capital) now exists. With a well-developed tourism infrastructure today, Antigua Guatemala (commonly referred to as simply Antigua) is a hub for travellers in the country, with the finest agriculture and restored traditional buildings lending to its wealth of culture.
THINGS TO SEE IN ANTIGUA
Tour of Cuidad Vieja: Chicken bus workshop, woodwork and NDG schools
We were lucky enough to visit the community of Cuidad Vieja during our time in Antigua, where we were first given a tour of the workshop in which chicken buses are made. These buses are simply North American school buses, which are often used throughout South America-but chicken buses are painted in bright, attractive colours and patterns. It’s not uncommon to see them on the Guatemalan roads, and to see where this creativity comes to life was both inspiring and warming.
We explored further reaches of the Cuidad Veija community, and it’s safe to say we were struck by the less wealthy parts-the struggle for some families and individuals here on the outskirts was evident. Business here is therefore independent and often successful if people are determined enough, and the coffin workshop we visited is one such example. Here, coffins are constructed and sold on to funeral homes locally, a showcase of the community’s workmanship.
Finally, we got the chance to tour a school opened by Niños de Guatemala (Children of Guatemala), where children are given a more diverse education than what’s often readily available. At the school, students get the chance to join classes for art, music, carpentry and cooking-preparing them for adult life and broadening their horizons. It’s heart-warming to see such progressive actions being taken in an area where it’s stereotypically not always expected.
Hiking Mount Pacaya
Trekking up the most active volcano in the entirety of Guatemala may sound dangerous, but it’s absolutely worth the risk—we were able to hike to the summit of Pacaya Volcano, with blissfully beautiful panoramas and incredible natural features abound, from cooled lava chambers to active streams. You can even kick back and toast marshmallows here if you’re craving a sweet treat. You can give the kids some cash for a walking stick if you feel like you need some assistance.
As we descended, the sun was setting upon Antigua which gave us an unparalleled view everyone needs to experience. Pictures do not do it justice—the feeling was simply magical, adding even more to our already incredible experience.
Visit the many Cathedrals of Antigua
Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
During our time in Antigua, we also explored and discovered some other beautiful sights. The Antigua Guatemala Cathedral was just one of them, shaken by the 1773 earthquake but partly restored to recover its ancient, traditional charm. The Roman Catholic building’s bright white, detailed façade is eye-catching to say the least, and is perhaps the city’s most majestic, grand building.
Iglesia y Convento de la Recoleccion
Iglesia y Convento de la Recoleccion is a monastery erected in the early 1700s but now only the huge arched doorway remains since the earthquake.
Iglesia de La Merced
Iglesia de La Merced, a baroque church and monastery, is a fine example of colonial architecture, can be seen from rooftops across the city. To the east side of the main plaza, away from the crowds you can find the Iglesia Escuela de Cristo, a colonial-era church with Renaissance-style facade and luckily managed to hold up through the earthquake.
Shop in the mercados of Antigua
Elsewhere, the sprawling Nim Po’t market is a hall filled with decorative garments and ornaments, a sea of colours hand-crafted by locals. It’s the perfect place to visit for a leisurely stroll, where you’ll also get to experience a slice of Guatemalan culture. One of our favourites was the Mercado del Carmen just across the road from the Street Market. We went on the last day to buy a beautiful hand-stitched bed cover. You may even find a gift for a friend or two—we certainly did!
Enjoy the nightlife in Antigua
Antigua is packed with busy bars, cool discos and quaint eateries, you’ll be spoilt for choice. A word of warning, though: despite there being a prevalent bar culture in Antigua, theft is unfortunately rife-you’ll need to remain vigilant no matter how intoxicated you are.
ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA | TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Best time to visit Antigua
For the perfect weather for hiking and sight-seeing Antigua is in the dry season (November-April). The rainy season is best to be avoided (May-October) and the summer months of July and August can be pretty busy with students coming to polish up their Spanish skills.
Visa for Guatemala
United States citizens traveling to Guatemala will need a US passport valid for at least six months past their intended length of stay. A ticket documenting onward or return travel is also needed. US citizens can stay in Guatemala for up to 90 days without having a visa.
Citizens of other countries, including those in the European Union, Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland, need a passport valid for at least three months past their intended length of stay and proof of onward or return travel. Entry is limited to 30 days, but extensions can be arranged through the local immigration office.
Where to stay in Antigua
With 2 days in Antigua, you want to choose wisely and you will be spoilt for choice. There are the most unique places to stay in Antigua Guatemala with a historical feel right from your budget hostels to luxury hotels. It’s a great idea to pick one with a rooftop terrace to gaze at the majestic Mount Pacaya whilst sipping on a local beer.
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