Its proper name, La Antigua Guatemala, means “the old Guatemala,” and this is in fact what it is. The former capital of Guatemala was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. Rather than rebuild, the country’s aristocracy opted for a fresh start in the neighboring Valley of the Hermitage, the current site of Guatemala City.
And so, by decree, the city and its inhabitants moved on. Still, some Antigueños stayed behind, choosing to live among the ruins, coffee farms, verdant hillsides, and sentinel volcanoes. The city’s colonial architecture was maintained, as there were no plans to rebuild, and its ruined churches and convents remained just that. It is said the remaining residents of Antigua were so poor they had to subsist on avocadoes, earning them the nickname Panzas Verdes (Green Bellies).
Today, Antigua (as it is more commonly referred to) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to much of Guatemala’s expatriate population along with scores of international students studying in its many Spanish Language Schools. Its brightly colored houses and cobblestone streets harbor some of Guatemala’s finest restaurants, shopping, and art galleries in a fantastic mountain setting that has inspired artists, writers, and wanderers for centuries. Antigua is a pleasant mixture of Mayan and Spanish colonial influences and is an excellent base from which to explore other parts of the country.
Antigua lies 45 kilometers from Guatemala City via a good, paved highway. Its setting is spectacular, flanked on its southern extreme by towering 3,750-meter (12,325-foot) Agua Volcano. The colossal 4,235-meter (13,900-foot) Acatenango and active Fuego Volcanoes lie to the west. The surrounding hillsides provide wonderful views of the valley and the volcanoes, and are excellent terrain for recreational pursuits such as hiking and mountain biking.
The climate is similar to that of Guatemala City, as Antigua lies at about the same altitude, just over 1,500 meters. Days are warm and nights are pleasantly cool.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com