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Antigua (Guatemala)

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Travel Guide Central America Guatemala Antigua

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Introduction

GUATEMALA - Antigua - center

GUATEMALA - Antigua - center

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Antigua is an amazing Spanish colonial city known for its well preserved Spanish Mudejar influenced Baroque style buildings, ruins and colonial churches. Due to the wealth of cultural importance the town was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1543, Antigua was the third capital of Guatemala and held the title for over 200 years. After a series of devastating earthquakes in the 1770s the Spanish Crown ordered the relocation of the capital, with a population of over 60,000 people, to a safer area. Although many people left some still remained even though today the population of the town is still under 35,000. Antigua is a great place to spend a few days exploring and learning about the early colonial history and culture of Guatemala.

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Sights and Activities

Volcanos

Volcanos surrounding Antigua

Volcanos surrounding Antigua

© All Rights Reserved mtlgal

Looming on the horizon of Antigua is the ominous shadows of three volcanos. The largest is the Volcán de Agua, which is 3,760 metres high and is only 5 kilometres from town at its the closest point. Luckily this volcano has been inactive since the 16th century. This volcano also has been a protected area since 1956 making it a nice wilderness area. To the west of the city are two other volcanic peaks collective known toegether as La Horqueta. The first mountain is Acatenango, which last erupted in 1972 and is 3,976 metres high. The Second is Volcán de Fuego, which is 3,763 metres high and is an active stratovolcano. This means that the volcano is constantly erupting at a low level with large eruption being extremely rare.

Religious Sights

View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz

View of Antigua from Cerro de la Cruz

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  • San Hermano Pedro Church
  • La Merced Church
  • Church and Convent of Capuchins
  • Cathedral of San José
  • Ruins of old San José
  • Church School of Christ
  • Church of San Francisco

Other Sights and Activities

  • Old Weapons Museum
  • The Santa Catalina Arch
  • Museum of Santo Domingo
  • Museum of the Old Book (El Libro Antiguo)
  • The Jade Museum

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Events and Festivals

Semana Santa Processions

Every year in the "Holy Week", the time from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, most cities and villages in Guatemala celebrate local processions in which different religious groups carry life-sized, heavy and holy statues through the streets. Antigua is the Guatemalan hotspot and epicenter of these activities. If it happens you are in Antigua during the Holy Week don't miss to watch these processions. Usually there are several a day, organized by different groups or churches on different tracks throughout the streets and during different times of the day. Ask the local tourist information to find the procession that fits best into your plans.

Also visit the churches of Antigua in that time, as every church is proudly decorated and displaying beautiful handmade "carpets". These carpets, made of colorized sawdust, show and form religious symbols and get decorated with fruits and vegetables and is something that Antigua is particularly famous for. Also you find such handmade carpets on the streets as a grounding for the processions to walk over it.

Be aware that prices are rising high during the Holy Week as this is a touristic highlight well-known throughout all Guatemala. Hence, the city is crowded by natives and internationals alike. However, in the week or the two weeks before already there are a lot of processions who "practice" their walk, so it might be a smart choice to move there in the days before when prices did not yet skyrocket.

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Getting There

By Car

Driving is not generally recommended in Guatemala. The road network is not very well developed and roads are likely to be in less than perfect shape.

By Bus

You can find a mini bus to pretty much everywhere from Antigua. Whether you want to go to the airport, Guatemala City, Tikal, Lago Atitlan, Copan or to the Mexican border, there'll be one. If you feel adventurous you could also try the chicken busses, the cheapest way to travel around the country. You might need to change bus several times along the way, stop every 5 minutes, share the space with a few too many people and various different animals, but it's certainly an experience.

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Getting Around

By Public Transport

Tuk-tuks and taxis can take you to destinations within the city center for Q10 or less; negotiate the fare with the driver in advance. Otherwise, they will routinely charge 50-100% more than they should. Tuk-tuks usually do not go to Guatemala City, so one will need a shuttle or taxi instead. Flag down a cruising tuk-tuk, or pick up a taxi from the queue at Parque Central; or along a main route to the city's periphery.

By Foot

Walking is the best way to explore Antigua. The charming cobblestone walkways may have your eyes focused on the ground more than you are accustomed to. Antigua is very compact and easy to walk around. Most tourist destinations are in an 8-by-8 block area less than 1 km across. You can walk across it in 15 minutes.

By Bike

Pedal bikes are rarely seen, and public locking areas for them are even more scarce. Motorbikes and scooters are extremely prevalent and easier to maneuver in the busy streets than full-bodied cars are.

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Eat

Antigua has cafes and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. The town is the most touristy place in Guatemala so you will find anything you are looking for including international fast food shops. Be careful with where you eat. Facilities lacking in bathroom or bathroom cleanliness suggest a higher probability of food poisoning. Avoid cold salad, fresh vegetables, and undercooked meat. Street ice cream carts are common through the city and popular with the locals, but of are unknown safety for sensitive stomachs.

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Drink

  • Café No Sé, 1ª Avenida Sur #11C, ☎ +502 7832-0563. Cool hipster-backpacker bar serving up a range of drinks including the local favorite, "Ilegal" mezcal. Dim lighting, mysterious vibes, and interesting patrons from all over the world. Friendly staff and prices are a lot more reasonable than you'd expect from such a trendier-than-thou spot. Live music is presented frequently.
  • El Muro, 3ª Calle Oriente #19D, ☎ +502 7832-8849. Plays a soundtrack of classic rock and serves real drinks, Asian and vegetarian food and local cuisine. Specials for volunteers and credit cards accepted.
  • Reilly's Irish Tavern, 6ª Avenida Norte #2, ☎ +502 7832-2981. Antigua's only Irish pub. Serves Guinness and Jaegermeister, among other things. Every Sunday at 18:00 they hold a pub quiz.
  • Sangre, 5ª Avenida Norte #33A, ☎ +502 7832-8978. Fancy wine bar, fine atmosphere. Moderate prices. Large selection of wine per glass. Light snacks also served.

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Learn

Antigua is the most popular, though not the cheapest, place to learn Spanish in Guatemala. Prices and hours vary, and can change depending on the season.

Homestays for language students are also available as a cheaper and more culturally enriching living situation. The average homestay with a Guatemalan family costs Q585 for 7 nights in your own room with shared bath and 2-3 meals per day (except Sunday). It is well worth it to pay a little extra for your own bathroom or shower, and for maximum immersion into the local culture, search for a family who takes in only one or a few students at a time (and local Guatemalan boarders). Families often visit each other on Sundays, and no meals are available. If you are the only student in the home, you are often invited for family get-togethers, and it is quite a cultural experience.

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Work

You can easily get a job as a waiter, waitress, bartender, or host in any of the many bars, restaurants and hotels in Antigua. Usually they pay from Q65-165 a day plus tips. It is important to speak Spanish in most of these places, but you can slide by without it in some touristy spots, where most of the customers are foreigners. Also you can join in and volunteer at local non-profits. There are many local projects in education, health, and development that accept short and long-term volunteers. An example would be Common Hope, and other local churches and charities. These organisations should be contacted ahead of time for availability and credentialing.

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Sleep

Homestays

Homestays with Antiguan families can be arranged through language schools or directly with the family in question. Because the families are prepaid, you can switch your school at any time and try a different school. Your shuttle from the airport is also prepaid if arranged through a school, so if your driver asks for Q40 or Q80 in tips, just smile, and give him Q10 or Q15 at most (a 20% tip), more if your luggage was lugged up a steep hill and dozens of steps.

The homes are often on hilltops, so be prepared to encounter large black scorpions on the lit walls at night, when you are walking home late. They are harmless unless you disturb them, but you might consider wearing shoes if they are abundant. Choose a home in the town to avoid climbing hills, and you will also get fewer mosquitoes. Families charge about Q580 for 7 days of bed, shared toilet, and 2 meals. Expect to pay about Q80 or Q160 more if you want to add lunch (the main meal), or if you expect a private bathroom (well worth it if you don't want to share with up to a dozen other boarders).

An advantage of a home stay for the Spanish language student is a chance for language immersion, as well as the cultural experience. The fewer students the family board, the better the experience. Too many students prefer to speak in English to each other and destroy your "immersive" experience. Ask first how many people are in the home, and how many boarders there are. You might avoid a situation where, say, there's one sink and two toilets shared by 14 people, and there's no way to take a proper shower because so many people are using the hot water. If you value cleanliness and convenience, book a room with private toilet and sink.

Ask the house mother to explain how to get the switch to activate on the shower, or you might have to deal with a cold shower. Buy your own soap and shampoo, as the home might use the same soap for washing dishes and clothing as for bathing. The housing may be more basic than in a hotel: simple concrete block or adobe construction, shared bathroom, and small rooms. Ask if there is a secure lock for your room, as the home is often shared with local boarders, and you do not always want to lug your camera and laptop everywhere you go.

You must provide your own hand towels and bath towels. If you leave them in a common bathroom, don't be surprised if everyone uses them. Eating hours are often different, with dinner often served at 19:30 or 20:00, so you might want to procure your own meals if you intend to go to bed early. Remember that dinner is simple: a few pieces of cold bread and perhaps very light soup. For American-style dinners, go out and buy your own food at the restaurants. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not often served, so eat plenty of beans or bring along your own source of fiber.

View our map of accommodation in Antigua

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet access is widely available. Even most of the more remote areas have some type of internet access available. Many larger areas also have WiFi. All of the Camperos chicken/pizza restaurants (which are numerous) offer free WiFi, as well as many other restaurants and cafes. Some hotels may also offer computer banks with internet access. Just ask and you eventually will find some sort of free access.

If you have a smartphone such as iPhone, Google Android, you just need a local SIM card (roughly Q25) and can start enjoying the prepaid access plans, which generally come in lots of an hour, a day, or a week.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Guatemala's emergency phone numbers include 110 (police), 120 (ambulance) and 123 (fire). Guatemala's international calling code is 502. There are no area codes. Phone numbers all have eight digits.

The phone system isn't great, but it works. Tourists can call abroad from call centers, where you pay by the minute. It is also easy to purchase a calling card to use at public pay phones. The phones there do not accept money, so to use a public phone on the street you must purchase a telephone card. Typically, the cost is around 8 quetzals for a 10-min call to North America, and slightly more to Europe. Cell phones are quite cheap and calling overseas through one can get as low as $0.08 a min. If you are planning to stay for a while and plan to use the phone, you should consider buying a cheap prepaid phone. Wireless nation-wide internet access for laptops is also available as a service from some companies. Telefónica has good coverage with their PCMCIA EV-DO cards.

Post

El Correo is the national postal company in Guatemala. It offers a wide range of services, including sending cards and packages both domestically as well as internationally. Most Guatemalan towns have a post office, although your best bet is to send mail from a large city. Service at El Correo is improving, thanks to consultation and assistance from Canada Post. Most post offices open from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Airmail letters to North America and Europe cost from Q6.50 and take a week or two to arrive. High-end hotels can usually send your mail for you, too. Expect packages you send through the Guatemalan mail system to take a very long time to arrive. They usually get there in the end, but it's worth paying extra for recorded delivery (correo registrado). Many stores can ship your purchases for you, for a cost. Valuable items are best sent with private express services. Couriers operating in Guatemala include DHL, UPS, and FedEx. Delivery within two to three business days for a 1-kg package starts at about Q500.

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Quick Facts

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Coordinates
  • Latitude: 14.553405
  • Longitude: -90.735255

Accommodation in Antigua (Guatemala)

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Antigua (Guatemala) searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Antigua (Guatemala) and areas nearby.

Antigua (Guatemala) Travel Helpers

This is version 19. Last edited at 8:12 on Aug 9, 17 by Utrecht. 10 articles link to this page.

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