Antigua Guatemala

Just west of the capital of Guatemala City rests the former capital city of La Antigua Guatemala. Founded by Spanish conquistadors on March 10, 1543, Antigua Guatemala retains many historic edifices that qualify it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the oldest and best-preserved Latin American cities, church ruins and immaculate New Baroque-style Spanish architecture characterize this popular Guatemalan tourist stop. The Antigua travel season is at its height during the warm and dry season between Christmas and Easter. Most famous for hosting the Western Hemisphere's largest Lent and Easter celebrations, Antigua travel during Holy Week rewards visitors with the chance to witness the elaborate processions that make their way through the streets during this all important Guatemalan festival and Antigua holiday. North Americans and Europeans also flock to Antigua between June and August to arrange an Antigua tour, lend a hand volunteering, or to study Spanish at one of Antigua's more than 75 quality Spanish language schools.

Upon its founding, Antigua Guatemala was originally referred to as Santiago de los Caballeros and for over 200 years it served as the military governor's seat of the Spanish colony of Guatemala. Antigua, being prone as it is to earthquakes, floods and fires, lost its capital status in 1776, mainly due to a series of 1773 earthquakes that laid much of the town in ruins. In the safer nearby Valley of the Shrine, Guatemala City rose to become the area's new capital, and Antigua would change its name to La Antigua Guatemala, meaning "The Old Guatemala". Today, Antigua travel retains a flare for the historic, and quite often upon arriving, visitors get the sense that they have stepped back in history. However, this sleepy colonial town of some 45,000 current inhabitants offers modern travel amenities among attractions that suit an array of travel tastes.

Speaking of tastes, those on an Antigua vacation stop will notice a nice variety of Antigua restaurants serving tasty and traditional Guatemalan food as well as international flavors. Shifting morning glances between the steam from your rich Guatemalan coffee and the ever present steam rising from the volcano of fire makes for quite a breakfast. Antigua's culinary options are complimented by a selection of Antigua hotels that just as aptly offer choices for a range of budgetary and preferential tastes. In fact, Antigua is noted for its hotel options, with low to high-end selections that retain their own inherent charms. While Antigua is not known as a party town, you can have quite a good time grabbing drinks at some of the more popular bars after dinner. You are likely to bump into fascinating fellow travelers, meet some friendly locals or share laughs with language students with a night on the town.

Strolling Antigua's cobblestone streets reveals picturesque gems majestically set against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty. Dating from the mid-1500"s, the Cathedral of Santiago, the Church and Convent de Nuestra Señora de la Merced and the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo represent some of downtown Antigua's most historic city center icons. Antigua's art galleries and exhibits join other cultural tourism attractions in the performing arts and popular arts. The city center's Proyecto Cultural El Sitio, found at 5a Calle Poniente, offers arts and cultural exhibitions from theater events to music and dance events. You'll find colonial-era artifacts, including portraits and statues at the Museum of Santiago (at City Hall) and you can round out your cultural adventure at the Museum of Colonial Art. Surrounded by City Hall, the Captain's Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral, downtown Antigua's Central Park, or Plaza Mayor, is among the finest plazas in all the country.

Between cultural stops, Antigua travel satisfies shoppers looking for unique gifts and keepsakes and adventure-seekers looking to enjoy the surrounding highlands on an Antigua tour. While Antigua shopping, peruse hand-crafted delights, ranging from traditional toys and costumes to ceramics, wooden sculptures and silver and jade jewelry. The Antigua Market is a colorful, if not chaotic, gathering place, where especially on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, a wonderful array of goods can be bought and sold, including the unique crafts of the local Mayan women. Changing pace with an Antigua tour could have you exploring the city or heading out and about for a taste of nature. Dominating the Antigua horizon are three volcanoes that rise up between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. Climbing, biking, birdwatching and horseback riding among them are some of the available Antigua tour options. A 1-day hiking tour to see floating lava and peer inside the crater at the nearby Pacaya Volcano, for example, is sure to impress anyone in your group. Lake Atitlán also makes for a popular Antigua tour option. An Antigua tour offers a surprisingly affordable and remarkably memorable boost to your charming Antigua vacation.

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