Antigua is probably the cutest town in all of Guatemala, with cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and a huge volcano looming over the city.
In fact, the entire town is a UNESCO world heritage site.
As adorable as it is, luck was never on Antigua’s side. It’s really a wonder the city still exists. First it was destroyed by fire. Then, it was completely buried by an earthquake and avalanche combo. And then it was hit again in the 1770s with another disastrous earthquake. The government at this point had enough (can’t blame them), and ordered to move the capital to a completely different and safer location. Ie. Today’s Guatemala City.
At this point Antigua was left to become ruins, which is where it got it’s name of “Antigua Guatemala”, meaning “Old Guatemala“. However, a few people chose not to leave and worked to rebuild their city. As a result, today’s Antigua feels like a step back in time. So much so that the city remains one of the world’s best preserved colonial cities.
A Color Explosion
There are a couple of ways you know you’ve arrived in Antigua:
One is when you are suddenly jostled violently in your car on the cobblestone roads that make up every street in Antigua.
The other is once you are surrounded by a rainbow of colors, as all the buildings are mostly one-story and painted in a variety of colors.
The many colors add to the charm of the city!
Antigua is built in a rectangular grid with numbers for streets and avenues (Calles and Avenidas), ranging from 1 to 7. This is something common for us back home in Canada, but a system that we don’t see in many other places. We like it because it makes it very easy to get around.
A Town of Ruins
With the devastating earthquake that stole Antigua’s capital city title also came the destruction of many of the city’s churches, monasteries and convents. What’s interesting is that these have been left in a state of disrepair and are now open as monuments to visit. Many of them have been taken over by flowers and ivy, and feel more like gardens.
Walking through them takes you back to the destruction of that time period, as you can literally see church spires toppled upside down into the ground and church altars crumbled in.
Pimp My Ride: School Bus Version
Have you ever wondered what happens to the old, abandoned school buses from your childhood?
Well, you’ll be happy to know they start a happy, colorful new life in Latin America.
Apparently once a school bus has reached 10 years of age or 250 000 km they are sold at auction, and often go down to Mexico and Guatemala.
They then undergo a “pimp my ride” kind of revolution, and come out as flashy new buses with big shiny grills, flashing disco lights, and booming sound systems. The bus drivers also decorate them with any stickers or paraphernalia that represent their style, including Christian sayings, nude female silhouettes, wrestlers they like, etc.
These buses are one of the most affordable ways to get around town. They are usually crammed full of passengers and get the name “chicken bus” because sometimes livestock is transported in them along with the people. It’s hard not to look when they come roaring down the street!
As cool as it is, this is also one of the most dangerous jobs in Guatemala and in fact, the entire world. Bus drivers are often victims of violence as these buses drive through gang territory, particularly in Guatemala City. It is estimated that nearly one bus driver loses their life per week in Guatemala.
Terraces with a View
On a happier note, the surrounding volcanoes and mountains of Antigua offer a lovely view for sitting on a terrace. Many of the restaurants in Antigua offer a terrace view, and it was hard to pass up the opportunity!
Tomorrow we roast marshmallows over lava… More on that soon.
Accommodations: We highly recommend the hotel we stayed at, Good Hotel. 100% of the profit goes back to the community, building new schools in Guatemala. The hotel was just recently built, so it is new with a minimalistic and clean look. The shower was the best one we’ve had in Guatemala! The food and drinks are also great (though expensive by Guatemalan standards), with a lovely outdoor courtyard.
Food: We couldn’t resist the tacos at Cactus Taco Shop. We wouldn’t normally say this, but go see the McDonalds just to see how fancy it is!
Sites: Santa Catalina Arch. Cerro de la Cruz. La Recoleccion Architectural Complex. People watch at the Plaza Central Park. Hike a nearby volcano (Pacaya, Acatenengo).