When asked about our favourite places we often sigh, as every traveller knows it’s nearly impossible to choose one place over another. Especially when each place has such a repertoire of wandering memories and experiences.
However much we hate to be asked it, there is no stopping it being asked… One place that always appears in our top 10 is the surprise package of Guatemala. Yes Guatemala! sounds like a strange one doesn’t it? I mean it’s not a location may people think of when you look at the strong competition.
We had no expectations of Guatemala when we booked our Central American tour with Intrepid Travel, we simply wanted a flavour of true Latin America. After touring the Mexican and Belizean coast lines we made our way to Guatemala. First stops were Flores and Tikal, which I previously blogged about. The second was a coastal retreat of Rio Dulce however the third stop was the awe inspiring Antigua, and that is what I will concentrate on here.
Antigua is a small city lying just 40 km east from Guatemala City and is not surrounded by the turquoise Caribbean waters. Antigua has something much more impressive – a huge range of active cone volcanoes that truly house a different kind of beauty. We have never experienced the awe of waking up living on the edge of a volcano, its incredible. The largest of the volcanoes is to the south and named Volcan de Agua at 3,766 metres high it dominated everything around. The downside of such magnificence is that Antigua is highly prone to the mother nature’s true force, volcanic magma and frequent earthquakes. Luckily we were not privy to either, but the town itself has been subjected to it constantly over time.
Its truly intriguing to stand in the shadow of natures powerhouses, not really knowing if/when they will next erupt or literally move the earth beneath our feet. Its also incredible that a full city of people choose to live here and subject themselves to such doubt on a daily basis! Saying that the city itself is so incredibly beautiful we were intoxicated by its ambience.
The centre of the city is renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings, many of them that have been restored from the elemental damage inflicted upon them. It’s like going back in time to colonial days with archways, bell towers, and coloured buildings littering the historic cobbled streets. One such breathtaking building is the 18th century La Merced Church which glows a bright yellow in colour. Interestingly a number of old churches have been left in ruin and they serve as a constant reminder that the inhabitants are merely squatting in nature’s backyard.
Don’t let the historic elements fool you, Antigua also has a booming tourist industry which is no surprise really as the dramatic beauty is simply intoxicating. Bars and restaurants are a dime a dozen and the food is wonderful. Traditional shops also are very easy to find, some concentrating on the popular chocolate makers, yet some house an eclectic range of pottery and arts – it’s truly a wonder. The sellers and locals are also true salt of the earth folk and added to the friendly experience.
One benefit of travelling on a tour was that we were escorted to a popular scenic spot of Cerro de la Cruz by the town police themselves. This was a fun experience, sitting in the back of a police truck being hauled up a mountain. However this location reminded us that Antigua along with countless other locations in Central America are not always safe. Stories of tourist muggings and robberies who stray from the safety of the centre or take on the ascent of mountains themselves are more than common. You always need to have your wits about you, but in all honesty you need these anywhere – including London, LA or Sydney! Cerro de la Cruz houses an incredible view of the city and Volcano and is well worth the investment of a police escort.
Unfortunately we were met by cloud on our ascent but it was still breathtaking.
If your ever given the opportunity to visit Guatemala – my recommendation is that you immediately say YES! Antigua is truly like no other city we have ever visited, it was incredible and a true wandering memory experience.
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