Antigua in Guatemala

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sat 30 Jul 2011 22:06
Everybody we spoke to before heading of to Antigua said what a wonderful place it was, perfect climate, amazing church ruins, beautiful scenery and wonderful people. After spending four nights there we wouldn't disagree with any of those sentiments - it provided us with some memorable moments and we would even consider a further visit before leaving Guatemala as there was still much to do and see. We stayed at the Centro Colonial Hotel just off the main square which provided simple but pleasant accommodation and all the hot running water a yachtie could wish for without a mosquito in sight. 
Located just off the main square, Colonial by name and very much colonial by style with open central courtyard and 'OK' rooms
View of the courtyard from the roof terrace..........                                                                                                             .............where most of us enjoyed early morning views
Having no in-house restaurant meant we had the enjoyable task of finding somewhere for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.  We did a fair amount of eating, the food being good value and on the whole to a very high standard.
                                      First day's breakfast venue ............. with volcano views - surely one of the best locations of a McDonald's anywhere in the world?
We took a guided tour of the town conducted by Elizabeth Bell, a long term USA ex pat resident who is a real 'mover and shaker' in the local NGA (Non Government Agency) organisation. She really knew about Antigua's history and it's present day problems which gave us a deep insight into how this old colonial city functions. She's been instrumental in helping to clean up many of the most popular tourist areas, whilst fighting hard to prevent the intrusion of shopping malls and other undesired businesses that plague many cities whilst also encouraging the authorities to keep the town free of rubbish. The result being that thousands flock there in the knowledge that this is a special place and they will be able to enjoy its treasures whilst being as safe and secure as it's possible to be in this part of the country.
Some quick facts.... The city stands at 5000 ft above sea level on a plateau surrounded by hills and three volcanoes, the highest being around 13,000 ft.  Volcan de Agua forms a dramatic southern backdrop and is the peak most often seen in photographs. To the west lie the twin peaks of Acatenango and Volcan de Fuego both of which are active. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of one emitting a puff of smoke and ash whilst enjoying our early morning rooftop visit at the hotel. The streets are of cobblestone with a distinct central drainage dip to ensure that the rainwater (there's plenty of it) stays out of the buildings. All recent properties are of only one story construction because of the volatility of the plates the area sits on.
               A load of cobbles -  so best to leave the stilettos at home when visiting Antigua
The whole area lies directly on a fault line which we can testify to as our bed briefly but disconcertingly shook from side to side one morning in Guatemala City whilst we were in it (no jokes please!) Antigua was the third capital of Guatemala and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the late 1800's after a series of devastating earthquakes the capital was finally moved to its current location which is Guatemala City and the population of Antigua diminished from a high of 60,000 to the 30,000 that live there today. What remains are the ruins of many churches as well as the cathedral of St Joseph, part of which still lies in ruin, whilst one wing incorporating the original entrance (with a roof) is retained for daily use and used by Mayan descendants whose religious beliefs appear to be planted in both camps. 
             St Joseph's Cathedral built by the Spanish and badly destroyed in the earthquakes of 1773 and (right) the original nave which is now roofless and strewn with toppled brick columns.................
...........................although restoration continues.                                                                         No-go area - collapsed part of the structure..............and ornate plasterwork still intact.
Antigua has many church ruins although the front facades still remain resolute - just.....
Part of the guide's tour included a visit to a Jade factory. Jade is big business in Central America and some of the finest pieces are made in Antigua where we were shown behind the scenes at the craftsman working the precious stone into objects to sell front of shop. They even make copies of Princess Diana's Jade necklace which was interspersed with diamonds - quite beautiful.
             Still cashing in? but the jade factory has remarkable jewellery.............                                  however not sure about the trainee 'dentist 'we saw out the back - but he appears to be getting plenty of practice!
There is an interesting market place providing every conceivable item you are likely to need, from beautiful fruit of all shapes and sizes, herbs and spices, vegetables, some known to us many not, meat (not always obvious as to its origin) and the tenacious sellers that will do their very best to get your business before you pass by. What a fantastic way to spend a few hours. We just love the markets. 
Antigua market stroll........                                                                        "They are the eggmen goo goo g'joob".....                                   Fantastic fruits - if we only knew what they all were?
                                                                                                                                                            as soon as the camera was pulled out - everyone vanished!                                                     
And then there were the roof top views from the hotel first thing in the morning before the cloud cover developed as it did every day............
                            Volcan de Agua    12,356 ft                                                                                                                                      and (we think)volcan de Fuego rewarded us with a puff of  smoke.......
                                                                                                                           which slowly dissipates to the west.
Next blog ...visit to a coffee plantation and some more views of Antigua....