Elizabeth Bell Tours
We're of the opinion that it's worth the money to take a walking tour of a city we've never been before in order to get a local insight that goes beyond what you might usually read in a guidebook. Written up in our Lonely Planet guidebook, we decided to meet up for one of Elizabeth Bell's tours. An author of many books on Antigua, Ms. Bell runs Antigua Tours which offers serveral different tours including a 3-4 hour walking cultural tour. No need to necessarily sign up in advance, we met the group at the appointed hour in the Parque Central. Included in the tour were visits to the Palacio del Ayuntamiento, Catedral de Santiago including the ruins section, the interior of what used to be typical Antigueno homes (now used by organizations or hotels), and a visit to a jade factory. The jade factory visit, while interesting smacked a bit too much of commercialism for my blood. Next time I might seek out a different a different tour outfit. Seeing the everyday life of Antiquenos amongst the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets
Stalls and salesmen
Antigua wouldn't be the same without it countless little stalls and salesmen in its streets. Especially near the city centre you will see them on every corner of the street. Most of the times they have their own, hand-made, little cart with them that they use as their mini-shop. And sometimes they just use the pavement as their store.
The most popular product they sell definitely are fruits. Bananas, mango's but most of all oranges. You can buy them like they are or you can have them pealed and even chopped into perfect pieces. Other stuff you will find almost everywhere are coffee and other drinks, newspapers and magazines and sweets and icecreams for the children. You also have a good chance to see a musician or other streetartists.
Consecrated in 1736,...
Consecrated in 1736, Capuchinas was the last convent founded in Santiago, for the first time in the history of the city, no dowry was required, a practice, which had prevented under privileged girls from entering the religious orders. Capuchinas is a magnificent example of an eighteenth century convent.
Corpus Christi Celebration
No where near as elaborate or as touristy as the Semana Santa celebrations, the Corpus Christi celebration on the second weekend in June is an interesting view into local Antigueno life without the hassles of large crowds and inflated lodging rates. There's a parade with fireworks outside the Catedral de Santiago on the Parque Central on Friday night. On Sunday following mass at the Iglesia de la Nuestra Senora de la Merced, there's a procession marked by fireworks, music, blessings, and a procession around the northwest neighborhood of Antigua that follows ornamental carpets made from dried leaves and pine needles. These tapete are not nearly as elaborate or colorful as the alfrombra seen during Semana Santa but they are wonderful to see nonetheless. We were lucky enough to see these in Antigua and in Solola the weekend before.
San Juan del Obispo
Our tour with Victor of Antigua Tours (see Things to Do tip) took us to three very different villages in the area, of which San Juan del Obispo was the first. This also happens to be where Victor was born and it was interesting visiting it with him.
The village lies to the south of the city, in the shadow of the Volcan de Agua. It is most famous for the palace of Guatemala's first bishop, Bishop Francisco Marroquin, who lived during the 16th century and was instrumental in the construction of Antigua as the nation’s new capital. The palace is now a convent, but visitors are admitted if they ring the bell at a sensible hour of the day, and from what I’ve read may be offered a tour by one of the nuns, although we were taken round by Victor. The building was destroyed in the 1970s by floods and restored with funding from UNESCO. As well as the convent it houses a small museum devoted to the life of Bishop Marroquin (pictures, furniture, mementoes), and the nuns host guests who want to experience a retreat in these peaceful surroundings. The most impressive “sight” here however is the small chapel, with its altar of real gold dating back to 1563. You can’t enter the chapel but can peer through the doorway. Photography is apparently forbidden but Victor encouraged me to grab one shot quickly, while no nuns were passing! (photo 2).
Leaving the convent we walked a little way up the hill and round to the right to arrive in front of the much larger village church (photo 3) which lies behind it. This also has an impressive 16th century gold altar but this one has been much restored and the gold is no longer the real thing. If you go up the steps next to the main door you will get a good view down into the church itself, and, looking outwards, of the plaza in front of it.
Leaving the church we walked full circle back to the front of the convent where we had parked, passing the school where Victor had studied and a couple of small local shops (photo 4). The overall atmosphere was peaceful, even a little sleepy. Then the quiet was interrupted by the sound of the church bells tolling, and we heard what seemed to be music approaching. It sounded like a parade and indeed it was, of a sort. Victor explained that this was a funeral, but that rather than being the mournful affair that you might have elsewhere, in Guatemala as in Mexico the people have little fear of death, and instead mark it with a celebration of the person’s life to mark their moving on into the next one.
With the sound of the musicians approaching we left the people to their commemoration and headed for the next village, San Pedro Huertas.
Directions A couple of miles north of the city – you can take a chicken bus from the bus terminal behind the market if not on a tour.