Antigua is small enough to explore on your own..there is even a city map in front of La Merced.
On the other hand most people choose to skip a stay in Guatemala City and use Antigua as a base camp for their adventures. Inguat the national tourisim board for Guatemala has an office here with bilingual staff and plenty of information to help you with your stay...keep in mind that there are plenty of tour operators with offices in the city to assist also if you are interested in booking a tour with them. I used the website www.visitguatemala.com for some of my information but since the scope of my trip was limited to volunteer work with a bit of sightseeing in Antigua I did not spend time here...I did find the office on the other hand on Calle Oriente near 2nd Ave.
If you are in the need check it out...
However long you spend marvelling at La Antigua’s colonial architecture, poking around her ruins, shopping at her market stalls and eating in her restaurants, sooner or later the practicalities of life will intrude. Here are some tips for just those moments:
Although many places accept US$, you’ll need some Quetzales for purchases in places that cater mainly to locals (such as market stalls), and we also found that we got a better price when using them, so we decided to change some of our dollar bills. We were surprised not to see any dedicated Bureaux de Change around such a tourist-focused city. Instead the best place to change money proved to be the banks. There are a couple just a stone’s throw from each other – one on the corner of 5a Avenida Norte as it opens into the Parque Central, and the other a few doors along on the west side of the square. We used the latter as the queues were much shorter. We had to change a minimum of $100, and there was a flat fee of 12 Q regardless of the amount changed, so if you know you’ll be needing more it’s best to change it all at once.
Unlike some other places, stamps can’t be purchased in regular shops alongside the postcards you’ll be sending, but only in the post office. This is located opposite the market on the corner of 4a Calle Poniente and Calle Santa Lucia. It is open Monday to Friday 8.30 – 17.30, and Saturday mornings only. A stamp for a postcard to Europe cost 8 Q (November 2010 price).
We were lucky and had free internet access at our hotel, the Posada de Don Rodrigo, as do many in Antigua. But if you need access and have a wifi-enabled phone or laptop you can get free access in a few places. One is the Bagel Barn in 5a Calle Poniente (a couple of blocks west of Parque Central), and although we didn’t actually go inside, we found that we could log on to their network when we stopped for a delicious orange juice at the Black Cat hostel and café opposite!
Antigua lies in a valley (Panchoy) surrounded by three imposing and beautiful volcanoes. Glimpses of these can be had from almost anywhere in the city, and the views if you can get to even a slightly higher point (on top of the cloisters at La Merced for instance, and the roof of our hotel was also great!) are spectacular.
To the south is the nearest and perhaps the most impressive of them all, the Volcán de Agua or "Volcano of Water", which is 3,766 metres (12,356 ft) high. The local Kakchikel Mayas call it Hunapú, but the Spanish gave it its present-day name when a mud-slide from its 1543 eruption buried their then capital.
The other two volcanoes lie to the west of the city: Acatenango, 3,976 metres (13,045 ft) high, and the Volcán de Fuego or "Volcano of Fire", 3,763 metres (12,346 ft) high. Acatenango last erupted in 1972, but Fuego is almost constantly active at a low level. Smoke issues from its top daily, sometimes just a faint plume, but sometimes rather more dramatic, as we saw a few days after our visit to Antigua when passing on the road from Panajachel to Guatemala City (see photo 3). Fortunately larger eruptions are rare and you’re highly unlikely to experience one. Instead you will almost certainly find, as we did, that the volcanoes form a beautiful backdrop to this already beautiful city.
If you want to climb a volcano you can book a trip with any of the several tour agencies in the city – shop around for the best deal or try Antigua Tours (see my Things to Do tip)
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.
Fondest memory: Seeing the everyday life of Antiquenos amongst the colonial architecture and cobblestone streets
Cuba might be famous for its beautiful old cars out on the streets, but I was surprised by the great ones I've seen in the cobblestoned streets of Antigua. Of course the busses are attraction number one: in the city, like in every city in Guatemala, you will find dozens of these old American schoolbusses that are "pimped" with lots of chrome and lots of colourful paint.
And besides this you will also see some other beautiful automobiles. I bumbed into the beautiful red pick-up truck on the picture (I don't know the brand: I'm not an expert) and I found the ruins of another little car of which the windows were nothing but a piece of plastic. Even though there was hardly anything left of this one I still loved it. And completely coincidently it was just undertaken by its opposite, a Hummer, when I was near it. Nice picture... :)
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.
Just randomly walking around is the best way to explore Antigua. Don't go chasing the monuments you see in the travelguides (you will see them anyway) but just walk around and enjoy the every day life of the city. Even though the city is one of the important tourist-spots in Guatemala, you can still see enough unspoiled places.
One of the many nice details in the city are the many beautiful street signs you see on every wall near a crossing of cobble stoned streets. The STOP signs (ALTO in Spanish) and all the street names are written on china-tiles who all perfectly correspond with the theme-park looks the city has.
If you're planning a trip to Antigua, it's advisable to know about the cobbles - you may think you've seen cobblestones before, but believe me, these are huge. I have no idea how any motor vehicle survives more than a day driving around on them. As a result, high heels, strappy sandals and any shoes that aren't well-anchored to your feet may cause you to come a cropper. It's astonishing how not everyone is hobbling around on crutches. So, if you're wondering what to pack, it's best to leave the high heels at home.
Fondest memory: Everything - it's a wonderful place.
Antigua is somewhere that takes hold of you and doesn't let go. The evocative ruins, purple jacaranda trees, beautiful old buildings, lovely friendly people and its volcanoes are all magical. It's built in a grid system, so it's easy to orientate yourself, as long as you remember the extinct volcano, Agua, is to the south and the hill with the cross is to the north. Don't visit the cross on your own - the tourist police take groups regularly (check the times in their office, just off the Parque Central on 4a Ave Norte). Walking to the cross can be a dangerous route where muggers hang out, knowing there'll always be some tourists too cool to go with the police.
There are wonderful shops in Antigua - don't miss Chocotenango inside Deliciosa on 3a Calle Poniente, 2, which sells fab handmade chocolates (very expensive but worth it). There are also lots of great delis - worth seeking out - including a really good one on 6a Ave Sur, which sells organic and veggie food and is run by two really lovely men, who will make food up to order. It's one of the few places that sells cakes not covered in sickly artificial icing.
The market in Antigua, at the end of Calles 3a and 4a Poniente, is superb. Don't go there looking like you have anything expensive as pickpocketing is rife. You can get great bargains though - just make sure any food you buy there (such as vegetables, rice etc) is well and truly washed in safe water before eating it.
Fondest memory: I miss the atmosphere, the way everyone smiles and says Buenas Dias to strangers and the sight of the volcano Fuego smoking.
There is an abundance of little agencies in Antigua who can help you with any aspect of traveling throughout Guatemala. I booked a Pacaya volcano ascent and an airport shuttle from Adventure Travel Center, and the prices were quite reasonable.
www.adventravelguatemala.com (between the famous Arco and the Nim Po't shopping outlet)
Antigua Guatemala is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often said to be the best preserved colonial city in Spanish America. Its Spanish Colonial style is seen in its houses, churches, squares, parks, ruins, traditions and folklore.
Antigua is known for its natural beauty and historic monuments. Is also known for shopping - especially its crafs: terracotta, ceramics, wrought iron, silver and jade jewelry, wooden sculptures, carved furniture, traditional costumes, weavings, stonework, brasswork, jarcia, and traditional toys.
Antigua sits in a Highland valley (1,500 meters) by the amazing Agua Volcano (3,765 meters high). The active Acatenango volcano & the Fuego volcano are also nearby.
Neighboring towns and villages work a visit - Ciudad Vieja, Jocotenango, San Juan El Obispo, Santa María de Jesús, San Bartolomé Milpas Altas and Santa Catalina Barahona.
Places to visit while you are here:
The Plaza Mayor (Central Park)
The Palace of the Captain Generals
The Colonial Museum
The Historic Book Museum
The Santiago Museum or Palacio del Ayuntamiento (the municipality)
The churches of La Merced and San Francisco
The Ruins of Nuestra Señora del Pilar ( Las Capuchinas )
The ruins of Santa Clara
The ruins of San Agustín
Favorite thing: Antigua Tours was highly recommended by my Lonely Planet Guatemala guide. We called Antigua Tours and signed up for the three hour Antigua walking tour conducted by Elizabeth Bell who has written books on Antigua. We were so impressed with the tour that we signed up for four other tours: Coffee Plantation, Local Villages Tour, Chichicastenango, and Lake Atitlan. Although the prices were not cheap, the quality was excellent. So impressed with Elizabeth Bell was I that I purchased four of her books, one on the history of Antigua, another on the celebration of the religious season of Lent in Antigua and two children's books.
Favorite thing: The Antigua branch of the Instituto Guatemalteco del Turismo is located on the south side of the Parque Central and always good for decent information on the city. They also hand you out a map of the city.
Favorite thing: Gran Jaguar Tours on 4a calle west of the park is often if not always the cheapest agency for a variety of tours offered in and around Antigua as well as to many destinations in Guatemala and Honduras. Always check around... Here you can get a 1 day tour to Tikal with shuttle service to and from Guatemala city, round trip flight, park entrance, tour guide, meal and transport to Tikal for US$128. Be sure to book these types of tours a few days in advance, especially if you want to go on a weekend.
Favorite thing: This building at one time was the capital building of the government that rules all of Central America. It was called El Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales. Now The National Civil Police have offices there. To see more of Guatemala click on this Link
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