Antigua, a former colonial capital of Guatemala, is the country's most visited tourist destination. It is surrounded by three towering volcanoes, each over 3700 metres. It has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site due to it's magnificent churches and other colonial buildings, some restored and others in splendid collapse due to the many earthquakes which have impacted it over the four and a half centuries since it was founded in 1543.
Most of the intact and restored buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. And despite the many tourists who visit, Antigua remains an authentic Guatemalan town with a large indigenous population. The city of around 60,000 inhabitants is very walkable. It is a great place for a wander.
Here is our suggested walking tour of Antigua. You can easily do it in one day. Or if you're easily distracted as we are, spread it over a couple of leisurely days. After all what's the hurry?
The above map marks out the route to take. Follow Cally as she explores Antigua.
1. Parque Central
Start at Parque Central where you can check out the cathedral as well as the interesting fountain.
The park is also a good spot for people watching, especially on weekends.
2. Arco de Santa Catalina (St Catherine's Arch)
Head up Calle Arco de Santa Catalina and check out the arch. It was built as an addition to the Convento de la Merced (see #3) as a bridge enclosed in an arch that allowed the nuns to move from one part of the convent to another without being seen as it was a closed order. That is why the arch has no windows.
3. Iglesia y Convento de Nuestro Senora de la Merced. (Church and Convent of Our Lady of Mercy)
Cross the street at the end of the church and convent ruins that the arch relates to. The church has been hit many times by earthquakes with lots of rebuilding having taken place. It remains an impressive sight and is in active use by the community.
4. Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)
From the church head down 4th Ave Norte and right on Calle de las Animas and around to the steps that lead up the hill. Some guide books say that this area can be dangerous and some robberies have occurred here. So we checked beforehand and were told that there is strong security there until 5.00pm each day. This turned out to be true and there were many people coming and going so all was well.
The hill had great views of the town and volcanoes, especially Volcan Agua.
And yes, there is a cross on the hill.
5. Convento de Capuchinas
Head back down the hill and to the Convento de Capuchinas.
This was a convent of an order of nuns from Madrid founded in 1736. There are exhibits that give some impressions of religious life in colonial times. Entrance Q30/ $US4.
6. El Carmen Church and Mercado
It's only a short walk to the El Carmen Church. It's primarily the edifice of the original church.
It's also a good spot to pick up some indigenous handcrafts.
7. Restaurant Doña Luisa Xicotencatl
You will probably need a break by now so we suggest Restaurant Doña Luisa Xicotencatl (just don't ask us how to pronounce it). Set in a nice little courtyard it's a pleasant place to relax for a bit and have a coffee or refresco.
Even if you decide not to stop here make sure you at least call in and pick up some of their freshly baked, still hot, banana bread. Yum.
8. Santa Clara Church
Head down 2A Ave from North to South until you reach the partly restored Iglesia Santa Clara. It looks from the outside like it's just a facade but once inside there is much more to it including some attractive gardens and some great stonework. Entrance Q40/US$5
9. Iglesia San Francisco
A short walk from Santa Clara is the church and monastery of San Francisco. It was holding Sunday mass when we arrived so we didn't go in. Instead we explored the adjoining gardens and museum (Q7).
The main attraction in the museum is the story and relics relating to Hermano Pedro (Brother Pedro) who lived and worked at the monastery in the late 17th century and was credited with curing the sick. St Pedro is Guatemala's only saint.
Well that's about it. We headed back to Parque Central where we began our tour, which isn't far from Iglesia San Francisco.
If you still want more head NW to the Central Market, and a bit further north from there is Iglesia y Convento de la Recoleccion.
Happy walking and enjoy Antigua.