Antiqua - Guatemala
28 October 2017 | Antiqua - Guatemala
Chilly – a refreshing change from hot and humid Rio
IMAGE – collage of Antiqua
The members of our Ocean Cruising Club arranged a 5 day, 4 night inland trip in Guatemala at the end of October.
Our base for the 4 nights was the beautiful city of Antiqua. Antiqua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its well-preserved Spanish colonial buildings and cobbled streets. The city is laid out in a grid pattern, with streets running north to south and east to west, a bit like a chess board, with a Parque Central (Central Park) the centre of all the activity. Thankfully our Hotel was just a short walk from the Central Park – so we were right amongst the action.
Antiqua is also surrounded by 3 enormous volcanoes, Volcan de Agua (Water Volcano), Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano) and Volcan de Acatenango. It was once the capital city of Guatemala but after several devastating earthquakes in 1773, the Spanish Crown ordered the capital to be relocated to a safer location Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion (The Valley of the Shrine), where Guatemala City, the modern capital of Guatemala now stands.
Being part of a ’tour group’ it not usually our thing – but one of the advantages here in Antiqua was having a ½ day guided tour in English led by local guide Luis. After walking through the town, our first stop was a tough hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) at the north of the city. We climbed 333 steps to reach the summit of the hill where the cross stands, and were greeted by phenomenal views over the city. As it was still relatively early in the morning, we could quite clearly see the volcanoes (it tends to cloud over in the afternoons, obscuring the view). Volcan de Fuego is a still active volcano that regularly spews smoke from its pointed cone. We were lucky enough to witness one of these 'puffs' from our vantage point by the cross.
Many of the houses we passed, although brightly coloured, looked fairly unremarkable. We were told by Luis not to judge a book by its cover. He explained that many of the houses had beautiful courtyards inside, and he showed us a typical layout by taking us into the Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo. Once through the very thick original wooden doors, we were greeted by the first of three picturesque courtyards.
We also paid a visit to a Jade Museum, where they showed us Jadeite jade that is only found in Guatemala and Burma. This jade, which is quite different from the type of jade found elsewhere in the world, was highly prized by the Ancient Mayan people of Mesoamerica. They used it to decorate masks. We saw the jadeite being cut and polished by workers onsite, and some copies of ancient Mayan artefacts made from this precious stone.
Cocoa was also highly prized by the Mayans. In fact, it was more valuable to them than gold and they used to use it as a form of currency. There was a Chocolate Museum in Antigua, made from locally sourced cocoa beans, so it would have been rude not to pop in and sample their wares! The 70% cocoa variety was absolutely delicious, if not a bit pricey.
Next on our tour was a visit to the Cathedral which was originally built in 1541, but suffered several earthquakes throughout its history.
Our last port of call on the tour was the Parque Central (Central Park), which is in the centre of the city. A fairly large fountain dominates this small, pretty park.
The rest of the day we were left to wander around the city by ourselves and browse in the many shops. We were surprised at just how cosmopolitan the city was. It had many lovely restaurants and shops, and was unlike anywhere else in Guatemala that we had experienced to date. At night, the city had the vibe of any town in Spain, with families of all ages out until late, having a good time.