Introduction to Antigua, Guatemala
The sun rises, spilling over the rim of the mountains and touching the cobblestone streets and chilly air with warmth. The air seems to hold a radiance of purity that makes one take a deep breath for the gladness of morning. Later it becomes warm, but hardly ever with the sultry persuasiveness of lower climes.
Agua is the mountain guardian of the city; a once fiery one that the people feel may destroy them someday. As many who live within reaching distance of volcanos they do not trust its dormancy yet live without fear. Agua on most days appears as benign as the peaceful blue you see above in the photo though sometimes shrouded with clouds.
The streets are designed on a grid established north-south and east-west inspired by the Italian Renaissance. It remains one of the best examples of Latin American town planning and what remains of the 16th century.
Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala, established in 1524 as Santiago de Guatemala. The city was once claimed in fire and once by an earthquake, at which point the government deemed it better that the capital be at a safer location and the capital became the new Guatemala with this city given the respectability of age with the name "La Antigua Guatemala." Now it is a popular watering hole for locals, residents from Latin America, South America, Europe, and the U.S. They come for the hospitality that Antigua offers, and certainly the cobblestone streets and flowers everywhere don't hurt.
I, too, have come under its spell. I first visited 10 years ago as a teenager to work for a week. The next winter I returned to Guatemala to work at an orphanage for three months with a good friend. The winter after a group of us traveled there together for a month, and I returned again four years ago to spend 6 weeks in this fair city studying Spanish. We have become old and familiar friends, with faces that I recognize from previous trips walking those streets.
Antigua is the center for language studies due to the purity of the Spanish spoken here. I have learned 95% of the Spanish I know in Guatemala which probably makes it easier for me to understand them, but whenever I hear Spanish speakers from other countries it never seems as clear as a native Guatemalan speaker.
Guatemala has its issues, not the least of which is trying to recoup some of what they lost with the last corrupt President they had. Drugs, and moral crimes are big issues in Guatemala City, poverty stricken people in the deep country, and orphanages with conditions so unbearable it's caused a recent riot in an orphanage near San Jose Pinula. Antigua, however, seems to reflect very little turmoil, which is probably why it's a popular place for people from surrounding areas to spend a weekend, a Sunday afternoon, or for us from afar, a week at a time. It's full of peace and charm, old ruins and excellent food.
There are tons of day trips available from Antigua: hiking volanoes, zip lines, beaches, hot springs, lakes, markets, and camping. If you choose to stay in the city there are gorgeous little shops, streets, and restaurants everywhere. If you're into jewelry there are Jade artisans and shops dotted across the city with beautiful and ugly jewelry (subjective, I know).
They know how to bring out a romantic flair in their city.
If you keep your eyes peeled you may notice small events and fun concerts happening. This photo below is from a jazz concert several large businesses host every year; we just happened upon it while walking by and noticed they were setting up. This year they flew in a piano trio from Amsterdam called Elf Trio; my favorite song was "Dança da Fita."
In short. If you love perfect weather, flowers, colorful markets, romantic architecture and design, jewelry, the voluptuous flavors of Latino cuisine, intricate textiles, people-watching, and don't mind not flushing your toilet paper, this is the city for you. Que le vaya bien.