Antigua en Guatemala. Once the country’s capital, Antigua lost this status following a tremendous earthquake in the year 1773.
A charming colonial city filled with quaint, cobbled streets, pastel-colored buildings and magnificent churches, Antigua invites visitors to marvel at one of Guatemala’s greatest architectural gems. Set against the background of three mighty volcanic peaks in the country’s central highlands, Antigua has become a traveler favorite in recent years thanks to its enchanting appearance, rich history and close proximity to the vast, azure waters of Lake Atitlan. However, although the hilltop city remains a hub of tourist activity all year round, it is Antigua’s incredibly-lively Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations which attract foreign crowds in their thousands.
- Once the country’s capital and known by the name of Santiago (1543-1773), Antigua lost this status following a tremendous earthquake as the Guatemalan government decided to move the capital to its present-day location in Guatemala City.
- A prized commodity in Guatemalan trade, coffee is grown in abundance in the areas surrounding Antigua and visitors are welcome to partake in the large number of coffee plantation tours on offer.
Immediately capturing the attention of tourists owing to the grandness of their structures, Antigua’s numerous churches are arguably the highlight of a trip to this religiously-orientated society. Beginning with the imposing Catedral de Santiago, visitors are often surprised when venturing beyond the beautifully-restored, whitewashed façade to find a building still bearing the scars of a turbulent history. Left in ruins following the earthquake of 1773, the cathedral combines beautifully-reproduced, archway moldings with cracked walls, sprouting vegetation and a roofless main section and it is precisely this juxtaposition which makes the building so visually striking. Equally suffering from the destructive power of the earthquake but almost completely restored in modern day, the Iglesia y Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Merced is the real winner, however, when it comes to spectacular church facades. Bright yellow in color and adorned with intricate, white patterns, the baroque-style building is certainly not easy to miss and reminds visitors of the pride taken by 18th Century architects to construct a suitably elaborate place of worship.
Hardly surprising given the visible prominence of religion in the Guatemalan city, Antigua’s annual Semana Santa is renowned for being one of the largest and most flamboyant in the Spanish-speaking world. From the vibrantly-decorated alfombras (carpets) which cover the city’s long streets to the dark purple robes of procession participants to the colossal statues of Christ, the apostles and the Virgin Mary, Holy Week is a true spectacle of color and adoration. Taking place during the week leading up to Easter, visitors are left in awe as they observe the highly-symbolic, religious festival unroll before their curious eyes.
Having explored the best of the city’s sights and witnessed the colorful Semana Santa rituals, tourists are often keen to end their whirlwind Antigua sightseeing tours with a hike up to Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross). Not only offering a beautiful birds-eye view of the picturesque city below, the hilltop viewing point also enables tourists to admire the sheer majesty of the volcanoes ahead which represent but a taster of the breathtaking natural landscapes present throughout Guatemala.