Exploring La Antigua, Guatemala
La Antigua, Guatemala is located in southern Guatemala about 40 kilometers (24 miles) southwest of Guatemala City although most people refer to La Antigua as Antigua and the location as being in the central highlands of the country because of the mountainous region and vegetation. La Antigua, Guatemala means “the old Guatemala” and was established as the third capital of the country in the middle of the 16th century by the Spanish conquistadors after two other sites were abandoned. In the 18th century after several earthquakes, the capital was moved to the present site – Guatemala City – although Antigua was never abandoned completely by its citizens.
The center of Antigua has a park known as “Parque Central” which means “Central Park” and is shown as “Parque” on the map. The town is laid out in a grid pattern with the avenidas going north (norte or “nte” for short) and south (sur) and the calles going east (oriente or “ote” for short) and west (poniente or “pte” for short).
The downtown part of Antigua is approximately ten square blocks that are very easy to navigate by foot. Wear sensible shoes as the sidewalks can be uneven and cracked.
- Walking Tour of Antigua
- Arco de Santa Catalina
- La Merced
- CFCE- Antigua (Spanish Cultural Center)
- Catedral de San Jose
- Las Capuchinas
Elizabeth Bell is probably the most knowledgeable and well-known tour guide in Antigua. Although she looks like she just stepped out of Westport, Connecticut with her crisp white blouse, khakis and brown bob, Elizabeth Bell navigates Antigua like a seasoned pro. Her company, Antigua Tours was established in 1992 and she offers a variety of tours and excursions.
A guided Antigua Walking Cultural Tour by Elizabeth Bell is offered four days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday) from 9:30 – 12:30 for $20 (includes tour, entrance fees to sites, and refreshments). On Monday and Thursday, the same tour with a different guide is offered from 2:00 – 5:00. In addition, tours to a local village, coffee finca (farm), a canopy adventure park, and a tour up Picaya (an active volcano) are offered. Refer to the website listed below or call the toll-free number to speak to a representative (who is fluent in English).
US Toll Free: 1 866 672 6089
The church as been fully restored and tourists are free to enter. Inside there are ruins of a monastery which have not been restored. Located just past the Arch, the address of La Merced is 1 Calle Poniente and 6 Avenida Norte.
The facilities are located two blocks from the Parque Central and take up a very large block of space with multiple buildings and gardens. In addition, there is a restaurant inside. Walk through the beautifully restored buildings and even if your understanding of Spanish is limited, the exhibit (currently, a photography exhibit) is worth viewing. The building signage is not good and the viewing of exhibits may require backtracking (instead of exiting) but the staff are very helpful in pointing visitors in the right direction.
Hours are not posted so best to call or have the concierge at the hotel call.
La Antigua Guatemala
La Antigua Guatemala
There are several other ruins and small museums in Antigua which can be discovered through a walking tour or by consulting with the Antigua Tours office listed above.
- The quetzal is the local currency and the current exchange rate is: 8 quetzales equals 1 US dollar (each quetzal is approximately 13 US cents).
- Tipping is not required but most restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. For small cafes, most patrons leave the change.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution when adventuring out at night.
- Do not keep your wallet in a back pocket and do not carry a purse. Instead, use your front pockets or an interior money belt.
- If using a taxi, always negotiate the rate before getting into the taxi. If language assistance is needed, use the concierge or an employee of the hotel to assist you.
- An alternative to the taxi is the “toot-toot” – a three wheel canopy covered vehicle that holds up to 2 passengers. The toot-toot is a quick way to get around town quickly, especially after shopping.
- Semana Santa – Easter Week – is the busiest tourist week when most hotels require a minimum 5 night stay. Reservations also need to be made far in advance because the hotels fill up quickly this time of year.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes as all the streets are uneven stone and the sidewalks have cracks. Also, watch your head as you are walking on the sidewalks as windows extend out.
- The “Revue” is a free magazine published monthly in English that is a great reference guide for visitors and locals alike. Most hotels have copies and the magazine is available all over town. Or, go to their website: www.revuemag.com
- Another free magazine called “Que Pasa” is also published monthly in both English and Spanish (on alternate pages) also focuses on events in Antigua and is a good resource. Or go to their website: grupoquepasa.com
- In calling Guatemala from the US, dial 011 502 7 and then the last seven digits. If calling from within Guatemala, dial 7 and then the last seven digits.
- Upon arrival, obtain a town map from the front desk of your hotel to orientate yourself with the town.
- The US Embassy is located in Guatemala City at Avenida Reforma 7-01, Zona 10. The phone number is 00 502 2 326 45 01 and the emergency number is 00 502 2 331 23 54. The website is: guatemala.usembassy.gov