Nestled below three volcanoes Antigua served as the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, which stretched from southern Mexico down to Costa Rica, for over 200 years. Today it is a beautiful city whose development was pretty much arrested in 1979 after the entire city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, much of the city has restrictions and buffer zones related to new developments preserving the original grid of north-south and east-west streets laid out in the 16th century. Even before the 1979 designation, on a national level, Guatemala started protecting Antigua as early as 1944. And nature itself may have been Antigua's largest benefactor when an earthquake hit the area in the late 1700's prompting to move the capital to Guatemala City. As a result of the earthquake and relocation of the Guatemalan government seat, much of Antigua was abandoned leaving many of the previous centuries monuments in ruins but untouched. As a result of natural disasters, population relocation and civic polices, Antigua offers a truly unique view into the early Spanish colonization of Central America.
The city is small and very accessible. The streets are well maintained and many still cobblestone. The sidewalks are complete and very clean. There isn't a day I don't see people walking around cleaning the streets and picking up liter. Chicken buses bustled through the streets taking people on day trips to the surrounding volcanoes, lakes, Guatemala City and who knows where else. One regret I have is not taking more photographs of all the chicken buses. There were so many of them and all unique. Some more basic school buses with some sort of colorful paint job, others were sparkling clean, chromed out to the teeth (some even have teeth), many of them had some saint or another religious reference pointing observers to Jesus. There is a coffee table book to be had in all those chicken buses.
We endure our first hotel the couple of nights thinking that is all the time we will be staying, but we ended up staying a few more days. Luckily the original hotel didn't have room for the following nights and we are forced to move. As a result we end up in a much nicer, free of tiny ants, albeit smaller, room.
The days are spent enjoying the scenery and history of the city, and exploring the numerous little shops selling speciality coffee, perfumes, teas, chocolates, clothes you name it there is a speciality shop.
Of course we meet several more travelers: A couple of ladies from South Africa exploring Central America for the first time, a displaced Cincinnati Bengals fan, ex-military re-inventing themselves in the clothing industry, retired venture capital backers, skeevy old men looking for young ladies. It seems if you wait around long enough about everyone will pass through. Oddly enough we bump into Dasher, whom we met in Flores. We enjoy the ceremonial city square Christmas lighting together and then have a ripping good time at Freda's enjoying great food and a long evening of musical stylings of the guest Costa Rican band.
I spent one evening in the park reading and writing by myself. I eventually am engaged with an Antiguan youth, maybe in his early twenties. The conversation starts off with books, and as time moves on and we pass some titles back and forth, I notice our conversation is growing into a group. At first one or two slightly younger, and then after about thirty minutes the conversation circle encompasses at least a dozen people ranging from early twenties to pre-teens. How is this happening well past 10 p.m.? What is going on? I am thinking "Where are your parents?" and then I abruptly stand up and walk away ending the conversation upon noticing one of the pre-teens hands reaching into my shorts pocket. I think I am robbed, but later realize I didn't go out with any money, I left it all in the hotel.
There are also numerous coffee shops, bars, and restaurants of all flavors it seems. You can find quality Guatemalan food, Mexican food, US Southern BBQ and of course an Irish bar complete with sheperd's pie. The Irish bar is one of about a half a dozen Ex-pat bars in the city.