Guatemala - Trip to Antigua
August 22, 2004
Initially I did not plan to see the downtown of Guatemala City (Zona 1). Guidebooks usually discourage tourists from coming here because of high crime. Luckily, we had friends who know the area. On Sunday morning they took us (with my Belgian colleague) on a city tour in a car. In the southern suburb (Zona 10), there are usually well-maintained office buildings and restaurants. In downtown, however, there are old city houses in a bad condition. Facades still tell that this used to be a wealthy area in the past - something like Schaarbeek in Brussels, for those who know it. This is now over. Nowadays, it seems that only lower classes live here. A long straight road takes us to the central square - Plaza Mayor. We get off the car and walk through the crowd around market stands. In one corner we can see a small group of demonstrators protesting against Pepsi, but only a few people listen to them. We are however interested in two most important monuments - National Palace (originaly the office of the President, nowadays an art gallery) and St James' Cathedral. We stay here only a few minutes, get back in the car and drive out of the city. On the way, we can see the modern buildings of central bank and justice department close to a bus station. If you plan coming here, take a look at a city map (you can find others on the web, but their quality is usually bad; it is better to take the effort and buy one).
We are leaving Guatemala City and approach the most attractive city - Antigua Guatemala. It used to be the capital of Spanish Central America until the end of the 18th century. Then a huge earthquake destroyed it and the government moved to a newly founded Guatemala City. Present Antigua is a pleasant small town with many ruins of colonial buildings (UNESCO World Heritage Site), language schools and of course many tourists. The atmosphere is relaxed, unlike in the capital. As one tourist wrote, "Antigua is easy". No wonder many visitors choose Antigua as a starting point for their trips around Guatemala.
We started our tour in the former monastery Casa Santo Domingo, ruined by an earthquake and in 1989 rebuilt into a luxury hotel. You can walk in the park and observe ruins, an old crypt and museum exhibits. Then we drove through the center, visited a market of fabrics, took a distant look at a volcano and ended up in a restaurant for a late lunch. Time has passed quickly and in the evening we came back to the capital.
© Jan Peula, 2004