Antigua Guatemala is one of my favorite places on earth. Relatively small (population ~30k), picturesque and relatively safe. The Guatemalan gov't has provided "Tourist Police" for Antigua for a few years now and it shows. If you look back at travel guides from the late 1990s and back to the 1970s, Antigua had a pretty bad rap as an unsafe place where pickpockets and worse out numbered the locals. Not anymore.

La Antigua Guatemala is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala, about 45 minutes from the Guatemala City airport. Antigua is famous for its well-preserved Spanish Plateresque architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruined churches. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

La Antigua Guatemala means the "Old Guatemala" . It has an incredible number of historic buildings and ruins from the colonial era.

The rap on Antigua is that it looks like Disney designed a Latin American town. The buildings are painted in a limited palette of ochers and reds (ok, a few exceptions) and the climate is “eternal spring”. I’ve been there in the rainy season and dry times and frankly I like the rain – it washes the streets a bit in the afternoons.

Central Park (Parque Central) is the heart of the city. The reconstructed fountain there is a popular gathering spot. Hawkers offer shoe shines and trinkets, but they are not too pushy. Just a few blocks from Parque Central is the Arco de Santa Catalina which just may be the most photographed structure in all of Guatemala. Antigua is noted for its very elaborate religious celebrations during Lent (Cuaresma), leading up to Holy Week (Semana Santa) and Easter. If you are planning on being in Antigua for Semana Santa, book your reservations well ahead – half a year ahead is not too early.

There are many Spanish language schools located in Antigua, because "the Spanish is spoken with an extremely pure accent making it easy to be understood throughout Latin America"

We stayed at the Black Cat Hostel our first night in Antigua, and the Black Cat has much to recommend it if you are a youthful backpacker type. The Black Cat has a great breakfast that comes free with your stay. However we found having to elbow your way through the popular bar/restaurant to get to your room was a bit much, especially when we had traveled all day by Chicken Bus and were drop dead tired when we got there.

We moved over to our most extravagant digs of the trip, el Posada Don Valentino for our last 4 nights in Guatemala. Don Valentino has a great internet cafe in the courtyard, and clean rooms, cable TV and private baths for a very reasonable price. (less than a Motel 6). We had budgeted about $7.00 - $10.00 per person per night for our trip and by the time we got to Antigua we were under budget. Our stay at Don Valentino put us over budget but not by much.

If you stay at Don Valentino, the building next door has an ice house that provides ice for street vendors. In the early AM they saw ice into blocks for the vendors, which is pretty loud. You might not hear this if your room is located on the first floor. The second floor courtyard rooms were pretty loud. The noise only lasted for a half an hour or so, but it was way too early for this traveler.

Since our summer trip I have stayed at Los Nazerenos, which I recommend highly. It has very nice staff and a quiet picturesque courtyard around which all the rooms are arranged. Also Casa Rustica is nice, very close in to el Parque Central.

More on Guatemala after our next visit in summer 2008.

Check Out: Casa Rustica

The Black Cat

Los Nazerenos

Don Valentino

Prices have changed recently due to the US dollar fluctuations so please check prices with an online booking agent or directly with a hotel / hostel via email.