La Antigua, or just Antigua, is a resplendent city in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and often touted as the most beautiful city in the Maya region, Antigua is home to a stunning array of Spanish (colonial) baroque architecture, colourful churches, bustling markets, cobble-stoned streets and charming squares. The site of the city, at the foot of three volcanos, is equally stunning. Wherever you are in the city, either of the volcanos continuously looms in the backdrop. The closest volcano, Volcan Agua, is a towering 3,766 meters high and has been dormant since the 16th century – it is possible to hike to its summit where a breathtaking panorama awaits. The Volcan de Fuego (3,863 meters), slightly further away from Antigua, is active and constantly spews smoke from its crater, though larger eruptions are rare.
Antigua, with its many cafes, art galleries, cultural centres and cozy restaurants, oozes a contemporary bohemian charm that attracts many visitors each year. I can recommend spending several days here to get a good feel of the atmosphere of this city and to explore the wonderful churches, the spectacular ruins of the Catedral, the immaculate facades of the many churches such as the La Merced, the many beautiful courtyards and the various museums (don’t miss the lovely Jade Museum). The city is also popular as a place to study Spanish – quite a few students from Europe and North America spend their summers here learning the language and living with local families.
A great time to visit the city is around Easter when elaborate religious ceremonies and processions are held each Sunday, reaching its spectacular climax on Good Friday. The processions, each sponsored by a local parish, sometimes involve hundreds of men, women or children carrying huge floats through the city followed by large bands. Another amazing sight are the hand-made ‘carpets’ that cover the streets during the processions. Made of dyed sawdust, sand, flowers and fruits, the ‘carpets’ are an artform in itself. I can definitely recommend anyone who is planning a trip to Antigua or Guatemala to visit during the Lent. The sights, sounds and scents of the ceremonies are some you will never forget!