La Antigua Valley in Guatemala
Colonial city in Guatemala, Mayan folklore, charm & adventure
Antigua is among the world’s best conserved colonial cities, it is a magic and captivating small town that makes you feel time might have stopped some 300 years ago. From its colonial architecture to its beautiful surroundings, strolling through town on the cobblestone streets, you will experience the splendors of ancient times! The city was once the third most important Spanish colony in the Americas. More than 30 monastic orders called Antigua home, leaving stunning monasteries, convents and cathedrals in the town. Its setting is breathtaking, nestled between three dramatic volcanoes: Agua, Fuego and Acatenango!
Antigua Special Attractions
There is something eternally seductive about Spanish colonial towns, and Antigua is the perfect example. It is among the world’s best conserved colonial cities in the world, it is a magic and captivating small town that makes you feel time might have stopped some 300 years ago. From its colonial architecture to its beautiful surroundings, strolling through town on the cobblestone streets you will experience the splendors of ancient times! There is much to marvel at in Antigua... monuments, cathedrals, culture, Indian markets, nature hikes, tours, cafés, bars, great assortment of restaurants, night life, etc... For information and photos on main attractions in Antigua, please click below.
Antigua's Colonial History
Antigua Guatemala is a fascinating place to visit today. Founded in 1543, as a Spanish colonial capital of what is now Central America, it was abandoned in 1773, leaving us most of the buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. It is truly a jewel of the Americas offering something for all travel tastes. Colonial history that is always present offering an array of cultural activities including many art galleries and exhibits, performing arts, popular arts, films, forums, markets and cultural tourism in general.
Antigua is located in the center of Guatemala, in the department of Sacatepéquez. Although it is the smallest department in the country covering only 465 square kilometers, it is also the most densely populated. This department, and particularly its regional capital, Antigua, is one of the main tourist attractions in the country.
Antigua Guatemala is 45 kilometers distant from Guatemala City. It was the third capital established by the Spaniards. Founded in 1543, it was named Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala in 1566.
After enduring plagues, earthquakes, and floods, the earthquake of 1773 finally destroyed it. In spite of being abandoned when the new capital was built, its inhabitants gradually returned to give it life once again, and today it is one of the country's main attractions. This urban jewel of colonial architecture conserves its original characteristics as if time had stopped. Due to its immense historical and cultural value, the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1979.
At the heart of this city is the Main Plaza, which has the traditional layout used during the Spanish colonial era. Surrounding the plaza are the Palace of the Captain Generals, the Town hall, the former Cathedral and today the church of San José, the Archbishop's Palace, and the Portal de las Panaderas.
At the plaza's center is the so-called Mermaid Fountain, built by the count of La Gomera in remembrance of a popular legend about a king whose daughters gave birth but refused to nurse their babies, so he had them tied to a post at the center of a spring, where they died of thirst and hunger. Today, four mermaids hold their breasts to provide the city with water. Built in 1749 by Diego de Porres, it has become Antigua's emblem.
Guatemala's former cathedral was built between 1543 and 1680 and had an elaborate baroque façade constructed of white mortar in the characteristic style of Antigua's churches. It has smooth columns and a belfry that had to be rebuilt after the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773. The majestic construction of this building granted it the category of "Metropolitan" in 1743 by Pope Benedict the XIV. Splendid stucco figures constructed in the 17th century adorn the main entrance. Toward the back of the edifice are the ruins of the cathedral, wherein the dome's columns and pendentives are decorated with angels; other remains of the building still evidence its great beauty.
Several handicrafts markets are located in Antigua, the main one being on La Calzada near the bus terminal, and the other on 3rd Street. They are open throughout the year and are a meeting place for Antigua's visitors who come to admire their explosive display of colors and to buy handicrafts, textiles, sculptures, toys, and leather goods.
Tours From Antigua, Guatemala
Volcano hikes, biking tours, deep sea fishing, culture tours...
Being nestled between three volcanoes, an hour from the Pacific coast, two from breathtaking Lake Atitlan, and dozens of authentic Mayan villages, Antigua is an ideal city from which to partake in all sorts of exciting adventure and cultural experiences without having venture to far off. Please see below a list of activities we highly recommend, segmented by Culture and Adventure type activities. All day tours can may be booked prior to departure or ordered a la carte from our office in Antigua once in the country. Please choose from:
Culture and Archeology
- Take a private 3 hour guided walking tour of La Antigua, with an expert guide who will share with you the many wonders of this city, once the third most important Spanish colony in the Americas & home to more than 30 monastic orders, stunning monasteries, convents and cathedrals from the Spanish colonial days. The tour consists of an informative walk behind the walls of this colonial capital, focusing on cultural trends, city history, restoration efforts and the city today. Tour includes English speaking guide and entrance fees.
Take a guided walking tour of a coffee plantation with an expert guide who will share with you the fabulous gardens and a variety of coffee trees including: bourbon, catuai, caturra and apache. The trees are in bloom April-May and the coffee gets harvested December thru March. Tours available all year round and include bilingual guide & transportation to and from the plantation. Tours can leave every day between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. (duration approx. 2hr.)
- Take a day tour of breathtaking Lake Atitlán, a deep-blue volcanic crater lake surrounded by three picture perfect volcanoes and the colorful Maya villages resting on its shores. Described as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world by late British author Aldous Huxley, it is definitely one of Guatemala's most spectacular natural attractions. Spend the afternoon visiting the lake side villages of Panajachel, Santiago, San Pedro and St. Catarina Palopó - take a hike up one of the three volcanoes, kayak, scuba dive, etc. There are a myriad of activities to enjoy at this amazing lake. Tour includes private round trip deluxe transportation. Optional lake boat ride and private guide available on request.
- Let you private guide and driver take you on a cultural experience like no other. Located at 2500 meters above sea level, Chichicastenango is famous for its market on Thursdays & Sundays, where spats of traditionally dressed villagers in a kaleidoscope of colors, come to sell their very colorful textiles, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Return in the afternoon to Antigua, or opt to include an afternoon visit of magical Lake Atitlán.
*Optional: Chichi & Lake Atitlán Combo
- Construction of Tikal began around BC 300, although it's most important époque was between AD 200 - 900 - in what is known as the Classic Period of the Mayan civilization. The temples at Tikal were built to reach the sky, with the Temple of the Serpent reaching 70 meters high and offering a magnificent view of the rainforest canopy and other temples. The site covers 16 square kilometers and contains over 3,000 structures. Tikal can be visited from Antigua in a day trip - leaving in the morning and returning in the late evening. Tikal packages include all transfers, flights, entrance fees to the park, a bilingual guide, and lunch (without beverages).
- The Pacific waters off the Guatemalan coastline are famous for possessing the world's greatest sailfishing. Here it is not uncommon for one boat to haul in 15-20 sailfish in one day (proud to say it's catch-and-release policy on all billfish.) Early risers will enjoy a scenic 1 hour drive to the Pacific Coast where they will be met by an experienced crew and captain, as well as a fully equipped modern boat designed specifically for big-game fishing. Lunch and a fully stocked ice chest of drinks, as well as all fishing tackle, bait, and transportation, are included.
Volcano Hikes - Half or Full Day
A 1 hour drive from Antigua takes guests to the start of the 2 hour climb up Pacaya, within a short distance from the crater. Pacaya is one of Guatemala's most active volcanoes, and a constant flow of sulfuric gasses with the occasional glimpse of red lava is seen.
- A half day or full day hike in the hills surrounding the Antigua Valley. Hike along volcano slopes through local villages and coffee farms on trails used by the local Maya people. Don't forget to hike up the active Pacaya volcano, it is always an exciting option for hikers.
- Guatemala is a mountainous country boasting the tallest peaks in Central America and 33 volcanoes. A mountain biker's paradise, this country offers an endless supply of scenic trails and challenging routes to explore. As biking enthusiasts and national champions ourselves, we offer the know-how and expertise necessary to deliver an unbeatable biking experience.
- A wonderfully scenic helicopter flight takes guests from Antigua to Semuc Champey or over the Antigua Valley. In Semuc Champey you can admire a series of clear blue pools and cascading waterfalls. A few hours at the site allows guests time to explore, relax, swim and have lunch at this beautiful natural wonder. Or take a 75 minute flight over the Antigua valley where impressive volcanoes, patch-work farms, and small indigenous villages on the way to Lake Atitlán await. Circle the lake and her volcanoes from the air and then return to Antigua.
- Nahulate River: (Possible in the rainy season only - June to November.) A 2 hour drive from Antigua takes guests to the starting point for this day's rafting. Raft class III and III+ rapids through a lush tropical lowlands vegetation. The whitewater gives one an exciting blend of tunnel chutes to big wave trains for intense action (Approx. 4 hr on the river.) Minimum age 12 years, good health required. Includes: private transport, equipment, guide, instructions based on international standards, breakfast & lunch (beverages not included.)* Other rivers/regions available as well, please inquire for tour details & pricing...
- Take a horse back riding trip along the foothills of the Agua Volcano overlooking Antigua with an English styled riding school on fit, well-trained horses. Accompanied scenic rides & equitation lessons from beginner to intermediate level are being offered. Boots and helmets are provided at the stables. It is a 2 hour minimum tour, including private guide for experienced or inexperienced riders.
- Guatemala boasts some of the greatest beach breaks in the world, completely desolate, where you and your friends are bound to be surfing excellent peaks on your own... Let one of our private surf guides show you some amazing surfing beaches in total isolation. Surf lessons available upon request.
- Enjoy an Antigua Canopy Tour within the beautiful setting of Finca Filadelfia, just 10 minutes away from Antigua's city center. The tour lasts an average of 3 hours. An Unimog Mercedes Benz vehicle especially adapted for safe transportation will take you up the mountains from where you will start your canopy tour, offering spectacular views. Antigua Canopy Tours consists of a series of platforms up in the trees linked by horizontal double zip lines from one tree to another. The guides that accompany you have been fully trained to provide assistance to visitors to travel through the system and you will begin your adventure with a short introduction period.
- Salsa dancing is very popular in Guatemala and throughout Latin America. Why not learn some basic steps while you are in Antigua or improve your existing knowledge to get carried away by the Salsa rhythm in one of Antigua's many bars and clubs. Classes with experienced Salsa instructors are available on a private basis, for couples or groups.
- Spend an hour or more being pampered by the experienced SPA staff. Relaxing massages, deep tissue massage, hot stone massage, manicure, pedicure and various other services and packages are at your disposal to completely relax and spoil yourself during your vacation.
* Please inquire for recent details & pricing on each day tour...
* Please note: Information on this page is believed to be correct but not guaranteed
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