The magnificent façade facing the eastern side of the Parque Central is known as the Catedral de Santiago, although it is technically the Parroquia de San José - a parish church. Most of the original construction is now in ruins, due to the earthquakes that have periodically struck Antigua throughout its history. The contemporary Catedral sits within the entrance hall of the 17th century original, while the rest remains as enormous, crumbling arches and columns. It is essential to walk through the Parque Central at night during a visit to Antigua, when you can glimpse the dramatic beauty of the lighted facade.
One of the best-known sights in Antigua is the attractive yellow span of the Arco de Santa Catalina, bridging the appropriately-named Calle del Arco to the north of the Parque Central. It was originally built so that nuns could cross the street invisibly, and today it provides a picturesque frame for La Merced from the south. A clock tower was added during the 19th century reconstruction of the 1694 arch. Bars and shops now line the sidewalks immediately beneath the arch, and the road is closed to motorists on weekends to provide a relaxing pedestrian atmosphere.
As viewers gaze south from the many rooftops and terraces boasting panoramas of Antigua, the spectacular dome crowning the Iglesia de San Francisco stands proudly silhouetted against Volcán Agua. The baroque-style colonial edifice has weathered many earthquakes and visitors today can wander through the ruins and historical museum and imagine the history embedded into these engraved walls. The living culture of this place can be gleaned by attending mass, held three times each day and six times on Sunday, in the vast chapel which was reconstructed in the 1960s. The interior of the church is a blend of elegance and religion, with revered paintings adorning the walls. This is also the site of the Santuario del Santo Hermano Pedro, a Franciscan friar from the late 17th century who continues to represent love for the poor and charity as he did during his life. He was officially sainted in 2002, and as one of the most beloved religious figures in Guatemala, his tomb remains a common destination for pilgrimages.
A hidden treasure in the northwest corner of town, Santo Pecado offers great live music, drink specials, salsa dancing, and tasty meals all under one roof. The talented musicians and gracious dueño are fast to befriend you, and after the impassioned, percussive show, these people are sure to know the best late-night parties in town. Monday brings an hour of free salsa dance lessons, followed by a 6-9 p.m. happy hour with two for one drinks (happy hour runs Monday through Saturday). Live music performances overlap nicely with happy hour, running from 8-10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The Santo Pecado is closed Wednesday, but otherwise, it would be all too easy to wander this way every evening of the week!
Located just north of Antigua, Cerro de la Cruz is a scenic hill offering a pleasant trek which carries innumerable feet up to a splendid view soaring straight over the city to the cloud-wreathed Agua volcano to the south. The hill is named for the enormous cross towering over the viewing area which itself is visible from throughout Antigua. This is not, unfortunately, the place to take solitary strolls; excessive robberies here inspired the creation of Antigua's tourist police, and visitors are counseled to make the climb only with their protection. Happily, this approach has proven extremely successful in reducing crime, and groups walk up to the summit each day, departing from the police station at the western end of the 6a Calle at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The summit offers a panoramic view of the surrounding vistas.
A small bookshop in the entrance of this well-known Antigua establishment stocks a good number of titles, and a gamut of seating arrangements provide the ideal spot to curl up with your new read or discuss it with new friends. To keep you fueled, the menu offers a variety of cuisines (including plenty of vegetarian food), such hummus and falafel, traditional breakfasts, and plentiful drink selections. Happy hour runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. every evening, with live music most nights and lectures about local history and environmental initiatives every Tuesday.
Antigua is among the oldest and most beautiful towns in Guatemala, even the Americas. Its clean air, peaceful atmosphere, pleasant accommodation, lively bar scene and great choice of restaurants make it a favorite place to visit. Although nowadays a bit removed from traditional Guatemalan culture due to its popularity with tourists, Antigua still retains its old charm, with cobbled streets, colonial houses and beautiful surroundings. Set in a valley close to Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes, the town provides stunning views. Most of Antigua's buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries. Many ruins are well-preserved and open for public viewing. In addition, there are more than 40 language schools with very competitive prices, making it the main destination in Central America for travelers wishing to learn Spanish. The best Easter festivities in the country also take place here.
The old San José Church is one of Antigua's pretty colonial and religious ruins, sitting on a quiet corner in the south of town. This church faced bureaucratic and political challenges along with the shattering earthquakes that damaged every structure in Antigua - two years after its 18th century construction, Spanish King Felipe V ordered it be closed down because it had been built without official permission. However, a city so dedicated to rebuilding its religious structures couldn't leave this one unused, so it was formally inaugurated in 1762 and continued to be used by religious orders even after the 1773 earthquake. A contemporary restoration project was initiated in 1990.
Meson Panza Verde is a European-style property with lush gardens, an art gallery and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views. Antigua Guatemala's Central Park and Cathedral are 4 blocks away. The elegant rooms at Meson Panza Verde have fireplaces and seating areas. Some suites have spa baths. Free Wi-Fi is available in all areas. The on-site restaurant specializes in international-style cuisine. A free daily breakfast that includes coffee, juice, cereal, bread, fruit and Guatemalan tamales is served daily. The property also has a bar. Guatemala City and Guatemala International Airport are around 40 km from Meson Panza Verde. Lake Atitlan is less than 130 km away.
The criminal element of Antigua, Guatemala, was transferred in 2006 from the separate jails for men and women to their equivalents in Guatemala City, but the solid buildings naturally remain… although there have been tales of escaped convicts in the aftermath of some of Antigua's many earthquakes. The Carcel de Hombres, the men's prison, underwent a gradual transformation to a historical attraction after being emptied of inmates, and visitors enter the capacious courtyard surrounded by uniquely solid archways that attest to its history.
Travelers to Antigua are glad for El Cofre; this small establishment provides an astonishing amount of what they need. Coffee and fruit juices fuel internet catch-up on the row of computers or wireless internet, while travel guides and maps supply ideas for the next step. Meanwhile, the buy, sell, or trade bookstore offers plenty of good titles to enjoy during the invariable long waits that greet any traveler to Central America. Sin Fronteras, a venerable travel agency in Antigua, has one of its offices here as well.