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La Antigua Guatemala (commonly referred to as just Antigua or La Antigua) is a city in Guatemala. It was the colonial Spanish capital of Central America, it is a World Heritage site, and is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in Guatemala.
Antigua's streets are mostly laid out in a rectangular grid aligned with the compass, with the Parque Central as an origin point. North-south roads are Avenidas or avenues, numbered from 1st to 9th from east to west. The avenidas are further divided into sur (south) and norte (north). East-west roads are Calles or streets, numbered from 1st to 7th from south to north. The calles are further divided into oriente (east) and potente (west). The street intersection at the north-east corner of the Palace of the Captains-General, i.e. at the south-east corner of Parque Central, is the origin of this division. Avenidas are sur south of 5a Calle, and norte north of it. Calles are oriente east of 4a Avenida, and potente west of it.
Some roads have names that don't follow the Avenida/Calle numbering scheme, and some roads away from the center don't follow the grid.
Addresses are numbered sequentially outwards from the origin point. Even-numbered addresses are on one side of the street and odd numbers are on the other. Street addresses are written with the street or avenue number first, followed by the letter "a"; then "Ave" (for Avenida) or "Cle" (for Calle), then "Ote" (Oriente, east), "Pte" (Potente, west), "Sur" (south), or "Nte" (Norte, north); then the street address number. For instance:
It's helpful to memorise that the north and south sides of Parque Central are 5a and 4a Calles, and the west and east sides are 5a and 4a Avenidas.
The Inguat Tourist Office is on the south-east side of the Parque Central. Open until 5 pm Monday to Friday. Open Saturdays. Closed Sundays.
The book Antigua Guatemala: The city and its heritage, by Elizabeth Bell, is a great handbook for the visitor. It provides concise and well-informed descriptions of 43 monuments, houses, and museums, listed in order of importance so that you can use it for a self-guided tour for as much time as you have. It also has a concise overview of the city's history. Laced with colour photos. Other chapters provide intriguing extras such as a record of Volcán Fuego's eruptions, earthquakes, annual festivals, and thumbnail sketches of surrounding towns. 200 pages, paperback. ions in English and Spanish. Q120 at Antigua Tours. ISBN: 99922-706-9-1. amazon.com listing for this book (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9992270691/).
Located just 30 miles (45km) West of Guatemala City, you can get here in 45min from La Aurora Airport.
A charter tourist van costs about USD $30. The driver will meet you at the airport with your name on a sign. For first-time visitors, the convenience and security of arranging a van like this might be worth the cost.
Almost all travel agencies in Antigua offer scheduled tourist shuttles from the airport to Antigua. Fares range from USD $5-10.
Transportation by bus is cheap compared to taxis or shuttles, but would be less convenient and take a longer time.
There is no commercial air or train service for this town.
Antigua is very compact and easy to walk around. Most tourist destinations are in an 8-by-8 block area less than 1km across. You can walk across it in 15 minutes. Be careful: the sidewalks are narrow and not always in good repair, you may have to walk in the street with traffic whizzing by you, and at night it's worth being cautious and aware of your surroudings.
Tuk-tuks and taxis can take you to destinations within the city center for Q10 or less -- negotiate the fare with the driver in advance. Flag down a crusing tuk-tuk, or pick up a taxi from the queue at Parque Central.
The whole city is full of historic buildings, monuments, fountains and ruins. This city was founded by the Spanish in the XVII Century, and it follows the traditional design of a Main Plaza surrounded by Government and Catholic Church buildings. You'll find worthy to visit La Catedral, el Palacio de los Gobernadores, Convento de Capuchinas, Convento de Santa Clara, el Arco de Santa Catarina, Iglesia La Merced and the Handcrafts Market.
The Parque Central is, strangely enough, a park in the center of town. The park is a city block in size, with concentric circular walkways threading among trees and a fountain in the center. The trees are decorated with lights, and there are plenty of benches for sitting and people-watching. The Inguat tourist agency, the city hall and police office, the cathedral, and several banks and tourist businesses line the four sides of the park. Many Antiguans hang out in the park, and it has a pleasant, bustling, friendly feel day and night.
A large cross is prominent on a hill to the north of the city (Cerro de la cruz). It is a pleasant, moderately strenuous 30 minute walk to the cross from the Parque Central. On a clear day there is a fine vista over most of Antigua and the Volcán de Agua rising high to the south. Note: there are persistent reports of robberies on this trail. The Tourist Police lead walks up to the park several times a day, and it's safer to walk with them. Check with the Tourist Police office just north of Parque Central for details.
The Experimental Station Valhalla is a nursery of macadamia trees with an interesting environmental and economic agenda. Macadamia nuts are a cash crop, with the potential to provide a better livelihood for Guatemalan peasants than does coffee. The farmer can use the trimmed branches of the trees for firewood. Additionally, macadamia trees take carbon dioxide out of the air and form it into wood, nuts and shells. The shells can be used a street paving, sequestering carbon dioxide. And Valhalla have found a way to provide the trees as genetically diverse complete plants, instead of as grafts. This allows natural selection to adapt the trees to changing environmental conditions. The station turns macadamia nuts into snacks, chocolates, a fine skin cream, a pure oil, and a flour which can be made into pancakes.
Experimental station Valhalla is a few km out of Antigua in the direction of San Miguel Dueñas. Chicken busses run every 30 minutes on this route, and the fare was Q2.75 one way as of December 2005. The station offers tours in Spanish, English, and sometimes other languages as well. At the end of a tour they offer samples of their various macadamia products. tel +502-7888-6308, fax +502-7831-5799, web http://www.exvalhalla.net, email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Open 8am - 5pm, Monday through Sunday.
Cultural walking tours of Antigua are offered six days a week. They are the work of Elizabeth Bell, who came to Guatemala in 1969 from the U.S. and stayed. She has literally written the book on Antigua, twice (Antigua Guatemala: the city and it's heritage and Lent and Holy Week in Antigua). This tour is an interesting "peek behind the door" of Antigua -- telling you about the people and forces driving Antigua today and in its past, as you go to a few of the main destinations of Antigua. Since Elizabeth Bell is one of those people driving Antigua, her perspective is hard to beat. An essential complement to a more conventional tour of the of the top monuments and their histories. USD $18 per person (USD$15 for project volunteers), includes entrance fees. Some proceeds donated to cultural foundations in Antigua. Available in English and Spanish. Depart from the fountain in the Parque Central.
For those who like hiking, two trips near Antigua are highly recommended: Hiking up the active volcano Volcán Pacaya (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacaya) and/or the dormant Volcán Acatenango (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acatenango).
Antigua is the most popular - though not the cheapest - place to learn Spanish in Guatamela. There are more than 100 Spanish schools to choose from. You can choose from group or one-on-one instruction. As of December 2005, one teacher charged Q25.00 per hour for one-on-one instruction. A typical schedule is to take classes Monday-Friday, 8am-noon, leaving the afternoon for sightseeing.
Antigua has Cafes and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. The town is the most touristy place in Guatemala so you will find anything you are looking for: There is even a McDonalds, a Burger King, a Dominos Pizza and a Dunkin Donuts! So, no, you will not starve while in Antigua.
Antigua offers a wide variety of hotels at all price levels. Additionally, many local families open their homes to students of Spanish and travellers.
Home stays with Antigua families can be arranged through language schools or directly with the family in question. As an example, in December 2005 one family charged Q470.00 per person for a room and three meals a day, six days a week. An advantage of a home stay for the Spanish language student is a chance for language immersion, as well as the cultural experience. On the other hand, the housing may be more basic than in a hotel: simple concrete block construction, shared bathroom, and small rooms.
There are many internet cafes and long-distance phone shops in Antigua. Internet time costs from Q5-10 per hour.
Due to the presence of the "Tourist Police" Antigua is much safer than any other city in Guatemala. However, the tourist police are only present within the city. During the daytime your risk of getting robbed in Antigua is very small. However, if you leave the tourist-areas or if you walk the streets at night, there is a considerable risk. This is especially true during the time when the night and the morning shifts of the police change guard.
Almost all bars and restaurants will be happy to call you a taxi that will not cost more than 10 Q to drive you home. Asking the barstaff to call the taxi for you, instead of looking for one yourself, can be a good idea since they tend to know the drivers they are calling.
If you plan to visit sights like "La Cruz" outside town, make sure you go with an officer of the tourist police who accompany tourists there at least once a day. (See the See section).
The municipal water supply in Antigua is treated with chlorine. However, don't regard it as completely safe. It's still wise to drink agua pura (purified bottled water). Some homes and restaurants get agua pura in five gallon bottles and serve it in glasses. It's sensible to ask if the ice is made from purified water.
Antigua is a very good base for anyone who wants to explore Guatemala. The city is bustling with language students and you will have no problems finding a bus to anywhere in the country.
Almost all travel agencies in Antigua offer scheduled tourist shuttles to La Aurora airport in Guatemala City. Fares range from USD $5-10. The earliest buses depart at 4:00am, in time to arrive at the airport by 5:00am and catch a 7:00am flight out.