On our cruise up the Pacific Coast of South and Central America we visited several cities in six countries. One of places that The Amazing Ms D. and I liked best was the city of Antigua, Guatemala. We both really appreciate places that have a history, and in Antigua, you really can feel the history in the walled homes, in the cobble stones, in the bronzed faces of the Mayan women in the streets.
During colonial times, Guatemala was the capital of Spain’s holdings Central America. So the area from what is today Colombia, north to the Mexican state of Chiapas was governed by the colonial offices in Guatemala. Dating back to 1543, Antigua was actually the third capital of Guatemala. The first, Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Goathemalan (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala), founded in 1524 suffered several to rebellions by the Kakchikel-Mayan people.
The second, Ciudad Vieja, was destroyed when an earthquake caused the water in the lake of the nearby Volcán de Agua to be released and flood the town. The current city of Antigua was built in 1543 and was the capital of the Spanish colonial government until it was hit with a major earthquake in 1773. Today, Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which helps to preserve it charm and intrinsic historical flavor.
After the 1773 earthquake - By Harper's Weekly [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Our ship docked at Puerto Quetzal on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. To get from our ship to Antigua we took a 90 min bus ride up into the mountains The drive to Antigua is about 80 Km (50 mi) mostly along a 2 lane highway that climbs from the sea level to an altitude of 1500m (5000ft). This gave us a passing glance of how Guatemalans in this area live. This is a mostly agricultural area with sugar fields at lower altitudes and fruit and coffee in the mountains. Along the way we passed through the rebuilt Ciudad Vieja. We really got a view of life for people who lived in this area. We saw people carrying bundles of wood to use as cooking fuel. We saw students walking when the next town was several miles away. We saw people selling fruits and other goods.
Antigua is a beautiful old colonial city. Because it is UNESCO World Heritage Site, everything must remain as it was. The center of the city is a square 10 blocks on a side. The streets are cobblestone with very narrow sidewalks running along pretty buildings with windows that overhang the sidewalk. The outside of the buildings are similar, but inside they have surprises.
For example we had lunch in the ChocoMuseo (The Chocolate Museum). Upon entering we found a wonderful courtyard that serves as a restaurant. The food was amazing, especially the desserts. I had Chicken Pepían, a soup seasoned with a mixture of ground peppers that gave it an out of this world flavor. For dessert I had Bananas in Mole sauce. This plate of sweet cooked bananas covered in delicious chocolate sauce was worth the whole trip. I finished off with a hot chocolate that I had to construct myself, mixing the hot milk, chocolate sauce, cinnamon and chile pepper to my taste.
The native population in Antigua is Mayan. While they are not statuesque, they are striking. At the ChocoMuseo there were three Mayan women selling hand embroidered blouses. The Amazing Ms D. bought a blouse from one of the women there, who altered it on the spot to fit her. Around the town there were many Mayans selling fruit, tapestries and other goods. The streets are filled with Mayan women selling fruits and vegetables from trays carried on their heads. Others were selling colorful embroidered tapestries and table clothes.
We were truly enraptured by Guatemala. We want to go back when we have more time to spend. We want to be able to really explore Antigua and its Mayan history, Guatemala City and the north coast of Guatemala, which has a large Garifuna (African descendants) population.