Antigua, Guatemala: Travel/Tourist Information Guide

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Calle del Arco cobblestone street and colorful housesEl Carmen Church ruinsCerro de la Cruz cross monument and hilltop overlooking the cityAntigua Palacio de Ayuntamiento at nighttimeAntigua Guatemala panoramic viewAntigua Parque Central fountainSaint Joseph CathedralSanta Catalina archway city street

Antigua was the capital of Guatemala until the city was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and the capital was moved to its current location, Guatemala City. Antigua Guatemala (Old Guatemala), better known as La Antigua, or simply Antigua, was the grand old capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala during the Spanish colonial era. The town has been developed to host visitors and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Antigua is located in the central highlands of Guatemala in the Sacatepéquez department. It is the capital of the department and the seat of the municipality of Antigua.

Under its formal name of Santiago de Los Caballeros de Guatemala, Antigua was the original “Guatemala City”. A major earthquake in 1773 left most of the old capital in ruins. In 1776, the Spanish ruler, King Charles III, ordered the capital to be moved to another location and the people to abandon the place. Some people stayed, but the old capital went from being a prosperous capital with much potential, to a simple provincial town with ruins as remnants of its former glory. In recent decades, there has been increasing appreciation for the huge amount of Spanish colonial architecture that’s been left preserved. The series of earthquakes that led to the change of capital are the San Miguel earthquake in 1717, San Casimiro earthquake in 1751, and Santa Marta earthquake in 1773.

There are three volcanoes looming over the horizon of the city. The most imposing one is Volcán de Agua (Volcano of Water), to the south of the city, which is 3,766 m (12,356 ft) high. The Kakchikel Mayans who inhabited the area when the Spaniards came, called it Hunapú, and their descendants still use that name today. To the west of Antigua are Volcán de Fuego (Volcano of Fire) at 3,763 m (12,346 ft) and Acatenango at 3,976 m (13,045 ft). Volcán de Fuego is considered the most active, but at a low level. The latest eruption that occurred was in 2012.

The population in Antigua was estimated to be at 34,685 as of 2007. Today, Antigua is popular among tourists for its elaborate religious celebrations especially during Lent, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday, its well developed infrastructure, colonial-era churches and ruins, small town charm, and mild climate. It is also used as a jump-off point to other tourist destinations in Guatemala. The city streets are laid out in a rectangular grid and aligned with the points of a compass, with Parque Central (Central Park) as the origin point. Parque Central is the heart of Antigua and is a popular gathering place.

Tourism is the main industry of Antigua, but it is also a coffee-producing region. Antigua is also known for its chocolate makers.