Antigua, Guatemala - a must-visit destination in Central America I Ponant Magazine

Discovering the baroque treasure of Central America

Antigua Guatemala is a must-visit destination in Central America; it is a city that very vividly harks back to the Spanish era, and is also a sobering reminder of the power of mother nature. Disembark and spend a day in the heart of one of the most fascinating historical cities in Central America.

Before discovering Antigua…

Antigua was founded by the Spanish in 1543. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, and for a long time, it was considered one of the most beautiful cities of the Spanish West Indies. Designated as a Unesco World Heritage site, in 1979, the pearl of the Caribbean, adorned in Baroque and Renaissance era styles, was knocked off from its lofty perch by and almost entirely buried by earthquakes, two of them particularly violent, in 1773. Antigua was founded between the Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango, volcanoes, and the ruins of the city of yesteryear are today a heritage site which is in stark contrast with the beautiful historical buildings that are still standing… most certainly a legacy to be admired.

La Plaza Mayor: everything begins and ends here…

Despite the myriad of earthquakes, important town buildings have been regularly reconstructed and still stand proudly in “mint condition”. An itinerary which begins by crossing the old Santa Catalina Arch, which is also a gateway to the old town. From there, we meander to the city’s beating heart, the Plaza Mayor (or the Plaza de Armas), and take a stroll through the streets dotted with magnificent colonial mansions. From the Plaza Mayor surrounded by elegant arches, travellers can access the entire city. First, because the fountain in its Central Park is the symbol of the city: standing in the middle of this esplanade, travellers can immerse themselves in the long history of a city influenced by European culture. The important attractions and monuments in Antigua are all located nearby. Besides, because the Plaza Mayor is testament to a city organised as per the town planning rules chosen by Juan Bautista Antonelli. A central point of convergence, around which there is a chequered network of cobbled streets. In a nutshell… you will never be lost in Antigua, which is like a crossword grid, where all paths lead to the Plaza Mayor.

Deluxe visitor itinerary

From the square, one can gaze upon one of the primary testaments to both this influence and the struggles of these buildings against the seismic activity of this region: the Captain General Palace, built in 1543. Even though it has been reconstructed numerous times, it retains its original facade. To admire a monument that is completely intact and original, travellers must visit the town hall to the north of the square. This building has endured, and today, proudly displays its centuries-old archways, behind which are housed the treasures of the colonial era in the Santiago museum and the Museum of Antique Books.

A blessed city…

The same is true for the Saint-Joseph cathedral which was constructed over a period of eleven years, starting in 1680. However, its exquisite baroque facade, though intact, hides behind it a building in ruins. But the most beautiful religious building from among the many in Antigua is without doubt the La Merced Church with its yellow facade, so reminiscent of the sun. To the left of the church, we conclude with the grand finale, through the ruins of the monastery and its central court flanked by a fountain in the form of a water lily.

Bird’s eye view

To end the trip, why not get a bird’s eye view and cast your gaze across the city from the highest point. All you need to do is climb the monastery stairs which lead to the upper floor, or for the more ambitious travellers, they can go to the Cerro de la Cruz, to the North of the city. Gazing down on the panorama of the former capital of Guatemala is an experience like none other. This will be our last impression of a colourful and luminous city, full of history.

In Antigua, your senses feel more alive and heightened than anywhere else. A fascinating and unforgettable step in the melting pot that is Central America.

 


PONANT takes you there

Join us on board a cruise through Central America and discover this Guatemalan city, designated as a Unesco world heritage site.

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