Traveling to once familiar places can be both delightful or depressing depending upon one’s specific memories and how the destinations have changed since past visits. I am currently in Antigua, Guatemala. I spent many happy hours here in 1991 and 1992 visiting with fellow volunteers when I was in the U.S. Peace Corps. Although my official site was in the agricultural town of Jutiapa, a five or six hour bus ride east of here, the pleasant time spent in Antigua was either for time-off or training. My last visit here was in 2001. I can happily say that “La Antigua” is still the charming and friendly place it has been on my past visits.
A quaint and beautiful former colonial capital and UNESCO World Heritage site, Antigua has become the tourist center of Guatemala. Tourists or not, Antigua has retained its charm. Set in the green and fertile Panchoy Valley in Guatemala’s Central Highlands, and rimmed by the stark elegance of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, Antigua is said to be one of the most beautiful colonial capitals in the world. For 200 plus years the capital of the military government of the Spanish Colony of Guatemala –which included most of the current Central America and Chiapas- the city is a treasury of Spanish-Baroque architecture.
I arrived in Guatemala on a late flight to Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and was met at the terminal by a shuttle arranged by the hotel Casa Cristina in Antigua. The price for the private shuttle was $35.00. There are more public shuttles available for $11.00 but I chose, because of the late-evening arrival, to take the private one. The shuttle driver Sergio Perez (firstname.lastname@example.org) was a delight. He does not speak English and he patiently put up with my grammar school level Spanish. I told him that one of the reasons I was in Guatemala was gather information on volunteer organizations for my other website –over50andoverseas.com. To my surprise, he called me the next day and asked if we could meet for coffee as he had a list with the contact information of the non-governmental organizations in Antigua. We met and he gave me the list – a genuine expression of kindness and an indication of the welcoming spirit of the people of this city.
Antigua is a center for Spanish language schools in Latin America. On this trip I took 20 hours of lessons over five days and was very satisfied with the teaching. While in the Peace Corps I spoke the language fairly fluently but found that, after 20 years of non-use, I was VERY rusty. I found that attending a local Spanish school helped immensely. A handy survey of schools may be found here.
Most of the Spanish language schools in Antigua have links with local organizations for volunteer opportunities. If a visitor is interested in volunteering there are other volunteer organizations that are not connected with the schools which may be of interest . For a list of volunteer organizations with programs in Guatemala and world-wide visit our sister website at Over50andOverseas.com.
I have been pleased with the hotels at which I have stayed in Antigua. For the first week my lodging was at the Casa Cristina, a small, clean and reasonable hotel near the La Merced Church. When I asked to extend my reservation the proprietor was unable to do so because of existing reservations and she told me to try next door at the Casa Luna. I did and have been very satisfied. The hotel is small, very reasonable and clean. Mario, the hotel owner, lived in the U.S. many years and speaks excellent English. He has a travel agency on the premises and booked the transportation and lodging for my in-country excursions and local Antigua tours as well. For a list of local attractions visit Things to do in Antigua.
Antigua has become a retirement center for many internationals due to its beauty, lifestyle and comfortable cost of living. Apartments and rooms are available at very moderate rates as are dwellings for sale. For more information about Antigua real estate and well as shopping visit Around Antigua.
I have had no problems, or even hints of problems, with security during my stay. Locals advise caution late at night when the streets are dark and the pubs are busy and thriving.
Overall Antigua is one of my favorite travel destinations. I wouldn’t mind spending most of the winter here!
For more budget travel and lodging information visit our Travel Resources page.