Antigua, Guatemala, is a spectacular little city nestled in a valley surrounded by volcanoes. At this time of year, the hillsides are starting to turn brown, awaiting the imminent rainy season that will once again turn them into a luxurious tangle of green. The steep and twisty highway that leads from Guatemala City into Antigua takes you past densely packed homes piled like boxes on the edge of the road, with red bricks and rebar jutting out at odd angles. People move perilously close to the fast-moving traffic, walking with colorful textiles balanced on their heads, a live chicken under one arm, a goat on a rope.
You will know you’ve entered Antigua once the car starts to jostle and bounce on the old cobblestone streets. Brightly painted stone, stucco, and brick buildings press up against the streets, separated by sidewalks that are just wide enough for a single person. It’s best to get out of the vehicle and explore this marvelous place on foot, where every street reveals another historical gem left over from Spanish colonial times or intriguing cultural site that will captivate your senses.
When I visited this April, I contacted Martsam Travel, one of the most well-known and highly respected travel companies in Guatemala. The owners, Liliana and Benedicto, matched me with a guide, José, who is a U.S-educated archaeologist and university professor. Together, we explored Antigua for four hours, while José regaled me with fascinating historical facts and contemporary anecdotes that made the city come alive in a way I never would have experienced on my own. These are some of the places we visited that afternoon.