OK, I’m going to be a little gushy. I absolutely love Antigua. I would go as far as to say this tiny mountain town is one of my favorites. Ever.
This obviously has to with the fact that it’s beautiful. Set amongst rolling green hills (no less than 3 volcanos, one of which is active), filled with ethereal facades and ruins of the numerous Catholic churches of years gone by, boasting its original 1600’s bumpy but quaint street cobbling and the UNESCO protected, pastel colored Spanish-baroque style houses, restaurants and bars. It has nothing to do with that fact that due to some logistical challenges I couldn’t climb any of the above mentioned volcano’s.
Antigua has definitely won points because it just seems so peaceful. Maybe it’s the mountain air or the soothing colors but I suspect it has more to do with the completely laid back locals. Even though tourism clearly drives the town, people are remarkably unpushy and helpful. And it’s almost definitely up in the top ten or five or even three because of how it’s embraced a cafe / coffee culture to showcase one of Guatemala’s strongest exports with some of the best cappuccino’s I’ve experienced in a while. There are also several chocolate workshops and ladies selling the most amazing sweets on street corners reminiscent of the Mayan’s talents with Coacoa.
I would like to think my affection for Antigua is based on it’s resilience. This is the town that was all but abandoned in the late 1700’s when its people tired of rebuilding its colossal churches after several earthquakes (ironically they moved to Guatemala City, which is even closer to a bigger fault). It’s also become the face of Guatemala’s tourism following the end of a turbulent and bloody civil war in 1996. They currently have a former President on trial for genocide. And I have noted a high number of armed police, particularly around Antigua’s Central Parque, in what I can only assume is a determined effort to keep the city’s growing stream of tourists safe.