Antigua

The old, beautifully preserved Spanish colonial city of Antigua was at one time the capital of Guatemala until it was decimated in the 1700s by a massive earthquake. Now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, Antigua Guatemala, or Old Guatemala, sometimes called La Antigua, features countless charming shops in aged buildings that line the cobbled streets, reminiscent of Madrid, where open-air markets of textiles and other crafts abound.

In Parque Central, the town square, a green and floral park with paths like spokes of a wheel, surrounded by notable structures, vendors milled about or sat on the ground, with their woven wares. At the park’s center, a stone fountain flowed, water sensuously spewing from the nipples of stone women with mermaid gazes, their breasts held high in their hands. The varied colors of the building fronts added warmth to the rows of cement walls.

One of my favorite photos is the textile woman, walking under the arches that line one side of Parque Central, the town square.

The first time I visited the historic city, a trip with teachers before school started in 2003, a Guatemalan man sat in front of an ancient church reading a newspaper. I waited for the people walking the street to thin a bit so I could capture this moment. The second day I was in Guatemala City, there was a political demonstration in the streets with tires burning. It kept me from returning to my hotel, and the school’s director briefed our group, expecting that we may have to be evacuated and sent back to our home countries. Although I hadn’t planned this, the photo and headline on the newspaper’s front page reported the event.

Click to enlarge and zoom in to newspaper

Two young girls with heaps of scarves, purses, and trinkets sat in front of a café, insistent that I stop and look at their goods. I haggled with them for a small woven change purse. After agreeing on a lesser price, I offered to pay their original price if they would let me take their picture. They glanced at each other and giggled, surely convinced they had gotten the better end of the deal.

girls

a flash of small teeth in a fleeting grin
a giggle tinkling like a splash of water over random rocks
a quick sideways glance to my cousin
our eyes meet and whisper to each other
we share a secret now
a magic moment of joy
in an otherwise endless day

the gringa, she doesn’t know we put one over on her
her coins feel like jewels held tightly in the palm of my hand
hard and smooth, something to hold on to
shiny like the sun’s light reflecting on a car window
round as a polished stone from the river

I will show mama and she will give me the warm smile
that I seldom see
and hold my face close to her breasts in a smothering hug
that I will feel around me in the night
after she is asleep and has forgotten

Antigua scenes…

San Francisco church
Marimba band, Calle Real restaurant
Outdoor classroom, San Jose de Viego language school (I spent a few weekends there studying Spanish)
Roof view, Agua volcano
Guatemalan spirit figures, Casa de los Gigantes shop

The Easter processions in Antigua are recounted in a previous post, Semana Santa. More Antigua posts: Antigua saints and ruins, Antigua doors and windows.

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Published by rkrontheroad

Writer, photographer, traveler

51 thoughts on “Antigua

  1. I had the fortune of visiting Antigua in 2019 as a day trip from the Central/South American cruise I was taking (ah, times before COVID…). I didn’t have much time in town, but given that it’s small enough to walk around and cover most things, I managed to see quite a bit! I especially love the arch with views of one of its volcanoes. The colorful side streets were a joy, too. And I also remember enjoying a lunch of pepián (and some of the spiciest salsa verdes I ever had!). Really want to return!

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  2. A vibrant series, Ruth. Your portraits, especially of the two smiling girls are captivating. I’ve been to Antiqua but was getting my marriage license in preparation for my wedding on a nearby island. I was too nervous to look around. 😃

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  3. Really beautiful photo’s here Ruth! I’ve got two favourites … that photo of the clock, arch and mountain – what a great capture of stunning images in one photo! And then the picture of the two girls – I love your story about them and your lovely poem 💌.

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  4. This is such a great post, bringing a place to life which is surely the aim of all of us travel bloggers. We are about to leave Costa Rica and our visit here is simply enhanced our love of Central America. Your post makes me want to include Guatemala, Antigua in particular, on our next trip out here. Great post, great words, great photos.

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  5. I loved Antigua when we stayed there some years ago, in a beautiful old colonial hotel (not fancy!) not far from the arch. Your photos have taken me straight back there – the old churches, the cobbled streets, the textile sellers. My favourite photo is the one of the two girls – I love their expressions 🙂 We’ve used that ‘if I buy something can I take your photo’ method many a time! But I don’t remember the fountain which seems very similar to the one in Bologna that I featured in my fountains post a few days ago!

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    1. It’s a charming city, so picturesque, a great place to walk. I loved that photo as well – when I was in a writing group the following year, I wrote poems for some of my photos, this was one. I’ll look for your fountain – just catching up reading blogs!

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  6. The stately arch with the clock on top, framing the mountain in the distance – my favorite of the photos! Also, I love the warm, cheery sound of the marimba. Not so easy to find a live performance in this country. I hope you took the time to listen to the band.

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    1. Marimba music is popular in Guatemala. They were playing at a restaurant and I had lunch there. The arch is an iconic view in Antigua – I have lots of photos of it. Thanks for your comment!

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  7. I’ve never been to Antigua, but I am aware that there are plenty of reasons to choose Antigua for a vacation, including the reality that the island is a choice culinary destination, a land of beautiful beaches and other amazing scenery, and the fact that vacationing here means you’ll likely also get a chance to spend some time on the sister island, Barbuda. Thanks for sharing and inspiring 🙂 Aiva xx

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  8. A fascinating, colourful, characterful place Ruth. What a thrilling if not slightly scary time for you to have been there with the protests. I love all the photos, particularly your people shots. Did you take a spirit figure home?

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    1. Living in Guatemala sometimes did have somewhat scary moments, the political situation and crime. So glad you enjoyed the photos. Those figures were in the shop of a friend – I bought other things there but not those. I have a brightly painted parrot, and bookends with opposed ends of a painted deer, to name a few. 🙂

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  9. This brought back some lovely memories. I so enjoyed the story of the two girls, and your lovely poem. Also the women in the colonnades in one of my fave images too, and also the man with the newspaper. Both great shots.
    Alison

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  10. So colourful and beautiful!
    Ruth, I like your wonderful article and the atmospheric photos from a country that is so far from my home Germany. The photo with the laughing pretty girls is fantastic!
    Greetings from the beautiful Rhine-Highlands / Germany…
    Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure. Antigua is one of the few touristy places, so most people speak English. In the villages, as you may know, Spanish is their second language, after indigenous languages, so English is rare.

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