Trip Report: Antigua, Guatemala

For the first part of my current trip to Central America, I traveled through Guatemala and Belize with my sister Laura. We both flew into Guatemala City and out of Belize City. Since we were traveling through remote areas, the internet was spotty at times, and I’m finally getting around to recapping our adventures.


Guatemala’s currency is named after the Quetzal, its national bird.

Our journey began at the Guatemala City airport, where our plane arrived late at night. Unfortunately the shuttles to Antigua, our first destination, were not running in the evenings so we were forced to share a taxi for 10 USD each. On the bright side, we met another American in the taxi named Michael whose family was from Antigua, and he was nice enough to show us around over the following couple days and help us experience the city from the eyes of a local who had spent time growing up there.

view of Antigua

Laura above the city of Antigua, with Volcan de Agua in the background.

Antigua is surrounded by four volcanoes, two of which are active. The closest volcano, Volcan de Agua (Water Volcano), is not active, but produced a flood of water from its crater lake during an earthquake in the 1500s, giving it the name. The most active volcano, Volcan de Fuego (fire volcano), is apparently one of the most amazing sights to see in the world from the dormant Volcan de Acatenango nearby, but unfortunately it was not erupting while we were in Antigua. The second, less active but still impressive, volcano is called Volcan de Pacaya. This volcano is easier to climb than Acatenango, and is not active enough to pose a threat to safety. Laura and I decided that we needed to climb at least one of the volcanoes while we were in town, so we went with Volcan de Pacaya.

Volcan Pacaya

Volcan Pacaya

For $10 plus the park entrance fee of 100 Quetzales ($7) per person we were able to book transportation to and from the volcano and a local guide to lead us up. It was a steep but short climb, taking only an hour and a half to a point where we could roast marshmallows over a (black) lava field, with fresh (red) lava slowly oozing down the mountain from the crater above us. It was the first time I had been on an actively erupting volcano.

We were lucky enough to catch the sunset while we were on the volcano, with the lights of Guatemala City below us as we descended in the dark. Fortunately I had been thinking ahead and brought a headlamp on the trip. An English guy named David was also on the hike, so we chatted with him on the way back and then we all met up with Michael from the shared taxi and hit the town for dinner and drinks before bed.

Sunset from Pacaya

Sunset from Pacaya, with views of Acatenango and Fuego.

The following day, Laura, Michael, David, and I explored the city of Antigua. Being the previous capital of Guatemala centuries before, Antigua has some of the best preserved Spanish colonial architecture in Central America. We walked around the center a bit, and then saw the iconic arch within the city. Unfortunately the city’s cathedral was closed so we could not go inside.

Antigua Arch

Antigua’s iconic arch.


Antigua Central Park and Cathedral

Antigua’s Central Park and Cathedral

Afterwards we decided to visit an abandoned convent on the northeast side of the city and make our way up to a viewpoint on a nearby mountain with a cross on top. The views of the city with Volcan de Agua in the background were spectacular, and it was a great place to relax for a bit.

Old Antigua Convent

The convent

We were fortunate enough to be visiting Antigua during Lent, which meant that there was a processional in the evening since it was a Sunday. Antigua processionals during Lent and Holy Week are unique in that the city residents make “carpets” from colored sawdust in anticipation of the processional passing through. Michael’s uncle owned one of the nicer hotels in town, and the employees were making a carpet in front of the hotel.

Michael offered to take us to his uncle’s hotel so we could watch the whole process while he explained it. In a way, it was a bit sad from an outsider’s perpective since the beautiful carpet took hours of time to make, but was trampled and destroyed by the processional as it came through. The processional was similar to a parade in the U.S. but included hand-carried floats of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, along with plenty of music and drumming. It was a very unique experience.

After a busy day, we were all quite tired, but the carpet making and processional was a great way to end our stay in Antigua. The next morning we’d be starting a long bus ride through Guatemala, with unexpected adventures to come. More on that in my next post…

Posted in Destinations, Latin America.

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