Antigua, Guatemala

My reason for going to Antigua was to attend a conference. Industry, special interest, government, and NGOs converged for a small yet powerful series on addressing illegal logging through innovation – the title was more detailed than that. I’ve been to Antigua on three occasions, ranging from the day trip out of Guatemala City, up to spending a week in the little town that calls itself a city, and was once the capital not only of Guatemala, but the entire region before those borders were formed, fought over, and drawn.

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Antigua rests at the foot of three volcanos. Only those who may have looked at the volcanos as a portal to the gods would have decided that this was a good place to build. The lesson’s of Pompeii never reached the new world, a reason the capital was moved away from Ancient Guatemala – Antigua de Guatemala.

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Antigua is a tourist city. Not like Paris or Rome, where you can find magnets of monuments that draw foreigners in to take pictures and buy miniature keychains – the entire city is preserved for tourism. We met people who live there – all work in one way or another in the tourist industry. And though there are many municipal and social services in the city, most of those utilizing them are from the foothills, the outer towns, the surrounding area. Downtown is not cheap, even for a foreigner with US dollars to spend. The city has as many spas as restaurants, and accommodations are continuously racing to meet the demand of those coming to see.

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Guatemala is home to an ancient, indigenous culture – the Maya. Though the Maya did not live within the borders of today, it is fairly easy to distinguish an individual of Mayan descent from someone who has a Spanish heritage.

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I hope that Antigua doesn’t loose itself to a term I heard a local use that I never thought I would hear outside of Washington DC – gentrification. Religious tourism brings in a large grown, especially during Semana Sant, or Easter Week. But the old world and three volcanos, as well as excursion opportunities to other nearby volcanos and hikes, makes Antigua a more and more desirable destination, the civil war that ran for 26 years now twenty years in the past.

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As economic prosperity becomes available for those who can invest in tourism, there are many that will be moved further into the villages on the outskirts of town, coming in for festivals and to sell their wares to the visitors and tourists.

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From Antigua, make sure to get out and explore. A couple days will allow you to scratch the surface, even though you can see everything on foot multiple times in a day. It’s a tiny town – the deeper connection harder to reach, unless you get off the beaten path.

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Night life in and around central market brought out the street dance crew who threw down some amazing moves.

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At the ruins and cathedrals, local artists performed contemporary sound experiments and compositions, as well as classical pieces with religious influences.

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And of course, the bars have some interesting and funky live music too.

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During the day, check out the local market, which sells everything from live chickens to iguana stew, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a lot of things intended for souvenirs. Behind it, the bus depot is a site to see.

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Both at night and by day, remnants of a time long past make for great walking meditations.

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Antigua is a place of details; so long as you take the time to see.

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