Antigua was easy to photograph, beautiful architecture and tidbits of history were waiting around every corner. Antigua, meaning ancient or antique, is a small colonial town that was established in 1543 by the Spaniards in Guatemala. Crumbling buildings stand next to refurbished hotels, while restaurants hidden behind courtyard gates beckon with their lush gardens. Primarily catering to tourists, the foreign influences on the town and in particular the food was apparent.
While wandering around our first night, along the dark, cobblestone streets in search of dinner we had an unexpected moment. While poking around what turned out to be a dead-end street, a couple exiting one of the buildings greeted us in English and asked what we were looking for. Hesitant, but curious as to why complete strangers would want to help us, we told them we were looking for a restaurant. They enfolded us into their friendly embrace, quizzing us about our preferences before suggesting an inexpensive Thai spot. Allowing ourselves to embrace the moment we hopped in the back of their truck for a ride over. That night we ate a delicious meal from Café Flor, a small, cozy and candlelit nook of a restaurant.
The next day we checked out of Hotel Candelaria, located on the edge of town, to try out Posada de la Luna, a family owned hotel located in a building with an old exterior and modern interior (plus beautiful views of Antigua). We were located just down the street from the Mercado de artesanias (craft market) and a few blocks from Plaza Mayor, where most of the restaurants and shops are. We spent the whole day wandering the cobblestone streets, letting our eyes be our guide as we searched for interesting and historic buildings.
Dotted throughout Antigua are crumbling buildings, all that remain of the original colonial town after the 1773 Santa Maria earthquakes. With much of the town destroyed, rebuilding of religious and civic buildings and the founding of a new university helped to preserve the original town layout and style of baroque architecture.
Antigua is considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its town plan and grid layout inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Everywhere are charming cobblestone streets, giving the impression of walking in the past. However, the beauty of the town is marred by the presence of vehicles choking up the narrow streets.
After the earthquake, half of Antigua was abandoned, with the towns people moving to Guatemala City, the new seat of the government. It was not until the mid 19th century when coffee and grain crops in the region brought investment and rebuilding back to Antigua.
One interesting piece of architecture, not a civic or religious building, but facilities for the public, are the laundry washing basins known as the Tanque de la Union. These basins were where the local towns women would gather to do their laundry and catch up with friends. To this day the laundry basins are still in service and if you stop by on the right day you can see women performing the arduous task of washing clothes by hand.
Known as a “chicken bus,” we saw these repurposed US school buses all over Guatemala, picking up people from the side of the road and belching out thick, black exhaust. The main source of public transportation, the buses careened around sharp turns and sped down hills on the way to drop off their passengers, sometimes with groups of men hanging by a hand from the open door because there was no room left inside the crowded bus.