It took little time or effort for me to be fascinated by Antigua when I visited there 13 years ago and knew it was a place I would return to. I had visions of me renting a place for a few months, spending my days writing, studying Spanish and people watching in the Central Park. When I finally made it back last year I found the city to be just as enchanting, although more touristy than before, and certainly a place where a solo woman could stay awhile.
Antigua, with a population of about 35,000 people, is a very impressive colonial city with cobbled streets and grand buildings. There is a well developed tourism infrastructure. It looks out on three magnificent volcanoes, with Volcan de Agua being the most commanding at some 3766 m. It was almost destroyed by earthquakes in 1773 and 1976 and ruins are still evident. Today its language schools attract students from all over the world and it is the home of thousands of foreigners, mainly North Americans and Europeans. It definitely has a cosmopolitan feel about it.
The city was declared a National Monument in 1944 and a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1979. You can spend days exploring back streets, appreciating the architecture and resting in the parks. Be sure to carry a good map for it’s very easy to get lost. The Central Park (Parque Central) is the heart of the city and a popular gathering place. There are many places to stay but if you are a single woman you might prefer to be near the centre because the streets can be very dark and lonely at night. Home-stays can also be arranged.
If you’ve been to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico (another place to stay awhile) and it suited you, then you will probably like Antigua. The expat community in both cities are welcoming, energetic and involved. When I took a shuttle van that goes from Antigua to the Mexican border, I met several women on the shuttle who were on their way to San Miguel.
There is much to see and do, even for a short term visitor. Two English language magazines, Revue and Que pasa, list upcoming events and activities. Que pasa has a description of non-profit organizations that work here. The Rainbow Cafe, which is a great drop-in place, has a Tuesday lecture series presented by local charities.
Antigua is known for its Easter celebrations and throughout the year there are processions of various kinds. You can hike up volcanoes (although you should probably do that with a group), take a coffee tour, listen to live music, do yoga. There are many wonderful items to buy from textiles to jewellery to masks. And, of course, there are the Maya people who are so splendid in their colourful dress.
It is easy to get to Antigua from Guatemala City airport. Just arrange in advance for a shuttle van or taxi. The drive takes less than an hour.
Guatemala is a small country and you can see the highlights quite easily, either on your own or with a local tour agency.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2011