Today I finally got the opportunity to be a tourist in Antigua! I had seen information on tours in Antigua hosted by a tour company created by Elizabeth Bell, an American woman who came to Guatemala at the age of 14 and who has more or less lived here the last 40+ years. 

The tour was exactly what I was hoping for – excellent insight into Guatemalan history, the cultural life in Antigua, and sights around the city I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. I can’t even cover all the stuff we saw and learned, but here are some of the highlights…


These pictures are ruins of the old cathedral behind the main church off Parque Central (which my housemates and I affectionately refer to as Central Park, a reference that makes me laugh a little inside each time I hear it because this Central Park is tiny).  

I had been into the church already, and I was confused about it not being a typical cathedral – like not in the layout of a cross, for example. Entering the ruins behind explained that to me. They were your very typical cathedral – cross layout, way bigger than the church (but smaller than the typical European cathedral). 

This also finally helped me realize why Antigua has so many ruins. When you know why, it’s obvious, but otherwise it seems weird that you can turn a corner and stumble onto ruins basically anywhere in the city. The big earthquake of 1776 took out churches across the city. Any columns and arches basically fell. You can see the column left where it fell in the one photo above. The ruins are being preserved (not restored, just strengthened), but that column is left as an example. 

Before the earthquake there were 36 churches in Antigua. Now there are just 16. The earthquake took out churches and houses, and the Spanish decided to move the capital from Antigua to Guatemala City. Antigua was sort of abandoned, except by the people who were too poor to move. They stayed, moving into houses of rich people who had left and taken all of their goods. Buildings were left to fall into even greater disrepair. Some of the churches and monasteries had crops cultivated in their open spaces. This is when Antigua also got its new name. Antigua means former, as in the former capital. 


From the cathedral ruins, we got to visit a jade store and museum and find out about the jade industry in the Ancient Mayan civilization and now.  Then we went to a former monastery that was abandoned and filled in with dirt and garbage. In the 1980s and 1990s it was bought and restored into a hotel. More and more land was purchased around the monastery, and the hotel has grown to include more archaeological sites, including a former church that now hosts destination weddings. The weddings pay for an amazing art collection that was stunning and fascinating to walk through. The Santo Domingo ruins are the pictures above. Here are just a couple of photos of the art collections. 


After lunch, some of my housemates went for a hike up a volcano. That’s not my idea of a good time, so I went off to explore other ruins. I know that all my ruins pictures look sort of similar, but here are just a couple more. This was the convent Santa Clara. 


Finally, I capped the day off with some souvenir shopping. For me, that meant finding a bookstore. #nerdforlife 🤓


It also meant picking up a beautiful scarf at less than half the asking price. My bartering technique was super effective: I only had 74 quetzales in my pocket. That took the guy down from his original 180 asking. It also gave a very clear idea of the actual value of the scarf!

All right. I’m off to read some El Principito, which will be both amusing and educational! 🤓

One thought on “Being a Tourist in Antigua

  1. Thanks for sharing about your experience. Sounds so interesting. Wondering how much a quetzales is worth? Also do “antiguans” wear scarfs in their climate? Just wondering?

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