Sunday, June 12, 2016

[ANTIGUA] Almost Two Hours of Antigua

Antigua used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala back in the day, until a volcano threw a tantrum and leveled the city. Volcanoes are jerks, they do that sometimes. And so the Guatemaltecos moved on with their lives by transferring the capital to Guatemala City. But despite being downgraded just like that, Antigua remains to be the star of the show. As every tourist in the country will tell you, Guatemala IS Antigua. And Tikal. So there they go in droves, and you can’t really blame them for it.

My excursion to Antigua was a really short one, a day trip that started at around 4 PM and ended at 5:30. Nevertheless I really enjoyed it, and I actually have more memories of it than the current capital. The place reminded me of Chefchaouen somehow. It has this very chill kind of vibe where you can just laze around all day, maybe smoke weed, and that’s awesome. Perhaps it is the presence of the volcano itself and the ubiquitous light mist that gives it that kind of feel, and all that with the hordes of tourists all around!

Okay, but first, how do you get here? It’s less than an hour away from Guate and there are direct shuttles from La Aurora Airport. Some people actually just skip the capital altogether and set camp here. As for lazy ass me, I went after lunch via Litegua which makes a stop somewhere (I forgot the name) for a mandatory transfer. This made the trip half an hour longer because that stop is out of the way. That meant leaving Guate at 2PM and reaching Antigua at around 3:30.

I had no map of the place, and that’s the beauty of it. You don’t need one. The mini van will drop you off at the main square. I went on a Sunday so it was really busy with locals and foreigners alike. You'll immediately see the big iglesia across the park. That park has a cool fountain in the middle. The area is teeming with activity, especially on a weekend. That means camwhoring galore for most people. There are restos in the area if ever you arrive hungry.

I decided to head towards the volcano because it looked pretty damn cool, although I knew that I will never reach even its base. I had a really tight schedule, you see. And so what I did was get as close as possible to snap a good photo and then I turned left and ended up at another park which they call Parque Central. I think this one is more photogenic than the plaza because there are less people. Most human beings I saw were locals just enjoying a weekend afternoon. The scenery here is awesome.

The park itself is on elevated concrete, full of benches and what seemed like palm trees. In the background are the ruins of an old convent, beautifully framed by a series of yellow arches that has been characteristic of Antigua in most Google search images that you’ll find. The small church behind you is also pastel yellow in color, with the magnificent backdrop of a volcano shrouded in mist. Or maybe that’s just a mountain. What the heck, let’s not get too technical with definitions here, yo.

You have to pay to get inside the ruins of the convent and I was, like, NAH. I had less than two hours to spare and just gallivanting around the cobblestoned streets of this small town is already enough for me to remember it as an ideal weekend getaway, despite being too short. I walked some more and ended up at another church called Iglesia de San Francisco which looked like any other church you will find in the Hispanic world. For one moment there, I thought I was in Lucban waiting for the Pahiyas to begin.

What came next was the search for the great yellow arch of Santa Catalina. Google Antigua Guatemala and you’ll know what I’m talking about. You can actually go there first once you get off at the plaza because it’s just there around the corner. The street leading to it is full of local vendors, shops, tourists, and locals. Because of that, it is almost a guarantee that there will be a great variety when it comes to the pictures you are going to take. The better angle is always that with the volcano in the background.

If you are feeling more adventurous, you can hop on a chicken bus and be like a legit local. The problem is that you have to know the routes, at least. This is what I did going back to Guate later on and I ended up hailing a cab anyway because I just didn’t know where that chicken bus dropped me off. I think it was at Zone 3 way up north. The chicken bus is cheap at GTQ 10 (~PHP 60) and feels like a roller coaster ride. That adds more to the thrill. Unlike the comfy buses, these ones leave every 10 minutes or so, giving you more freedom with your schedule.

[ANTIGUA] Almost Two Hours of Antigua

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