ANTIGUA, Guatemala — Oozing a lively vibe, Antigua, Guatemala is an enchanting and eclectic colonial city that takes visitors to a place where new and old worlds meet.
This small town, which rests magically on the valley of the volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acatenango, was named a world heritage site in 1979 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Its particular location provides travelers a taste of the landscape that is so characteristic of Central American nations.
Antigua, Guatemala – simply called “Antigua” by tourists – is the leading attraction of the country, if not of the region.
Tourists Kris and Abby Cooper, of Tennessee, in Antigua, Guatemala
Its streets are filled with people from different parts of the world, with visitors coming from North America, South America, Europe and also from neighboring countries like El Salvador.
The cobblestone streets of the town lead to several cultural attractions, small hostels and restaurants.
Most people rent a room just to sleep and spend the whole day walking and adventuring in the many cafes, restaurants, “tiendas” and markets.
The landscape is what catches the attention of teens from other countries.
“I think it’s very beautiful. I like the parks and the street right here, the arch,” said 15-year-old Kris Cooper from Tennessee, referring to the Arco de Santa Caralina, when asked what he thought was the most interesting thing about the town.
Abby Cooper, 13, said she “liked the volcanoes a lot.” Cooper said that they had been in Antigua for about a week and were planning to stay in town one more week.
“Our cousins are adopted from here,” she said, adding that they were traveling with their uncle.
Since the town is foremost oriented towards tourism, in every corner there are things to buy and places to eat – at a wide range of prices.
People of all ages visit the city, but there are particularly plenty of young people in their twenties involved in volunteer work around the area who come to Antigua to relax.
“It’s nice, clean actually,” said Elise Mussche, 21, from Belgium, after just a few hours in town. “It seems very touristy also. Lots of volunteer work.”
Mussche said she would stay in Guatemala for four months involved in a volunteer project that was taking place not in Antigua, but near one of the volcanoes.
“The project is called ‘Los Niños,’” said Mussche. “We are going to work with children and educate them a little bit.”
However, temporary volunteering is not the only kind you find in Guatemala. There are foreigners who chose to settle in Antigua for good.
“I came here with a college group to donate our time, and I kept coming back,” said 26-year-old Nancy Brice from California, who has lived in Antigua permanently for three years.
Brice works in Antigua with a small school.
“The school ‘Escuela Integrada’ is a project for poor kids here in Antigua that reaches out to the youth,” Brice said.
Nancy Brice, a California native who lives in Antigua, Guatemala, and tree donor Frank Faccia, from France.
Brice and local children were having a campaign to raise funds and plant trees.
“We’re raising support to plant trees up in ‘Cerro de La Cruz’ because we want to promote the health of the planet and have more trees so that we can maintain a clean and safe environment, ” said Brice.
Frank Faccia, 30, from France, said “Parque Florencia” donated the trees and he is giving them to the school.
“They are giving me 2,000 trees and what I do with the 2,000 trees they give me, is that I give those trees to this school and they’re going to sell those trees symbolically,” Faccia said.
Brice said that the project is not funded by a specific organization.
“Our project is funded by Rebecca and Andrew Loveall along with other organizations like ‘Save the Children’ from Denmark,” Brice said.
Like Brice, Faccia has lived in Antigua for a while. He said he’s lived in the city for five years.
“I have a business here on this street and that’s the reason they give me this activity,” he said.
“They’re going to make different activities,” he continued, referring to the Mayan celebrations that were going to take place in Antigua that day.
“Today is a party day in this street, Calle del Arco,” Faccia said, referring to the street of “El Arco de Santa Catalina” one of the most famous spots in Antigua where most tourists take their souvenir photograph.
An interesting highlight of not only the city of Antigua, but of the whole country of Guatemala is the strength and predominance of the Mayan culture.
Natives wearing Mayan outfits walk the streets just as the tourists do. Many native women sit on the streets to sell fruits. The pride the Guatemalan people take in their heritage is something particularly honorable.
“It’s beautiful, the heritage, the chapels and the way the people dress,” said Robert Harding, 57, of Virginia. Harding was in Antigua for a break from missionary work he was doing up in the highlands.
“People are really friendly,” said Claire Patrick, 36, of Virginia, who was taking part in the missionary work with Harding.
Patrick called Antigua “an absolutely gorgeous” city, with its conspicuous remnants of the colonial era, such as houses and chapels, as well as customs of the pre-conquista.
“It’s a good mix. I think a fusion between Guatemalan culture and Spanish European culture makes a very unique combination,” said Patrick.
The nightlife in Antigua is very active.
Most places close at 1 a.m., but before that, you can freely walk around the streets from place to place and meet interesting people doing the same thing.
Overall, it’s a very safe town, although you do get to see some drunken people on the streets.
Most of the bars and restaurants in Antigua are bilingual and some places sell international calls or provide computers with internet access for those who don’t like to feel completely isolated.
The town of Antigua is one of the most interesting places to visit in Central America. The diversity of people and places creates a friendly atmosphere that mixes with the spirituality of the region.
Indeed, it’s a place that serves all kinds of travelers.
It doesn’t matter if you want to visit a museum, art gallery, party all night or just drink coffee looking at a volcano or at the amalgam of diverse cultures and people transiting the streets.
Antigua, Guatemala will transport you to a world that’s different from anything you have ever known.
Oscar Ramirez is a Reporter from El Salvador for Youth Journalism International.