5 Beautiful Places to Visit in Antigua Guatemala When Quarantine Ends
The unique beauty of Antigua, Guatemala is hard to match. This old Latin American city, seemingly frozen in time with its colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It acquired the heritage status by having been “the cultural, economic, religious, political and educational centre for the entire region until the capital was moved,” according to UNESCO.
Those who visit Antigua, Guatemala are amazed by its historical attractions, stunning churches, and crumbling, awe-inspiring monasteries, which comprise much of its touristic appeal.
Founded on March 10, 1543, La Antigua Guatemala guards within its city limits nearly 500 years of history. It’s privileged with an “everlasting spring” as a climate and an exceptional view of the volcanoes, Fuego and Acatenango.
Once quarantine ends and you’re able to jump aboard the next flight out of town, you will be doing yourself a favor by choosing to visit Antigua, Guatemala. This colorful town not only continues to preserve restored 16th century buildings, but it can also be explored entirely on foot through its charming cobbled streets.
What’s more, if you’re a fan of ours here at Homeschool Spanish Academy, you can drop by our school’s headquarters to say hello!
As you plan your trip to Antigua, Guatemala, there are five particular places you will not want to miss. Check out our list of five spectacular places to visit in Antigua, Guatemala when quarantine ends!
5 Beautiful Places to Visit in Antigua, Guatemala
5. Santa Catalina Arch
The Arch of Santa Catalina is one of the most iconic features of Antigua Guatemala. Thousands of tourists walk beneath its imposing curvature every year—and while they are charmed by it, its history is often ignored.
Unbeknownst to most, the Arch of Santa Catalina has its secrets. Most notable of them all is that the arch itself conceals within it a hidden footbridge. In fact, the sole purpose of the arch’s creation emerged in 1690 when a group of hermetic nuns were desperate for a solution.
History tells us that a fiercely private sect of nuns lived in the convent of Santa Catalina Virgen y Mártir (bordering the eastern flank of the arch) who had sworn a holy vow of isolation to avoid all contact with the outside world. They forbade each other from being seen by anyone outside of their sect. This posed a great difficulty when (due to lack of available real estate) they were forced to establish their private religious school across the street from the convent. Certainly, the nuns couldn’t be seen scurrying across a main road in town, so the convent erected an attractive—and most importantly, secretive—bridge between the two buildings.
Subsequently, the sect abandoned el arco de Santa Catalina and its adjoining structures soon after the earthquakes of Santa Marta in 1773. As it stands, the arch continues to bridge the convent and its school building but is currently owned by the municipality of Antigua Guatemala.
4. Iglesia de la Merced
La Iglesia de La Merced, or the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, arose at the initiative of the Mercedarian Order, which at that time was one of the oldest religious orders in the Americas. The sanctuary was a monastery for male priests and friars.
One of the most emblematic buildings in Antigua Guatemala, la Iglesia de la Merced has a charming baroque architecture constructed almost entirely of stucco. In addition to the two low bell towers flanking either side, it displays eight large Solomonic columns with ornamental designs in its facade.
The Mercedarians built the original church in 1583, but it was partially destroyed by several earthquakes that struck the area before the 18th century. In 1749, Juan de Dios Estrada was commissioned with the construction of the church you see standing today.
Despite the intensity of the earthquakes that have affected our colonial city, the church itself has withstood the terrestrial trembling, while sadly the old monastery lays completely in ruins.
La Merced Church is one of the most visited sites in Antigua Guatemala, with its facade having been photographed by hundreds of thousands of national and foreign tourists. During Holy Week, two of the most iconic processions emerge from La Merced to make their way through the streets of Antigua.
3. Cerro de La Cruz
If you’re in the mood to witness one of the most extraordinary, panoramic views of Antigua Guatemala, then you’ll want to climb the Cerro de la Cruz.
Formerly known as Cerro del Manchén, it’s a hillside destination where you can contemplate the majesty of the city of La Antigua Guatemala with its domes and blue volcanoes stretching below and beyond. Its name means “The Hill of the Cross,” referring to the cross it brandishes proudly that seems to guard the city from above.
Historically, the original cross was placed on the hill in 1930 and was made of wood. Later, a cement cross was created and erected in its place. Soon after, it became customary to climb this hill, especially on Ascension Thursday in remembrance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
These days, el Cerro de la Cruz is a wildly popular tourist destination whose renown has prompted the construction of wide, cobblestone pathways that will lead you to the top within 10 or 15 minutes.
2. Casa Santo Domingo
No matter where you choose to stay during your trip—you’ve got to visit el Hotel Casa Santo Domingo. While a 5-star chic beauty it is, this edificio dates back to 1542 and has gone through innumerable changes over the centuries.
It was first conceived in 1549 by the council of Antigua (whose official name at the time was Santiago de Los Caballeros) as the Santo Domingo Convent, and it wasn’t finished until 1666, taking 118 years to build. Due to the lack of resources, the first version of the church was actually made of reeds covered with mud and hay roofs. As the century moved forward, so did the construction of the convent thanks to the collaboration of the inhabitants, who contributed materials, paintings, and alms. In addition to local volunteers and donations, the city council began hiring distinguished professionals, painters, and silversmiths to bring the construction to completion.
By the time construction had finished, it was considered one of the most awe-inspiring and impressive convents in Antigua.
Unfortunately, the Santo Domingo Convent suffered irreparable damage from the earthquakes in 1717 and 1773, destroying the integrity of its structure. Most notably, the dome and some of the vaults collapsed.
In 1988, a restoration project began in earnest to build a hotel and commercial complex in the area. When you visit, you’ll discover a sprawling archaeological complex with 6 museums attached to the hotel, which spurs thousands of tourists to explore the space throughout the year.
1. El Catedral Primada de Santiago
When you visit the city center and park of Antigua, you will immediately notice along its eastern edge a towering white church called Catedral Primada de Santiago, Parroquia de San José (also called the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, San Joseph Parish). The first construction of this soon-to-be glorious building was actually quite modest. Erected in 1545, the church had a thatched roof and a wooden-paneled interior.
The eye-catching edifice you see today was inaugurated in 1680 and elevated to the category of Cathedral by 1743.
By now you understand that a relentlessly violent earthquake hit Antigua Guatemala in 1773, which also caused severe damage to the cathedral, including its altarpieces and imagery.
Currently, only a small portion of the cathedral’s building is in use as a center of worship. The grand majority of its glory lay in ruins, which you can now explore as a tourist in awe and curiosity. Surprisingly, there is an underground crypt preserved in one of the chapels that you can pay to see.
Open Your Heart to Antigua Guatemala
This list of five beautiful places to visit in Antigua, Guatemala is missing so many other extraordinary places! If you decide to come here for a vacation, you will be immersed in splendor and historically-significant beauty.
Speaking of immersion, you’ll also be surrounded by Spanish speakers! If you’d like to prepare for your trip by speaking with one of our native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Antigua, Guatemala, sign up for a free class! We’d love to talk to you (in Spanish) about what else this exceptional city has to offer.
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