July 8, 2012 - We've landed in Antigua, a town famed for its architecture and authentic feel. It's located close to an active volcano, visible from most places downtown.
At first blush the town felt like a more refined version of San Cristobal de las Casas, in Mexico. That feeling vanished as time went on.
The town is laid out in a grid pattern, with cobblestone streets and very little to no commercial signage to speak of. Even the menus displayed on small tripods in restaurant doorways seem to be burdened by legislation. Despite that, it is possible to find McDonalds, Burger King and Ralph Lauren perfume within a stone's throw from the main square.
Antigua is mostly made up of low-slung buildings and surprisingly few churches or other larger structures. It gives the place a bit of a medieval prison like feel, certainly because the inhabitants have a penchant for locking down everything at night to prepare for a siege. Even during the day, business is transacted through gated protection. Not only by pharmacists and banks, but even the local "panaderia" (baker) fears a hold up mid-day. Guards with pump action shotguns linger around most stores.
Below is picture of an old centralized laundry area, now no longer in use.
A random street shot.
The best part for me on this stay were the photo opportunities during the Miss Guatemala elections which were being held the weekend we were there. Since there wasn't a single SLR-wielding lunatic scurrying between the various participants to snap pictures, I felt it my duty to jump in and act the part.
I never quite figured out if the ladies in the horse and carriage combos were finalists or representing the various regions in Guatemala.
They certainly didn't seem to mind the attention though.
At the end of the day, the best picture I took was one of a girl in the park.
We even saw some other overlanders in Antigua.
Antigua was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. The atmosphere was distinctly focused on tourists and not laid back at all. Although the architecture was certainly impressive, it was very much the same all over, to the point that getting lost in Antigua was more the rule than the exception. The central area of Antigua is beautifully restored, for a purpose.
It all felt a bit too made up, like movie sets, with expensive restaurants and stores wedged in what once were rustic courtyards where people lived their lives and chickens ran amok. If you want "pretty", then Antigua will not disappoint, but if you want genuine, San Cristobal de las Casas is my clear favorite.