Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

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Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is one of the most-popular destinations in Guatemala and it’s easy to see why. Nestled high in the mountains and surrounded by not one but three volcanoes, it’s a beautifully-preserved example of Spanish colonial charm. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it intends to stay that way, with development limited and modern trappings such as neon signs and billboards banned from the old town.

I’ll admit that I didn’t think I would enjoy Antigua as much as I have — I’d visited two other Heritage towns, Luang Prabang in Laos and Hoi An in Vietnam, and found them both to be pleasant and certainly beautiful but somehow lacking in life. No one seemed to really live there anymore — every building was turned over to tourism, housing not families but hotels, cafes, tour shops and the like. They were great places to visit and relax –perfect for a romantic get-away, for example– but they just didn’t feel real to me.

And Antigua is similar in that regard — near the town center, you’ll find shops selling everything from bagels to high-end French cuisine or expensive jewelry. Curio shops, cafes, street vendors and ATMs patiently await the tourist hordes.

But look around and you’ll find, too, shops selling appliances, motorcycles, cell phones and the other mundane stuff people need to survive this crazy modern world. Wander out to the edges of towns where people live in colorful cinder block houses and kids shoot hoops at a community court. You’ll get some shocked looks — most visitors don’t bother.

Or, even better, dive deep into the local market –beyond the two rows devoted to selling handicrafts to tourists– and you’ll find everyday people shopping, chatting and living their lives in full Technicolor glory.

Antigua is definitely more than a fancy tourist mall, though you may have to look a bit to find it. And if you don’t feel like bothering, you’ll still have a great time — it’s just so damned pretty.

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Originally the country capital, Antigua was nearly demolished by a massive earthquake in 1773. There are several ruined colonial-style churches scattered around town — most are fenced off but a couple can be toured and are well worth a stop.

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Most of the architecture dates from the 17th and 18th centuries — in order to maintain the look, no modern signage is allowed. Everything is painted on tile, carved from wood or metal or painted directly on the side of the buildings.

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

I ran into quite a few old men who liked to stand around on corners, waiting for me to take their photo. They never asked for tips but just really seemed to like having their photo taken. No idea why, but I’m not complaining.

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

Travel Photos: Time Stands Still in Antigua, Guatemala

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Dani | Globetrottergirls December 12, 2011 at 9:56 am

Fabulous photos! We were in Antigua a year ago and looking at your pictures brings back so many sweet memories. Happy to hear you liked Antigua more than you thought :)

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Madeleine December 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Make sure you check out Granada, Nicaragua too! Similarly preserved in a charming (and touristy) way, but still home to locals and is full of life.

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wes December 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Thanks! Will do!

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Drew December 14, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Seconded on Granada. My favorite location that we spent time in while in Central America.

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Erin December 12, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Wow, it looks beautiful. Glad to hear that it hasn’t been ruined despite being touristy. It’s definitely on our list when we finally get to explore more of Central America.

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Culture-ist December 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm

Fantastic photos! We visited Antigua in April 2011 and found the city and it’s residents to be incredibly charming. We also spent some time volunteering on the outskirts (building homes and caring for malnourished children). A life-changing experience, highly recommended!

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Christina Koukkos December 13, 2011 at 12:14 am

Beautiful photos, Wes. I didn’t think it was possible, but they’re getting better and better.

As for Antigua, glad to hear it hasn’t (yet) been completely shorn of real life. Can’t wait to hear more from Guatemala….

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wes December 13, 2011 at 2:39 am

Awww, you’re too kind :)

going diving anytime soon?

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Claire @ Two4Travel December 13, 2011 at 2:24 am

Love your photos! You captured so many different moods. I can’t wait to visit Antigua one day!

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wes December 13, 2011 at 2:42 am

Thanks, Claire. You should — it really is lovely. And while it’s hot n sweaty in the lowlands, it’s cool and dry up here. Loving it!

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neavilag December 23, 2011 at 1:23 am

Antigua Valley same as the most important cities in Guatemala (Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango) are highland valleys sorrounded by volcanoes. Many call Guatemala, Land of Eternal Spring, even we have rainy season from May to Oct, this time of the year is great for cool blue sky days and chilly nights :-). One of the better climate you can find..

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Bret @ Green Global Travel December 13, 2011 at 2:52 am

Wonderful photos! The colors and the colonial architecture are really spectacular. An acquaintance of ours in the travel industry warned us the other day that Guatemala has had some security issues. Did you experience any problems there? It’s definitely on our must-see list.

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wes December 13, 2011 at 2:58 am

I haven’t noticed anything yet but I’ve only been in Antigua so far and it’s a bit of a tourist bubble. Honduras was definitely creepy at times, especially San Pedro Sula. Only after I left, did I learn that Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. Glad I didn’t know ;)

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DKR December 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

Great photos! Well done.

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Kevin - The Mad Traveler December 13, 2011 at 8:10 am

Great photos, Wes! Bringing back a lot of memories… Love the people shots. Are you chatting with them or shooting at a distance? Some of the Maya get pretty defensive about photos.

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wes December 13, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Thanks, Kevin. It’s a mix for the people shots. Some shots you just have to grab if you’re going to get a natural look. But I prefer to chat a bit and ask. Those often end up feeling very stiff, alas.

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Dean December 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Great photos Wes, I particularly like the first one. Antigua looks like a lovely place.

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Red Hunt December 14, 2011 at 5:05 am

My second favourite city in Central America after Granada, Nicaragua. Great pictures, they bring back some fun memories especially the cobbled street with volcano in the distance…I know I’ve walked down that street ;)

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wes December 14, 2011 at 6:32 am

I’m really looking forward to Granada :)

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Carlo December 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Churches and ruins look epic. Can you go inside any of them? This is going to be our second stop in Guatemala. Any other suggestions?

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wes December 18, 2011 at 4:42 am

There are a couple you can visit and stroll thru. I can’t think of the name at the moment, but the largest is a $5 entry or so and well worth it.

This is my first stop in Guatemala so I’ll have to get back to you on the recommendations ;)

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Dalene December 18, 2011 at 12:18 am

This just made me suddenly yearn for Central America, for the first time in a long time. Great photos…

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Sofia January 27, 2013 at 1:36 am

Beautiful photos, absolutely love the first one!

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Gaby May 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Beautiful pictures! I used to visit Antigua once a year when I was growing up, my favorite town in the world. I haven’t been there in over 15 years, I have to say based on these pictures it hasn’t changed much despite being a tourist town. I can’t wait to go back!!!

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A Lady in London December 25, 2013 at 12:07 am

Wow, beautiful! Makes me want to visit.
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