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Spanish in Antigua

How to Spend Your Downtime in Antigua

The city of Antigua Guatemala, nowadays more commonly referred to as just Antigua, is a UNESCO protected World Heritage Site and a charming one at that. There are still some very visible remnants of the city's past colonial glory in the form of ruins and reconstructed buildings, all renovated and made safe for tourists. The city follows a grid like pattern, with the Plaza Mayor as a central orientation point. The "calles" or "streets" run horizontally and the "avenidas" or "avenues run vertically, making Antigua an extremely easy city to navigate, even more so when you consider its very manageable size . Getting around on foot is the best way to explore the city, however it is safest to take a taxi during the hours of darkness and if you are looking to go somewhere a bit further afield then there are chicken buses that run every ten minutes or so to Guatemala City and also tuk-tuks that will take you wherever you want to go within the city for a few quetzals

Iglesia

A good place to start in Antigua is the central Plaza Mayor. The plaza itself is a great spot for people watching in amongst the trees and fountains and surrounding it you will find the city's Cathedral, rebuilt following its destruction by an earthquake. The ruins of the old Cathedral still remain and can be seen at the back of the present building. It is beautifully lit up at night. Nearby you will also find the Government Palace, a grand building that now houses the "Museo de Santiago" and the "Museo del Libro" (Book Museum), the Capuchins Convent and Church and the Santa Clara Convent. Just north of the central plaza you will see the much photographed "Arco de Santa Catarina". This distinctive feature used to connect the Convent of Santa Catalina with a school and is now one of the city's principal landmarks. Alongside the arch, another emblematic feature in Antigua is the "Iglesia de la Merced" or "Church of Mercy". This baroque style, yellow coloured Church has two large belltowers and was inaugurated in 1767.

If you have had enough of colonial architecture for the day then a colourful way to spend a few hours is to visit the city's Handcrafts Market near Santa Lucia Avenue on the western side of the city. You could also make a picnic and make the most of some of the city's pleasant parks, or fill your belly with some of the appetising street food on offer, such as tortillas and tacos filled with meat, refried beans and vegetables.In general, the food in Guatemala is hearty and flavoursome. You will find plenty of tamales (fried corn dumplings), hot dogs and tacos in stalls along the streets and filling soups and stews in all of the restaurants and cafes. An important part of the Guatemalan economy is coffee production and you can easily participate in tours in and around Antigua where you can pick, process and roast your own coffee and then taste a warming cup of the rich Guatemalan roast. As well as this, you can also pay a visit to the Experimental Station Valhalla, a program set up to donate macadamia trees to indigenous communities. It is found jut a few kilometres outside of the city by chicken bus and offers tours and product sampling, including delicious macadamia flour pancakes with fresh fruit.

Cerro

For the best views of the city you should head up to Cerro de la Cruz, a viewpoint on a hill to the north of the city. It is a thirty minute walk and the tourist police will escort groups every day at 10am and 3pm. It provides nice views of Antigua and the Volcano de Agua on a clear day. You can survey all of the wonderful sights that the city has to offer, amongst them several of the original ruins of the earthquakes that have destroyed large parts of Antigua over the years. These include: Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Jeronimo, Recollecin and Museo Capuchin. The entry price to see some of the ruins can be quite expensive, but they provide an interesting look at what the city used to be like and what it has overcome.

After a hard day's sightseeing and exploring you can head round to "El Sitio" cultural centre for some relaxing yoga and a look at the latest art exhibition. After that you can enjoy the sunset on one of the terrace bars in the city and chow down on some nice traditional food.

Antigua may have lost some of its glory of former days, but this only adds to its charm and appeal and makes walking through its streets all the more interesting. Many people choose Antigua each year as a place to stop off and spend some time studying Spanish, as it provides a tranquil and relaxing environment in which to do so, whilst still offering plenty of activities and opportunities to explore and immerse yourself in Spanish!