La Antigua (the old one), former colonial capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala, combines 17th and 18th century buildings and ruins with all the modern conveniences discerning travelers desire. The city was established as Santiago (St James) in 1543 after a mudslide destroyed the former capital. Santiago’s history was punctuated by massive earthquakes, followed by rebuilding and reparation, until the earthquake of Santa Marta in 1773 prompted a move to the present capital in Guatemala City. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Antigua exudes a unique atmosphere of history, intrigue and surprise. Resting in a fertile valley at 1530 m and surrounded by hills and volcanoes, Antigua’s climate is likened to ‘eternal spring’.
Central Park, also known as the Plaza Real, Plaza de Armas or parque central, this was the center of government, commerce and society and formed the center of the original street grid system. Its gardens and mermaid fountain make it a pleasant place to watch the Guatemalans at work and play. On the south side is the Palace of the Captain-General, home to the governor and his family, the soldiers and their horses, offices for employees, and the Royal Mint. On the north side is the Ayuntamiento (City Hall), built in 1740, its solid construction and graceful arches continue in daily use. Along the west, formerly ‘bakers row’, are banks, cafés, bookstores etc. Gracing the east side is the Cathedral, inaugurated in 1680 and destroyed in 1773. The front portion has been restored and is currently in use while the rest, which can be visited, lies in ruins.
Church and Convent of Santa Clara, stark and imposing from the street, the beautiful baroque façade of the church can only be admired from within the convent complex. The cloister’s gardens are popular with photographers, gardeners and language students.
Church and Convent of Capuchinas, or the Convent of Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza, fifth and final convent built in Antigua and the only one where a dowry was not required. The building formerly housed the School for Young Maidens, its conversion into a convent being finished in 1736 it suffered less damage in the 1773 earthquake than others. Part of the convent is used as a headquarters by the Council for the Protection of Antigua and enough remains to visualize cloistered life in this very strict Franciscan Order.

The solid Church of La Merced (Mercy) was rebuilt in the 1760s and largely withstood the earthquake of 1773, unlike its monastery. The ultra baroque façade reveals a synchronization of Catholic and Maya religions while inside this working church are many revered statues. The monastery has been partly rebuilt and has the largest fountain in Central America. Perhaps even more impressive are the views from the upper level of Antigua and its surroundings.
The Monastery of San Francisco, destroyed in 1773, lies in impressive ruins. It has a museum to Guatemala’s only saint, Hermano Pedro de Betancur of Tenerife, who died in Antigua in 1667. Following constant petitions for him to made a saint he was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. The church was rebuilt in the 1960s in honor of this healing saint, whose tomb brings pilgrims from Guatemala and the surrounding countries.
useum of Colonial Art, formerly the University of San Carlos, displays religious paintings and statues in this 18th century building of Moorish influence.