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I travelled through Guatemala as a student backpacker, but there are lots of things to do for any age group/interest. For the bargain hunters I thoroughly recommend the colourful and vibrant markets, but make sure you haggle (the best price is often gained from comparing different sellers, and having a grasp of the language!). I bought a beautiful bedspread for only £15, planning to send it home in the post, but ended up carrying it around the rest of Central America due to the £70 needed on stamps!!
Even for the non-religious traveller, it is well worth visiting the churches, such as La Merced, San Francisco, and Las Capuchinas, for the colonial architecture and to appreciate the local devotion to the Catholic Church. The recent canonisation of Hermano Pedro (the first saint from Central America) involved a visit from the Pope and a huge local and national celebration.
Another place I visited was Casa Popenoe, a local 17th Century colonical house, which is definitely worth looking around, to gain an idea of how life was during colonial times.
For those who want to fully immerse themselves in Spanish, there are many language courses available, and you can stay with local families, which is a definite worthwhile experience. As a result, there are a few American (and European) students in the city, which may deter some people from going to Antigua at certain times of the year. However, this is also a good opportunity for passing-through travellers to get recommendations of places to go in the local area from the students who go travelling at the weekends.
Even if you are not staying in a youth hostel, a few of them have their own 'cinema' showing Latin American films which anyone can go and see - I saw La Hija de la Puma, a famous Guatemalan film: this is a fairly old film about a girl whose animal spirit is the Puma, which gives great insight into the revolutions that have troubled Central America.
As in the rest of Central America, the city revolves around the central square, where there are banks, market sellers, cafes, and shops aimed at the 'wealthy' American traveller. I found (along with the friend I was travelling with) that the locals gave me more respect as a tourist when they knew I was from England, rather than the States, and did not try to rip me off so much (tip: if buying knick-knacks from small boys, mention David Beckham!).
It's cool to hear from someone else who has visited Antigua. I travelled there in 2001 and thought it was a lovely, cosmopolitian place. I also treked up a volcano while i was there which was an experience and a half!!!!
SophieWehr 07.07.2004 16:49
Thought of this place for my honeymoon but ended up booking a cruise (ooooh I hear you say, but no, it was really cheap because of 9/11!!!) and this way we know the weather will be nice (August).... Soph
MAFARRIMOND 03.07.2004 00:04
Welcome to Ciao. An unforgetable experience. Maureen