La Merced
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fondant-cake-façade in the Guatemalan Highlands
With a façade like a fondant wedding cake, the Iglesia de la Merced in Antigua Guatemala is a baroque fantasy from the mid-18th century. The first time my wife and I went to Antigua, we stayed for a week. Linguistically, it was a reboot for me and an intensive kick-off for my wife as we took personalized Spanish classes in this most photogenic city. A mile high and surrounded by massive (occasionally active) volcanoes, full of bougainvillea spilling over ocher and pastel colonial walls, with Mayans in indigenous clothing traversing the cobblestones--it's just ridiculously pretty. If you're thinking of learning Spanish--whether beginning or brushing up--few places are as pleasant to study as Antigua. The city is full of schools and academies with varying levels of accreditation and rigor. Choose to your liking. Conjugating is just more pleasant in the tropics...And bring your camera. (It must be said, though, that the center of town has been 'colonized' by boutiques, cafés and restaurants that local Guatemalans cannot afford; they have been priced out of the place while simultaneously, the foreigners who flock here keep the economy alive...)
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