5a Avenida Norte, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Arco y VolcánFew cities in Central America can rival Antigua Guatemala for its setting: a mile high, surrounded by volcanoes, with a spring-like climate all year round. The first time we visited Antigua, we spent a week here, taking intensive Spanish classes in the mornings, wandering the city in the afternoons, sipping the best coffee we'd ever tasted. The inhabitants are nicknamed 'panza verde'--'green belly,' due to all of the avocados that grow on the hills surrounding the colonial city.
Antigua was the capital of Spanish Central America for over two centuries, until earthquakes in the 1770's flattened much of the city, causing the Spanish to relocate their capital to what is now Guatemala City.
The patina of time has settled over this place; half-ruined sites still languish amidst the throngs of language students and visitors. Early mornings are still calm here, almost impossibly picturesque. The three volcanoes, Agua (3760m/12336ft, seen here), Fuego (3763m/12345ft) and Acatenango (3976m/13045ft), loom over the bougainvillea and tiled-roofs...And in this streetscape, you can see the Arco de Santa Catalina, one of the icons of the city, originally built so that cloistered nuns could cross over the street without being seen...