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Puerto Quetzal Cruises

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

About Antigua (Puerto Quetzal), Guatemala

Gateway to the colonial and natural splendor of Guatemala, Puerto Quetzal is overseen by a dramatic mountain range and a pair of magnificent volcanic peaks. It is Guatemala’s largest port. Nearby Antigua, a historic and cultural center set in a verdant mountain-ringed valley of the central highlands, is one of the best preserved Spanish colonial cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Antigua was the prosperous capital of Middle America from its founding in 1543. Over more than 200 years, the city was a major center of religion and education for the Spanish colonies and one of the wealthiest cities in the New World. A major earthquake in 1773 changed all that, after which the Spanish king moved the capital to Guatemala City, where it remains today. Many Antiguans stayed, however, and restored their beloved city. Most buildings were reconstructed and others were left in ruin; the resulting cityscape creates an evocative tableau of living history.

Antigua Lifestyle and Culture

Antigua enjoys a vibrant and thriving culture with deep roots in the traditions of its indigenous Mayan people, Spanish colonists and mestizos. Colorful textiles embody the Mayan spirit; intricately woven patterns represent specific villages, making it possible to identify one’s hometown. Local music has been inspired by the folk customs of Spain; Guatemala was one of the first regions in the New World to embrace European music. A 500-year-old tradition of liturgical chant dates back to the city’s founding by monks.

Antigua celebrates its religious holidays with great fervor. On every Sunday during Lent, a local parish conducts a procession festooned with artfully designed alfombras (carpets) of sawdust, bright bouquets of flowers and fruits and vegetables. Holy Week and Easter are also commemorated with elaborate outdoor celebrations that give local artists the chance to display their works.

The people of Antigua and Guatemala value and respect the natural world that surrounds their cities and villages. Volcanoes and soaring mountains tower over much of the country, merely hinting at the biodiversity here. Indeed, locals have no fewer than 14 eco-regions to enjoy and explore, from mangrove forest to Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Antigua Sights and Landmarks

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Antigua’s Spanish Renaissance and baroque churches, picturesque monasteries and colorful homes recall the city’s 200 years as the capital of Spain’s Middle American colonies. Life here centers around the Plaza Mayor, adjacent to the Convento de las Capuchinas (Capuchin Convent) that today hosts a museum chronicling the history of the nuns who once called it home.

The baroque La Merced Church is a splendid vision in yellow with its stout bell towers and elaborate central entrance. The San Francisco Church, too, is a sight to behold, its facade adorned with twisted columns and its interior graced by 16 vaulted niches. The butter-hued Arco de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Arch), an elegant and distinctive landmark, watches over cobblestone lanes that lead to the central Plaza Mayor, remarkably restored buildings and poetic ruins, all set against the backdrop of three enormous volcanoes.

Antigua Entertainment and Activities

One of the most rewarding ways to spend time in Antigua is simply lingering on a bench in the picturesque Plaza Mayor. Gathering place for antigüeños and visitors, the open space is surrounded by graceful colonial architecture and has as its centerpiece an inspiring fountain adorned with mermaids.

The city’s bustling market provides a glimpse of daily living. It is always busy in this colorful emporium of culture and cuisine, and the convivial nature of the place makes it easy to strike up a conversation or two with farmers and craftspeople.

Antigua Restaurants and Shopping

Guatemala’s cuisine has a strong Mayan influence. Many of its dishes feature maize, chilies and black beans. Tamales are ubiquitous here, a corn-based dough wrapped around savory or sweet fillings and steamed in a corn husk or banana leaf. Some foods are eaten on particular days of the week, such as paches (a tamale made of potatoes) on Thursdays.

For some excellent Italian cuisine in Guatemala, stop by Caffé Mediterráneo. Its chef, straight from Calabria, has created a soothing ambiance ideal for savoring pastas and other regional dishes. At Bistrot Cinq (or Bistro #5), enjoy a taste of France in a casual atmosphere, perhaps sampling absinthe after your meal. For fine Guatemalan food artfully presented in an outdoor setting, visit Los Tres Tiempos.

For a wide selection of Mayan clothing, masks, woodcarvings and countless other items, head to the market hall of Nim Po’t, showcasing the work of hundreds of indigenous artists and craftspeople. At La Casa del Jade in the Casa Antigua El Jaulón arcade, browse pre-Hispanic and modern pieces of jade.