Antigua Guatemala

Iximche and Antigua – A Great Day Trip from Guatemala City

The two most popular tourist spots in Guatemala are undoubtedly the ruins of Tikal and the colonial town of Antigua. These locations were both on our itinerary, but we decided to combine a day trip to Antigua with a side trip to the ruins of Iximche as a “warm up” for Tikal. It was a great decision, not only to see Iximche itself, but to also enjoy the ride through the beautiful Guatemalan highlands.

Iximche

Iximche sits at a higher altitude than Guatemala City, and the cooler temperatures were noticeable (Iximche is at 7,400 ft vs. Guatemala City at 4,900 ft). I was glad I had brought a jacket along (we visited at the end of December). Iximche is 56 miles from Guatemala City, but on the windy roads it took about 2 hours to get there.

Iximche was the capital of the “Late Postclassic Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524” according to Wikipedia. The Spanish conquistadors arrived around this time, as did Smallpox, which decimated the native population. The ruins were declared a national monument in 1960.

You won’t run into crowds here, Iximche does not receive a lot of “foreign” visitors, most are locals. We pretty much had the site to ourselves.

Model of Iximche, Guatemala.

A model of the city of Iximche at its peak in the late 1400’s. For the tourist, you enter the actual ruins at the lower left, and work your way to the far end of the display. only a few of the pyramid bases remain along with other foundations.

Guatemala Iximche2

An copy of Mayan text near the entrance. The long bars and small dots represent numbers or years.

Ball court, Iximche, Guatemala

A ball court at Ximche, a common feature of Mayan cities. The games were played with a rubber ball, no hands or feet could be used.

Other views of the ruins of Iximche:

Iximche, Guatemala

The central plaza area of Iximche.

Iximche, Guatemala City

The main structures here are known as Temples 1 and 2.

Iximche, Guatemala

Iximche, Guatemala

Iximche, Guatemala.

A ceremonial area at the far end of Iximche, still in use by the descendants of the ancient Mayan citizens .

Antigua

From Iximche, we then drove on to Antigua. This is where most of the tourists hang out, both in terms of day trippers and overnight stays. Even cruise ships arrange day trips to Antigua from the Pacific Coast port of Puerto Quetzal, only 71 km or 44 miles away, about 1.5 hours by auto or bus. Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was the capital of Spanish Guatemala back in the mid 16th century (it is considered Guatemala’s 3rd capital, Ximche being the first) and has an extensive amount of colonial architecture. It also is known for its setting, surrounded by steep volcanic peaks and close proximity to Guatemala City, only 40 km or 25 miles (plan about 1 hour by car).

Antigua, Guatemala

A view of Antigua from a hillside park. The city sits in a bowl beneath several volcanoes and has been the victim of volcanic eruptions and numerous earthquakes.

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua’s most famous landmark, Santa Catalina Arch. The arch was built in the late 1600’s and allowed nuns to walk over the street (convents were on both sides) without mingling with the public.

Antigua, Guatemala

Street scene in Antigua, with the brightly colored buildings and walls, and cobblestone streets.

Antigua, Guatemala

Another street scene in central Antigua.

Town square, Antigua, Guatemala

The main town square in Antigua.

Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua, Guatemala

Courtyard of the Casa Santo Domingo (aka Monasterio de Santo Domingo) in Antigua. This is a semi-ruined monastery that is now a hotel and destination wedding spot. Very cool place.

Casa Santo Domingo, Antigua, Guatemala

One of the chapels in Casa Santo Domingo.

On every corner in Antigua are interesting churches, some fully functional, but many in a state of ruin (some partially both!) due to numerous earthquakes over the centuries.

La Merced Church, Antigua, Guatemala

There are numerous beautiful churches in Antigua, this is the La Merced Church.

Church of San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala

Early 18th century Church of San Francisco, Antigua. It is a pilgrimage site and has extensive ruins of a monastery next door.

Church of San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala

Chapel of the Church of San Francisco, decorated at Christmas time.

Monastery, Church of San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala

Ruins of the monastery at the Church of San Francisco, Antigua, Guatemala. The monastery was huge, there is a lot to see here, including some remaining large frescoes.

Antigua, Guatemala

Another church (known as El Carmen) in ruins in Antigua. How unfortunate, the decorative exterior must have been beautiful.

Antigua has surprises on every corner, it was fun to just wander the streets and see what we might find. Boutique shops, restaurants and fascinating sights abound.

Guatemala Antigua36

Papa Johns, Antigua, Guatemala

Of course you can find a Papa Johns in Antigua! (Better ingredients, better pizza!)

If you go to Guatemala, be sure to spend a little time in Antigua!

Four Days in Guatemala

We combined a visit to Guatemala with a few days in Costa Rica and therefore our time was at a premium in both of these fabulous countries. Here’s how we made the most of four days in Guatemala.

Day 1 – Guatemala City

You could argue that a precious day in Guatemala could be spent elsewhere. However, we were waiting for our daughter to fly into the country that morning and spending our first day in the city made sense based on our schedule. It also allowed us to see the “real” Guatemala – there wasn’t another tourist in sight in the capital city.  Since we were there right before Christmas, there was a lot going on in “Parque Central” (the main plaza) – live music, ice skating, and numerous clothing and food stalls. We enjoyed wandering around and taking in all the festivities.

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Ice skaters in the December 70 F degree weather in Guatemala City. Behind the skating rink is the National Palace of Culture, formerly the headquarters of the president of Guatemala, now a museum. All roads in the country originate from this spot, known as Parque Central.

Guatemala City, Guatemala.

One of the many tasty food stalls we saw during the Christmas celebrations in Guatemala City. We tried some good dishes!

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Wandering the colorful clothing shops set up near Parque Central in Guatemala City.

Guatemala City, Guatemala

A family strolling the main plaza in Guatemala City. The traditional women’s clothing is worn as everyday wear and is not just for “show”.

Guatemala City Cathedral, Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala City Cathedral, which dates from 1783. It has suffered damage over the years from numerous earthquakes, but is still standing near the main plaza.

Guatemala City Cathedral 2

Nativity display in Guatemala City’s Cathedral.

Day 2 – Antigua and Iximche Ruins Day Trip

This was a very enjoyable and full day, we combined a visit to a small collection of ruins in Iximche (I’m a ruin junkie!) with a tour of the colonial town of Antigua. I felt an afternoon in Antigua was sufficient and splitting the day between the two sites worked out well.

Iximche, Guatemala

Ruins of Iximche. A small Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archeological site and one of the closest to Guatemala City. Its heyday was in the late 15th century.

Antigua, Guatemala

View of the quaint Spanish colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala.

It was less than a 2 hour drive to the Iximche ruins from Guatemala City and then about 1.5 hrs from Iximche to Antigua and only about 45 minutes from Antigua back to Guatemala City. I will do a separate post with more detail on this day trip.

Day 3 – Fly to Flores and a Visit to Yaxha Ruins

We caught a 6 am flight from Guatemala City and arrived in the small town of Flores by 8 am or so. The town is on an island (connected to the mainland by a causeway) in Lake Peten Itza and made a great place to stay – lots of small hotels and close to Tikal and other Mesoamerican archeological sites, such as Yaxha. We wandered the town in the morning and then took a tour of Yaxha in the afternoon, which included taking in a beautiful sunset over Yaxha from the top of a temple.

Acropolis North ruins, Yaxha, Guatemala

My daughter and son in the Acropolis North ruins at Yaxha.

Lake Yaxha, Guatemala

Sunset over Lake Yaxha in the Yaxha archeological park.

A separate post on Yaxha will be forthcoming!

Day 4 – Visit Tikal Ruins and Fly to Guatemala City

This was very long but great day. We got on our tour bus in Flores at about 4:30 am and we were at the archeological park by 7 am. We exited the park around 3 pm.

Temple 5, Tikal, Guatemala

Temple 5 in Tikal.

We arrived back in Flores by about 5 pm, had dinner and then took a flight back to Guatemala City around 7:30 pm. We then flew out of Guatemala City early on Day 5, traveling to San Jose, Costa Rica. I will do a separate post on Tikal. (Posts on Costa Rica to follow Guatemala!)

With all of our flights into and out of Guatemala City, we stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, only about 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel is in a nice section of Guatemala City and there are good restaurants nearby. We found the Guatemalan people to be very friendly, kind and prompt. The food was excellent and prices were very good for most items. The weather in Guatemala City is lovely throughout the year and December was warm and pleasant with low humidity.

Kacao restaurant, Guatemala City, Guatemala

A fantastic dinner spread at the Kacao restuarant, near the Courtyard Marriott hotel, Guatemala City.