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 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.
Other views of the ruins of Iximche:
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).
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.
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.
If you go to Guatemala, be sure to spend a little time in Antigua!