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Forever Antigua, new forever

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Elmer Menjívar

It has stood there in Panchoy Valley since 1543, 45 minutes from Guatemala City –the new one, the capital of the country that is the gateway to Central America from the north–. Antigua is still the queen today, but of tourism, around 200,000 people visited its monuments in 2012. According to official figures, almost seven of every 10 tourists in Guatemala walk the city’s ancient cobbled streets, many of them drawn by the fame of its sacred ruins, its colonial-style remains, and the wonderful light that reflects off the uniquely-colored earthy walls that survived the Santa Marta earthquakes of 1773. However, nowadays there are also many tourists who come in search of the cosmopolitan innovations that have revived the city’s fame.

Temples of Comics, Rum and Cigars
The history that lies hidden in Antigua Guatemala is not limited to what is described in history and tourism leaflets.

In fact, on the very first avenue they set out on, visitors will come face to face with their own history, if they grew up with Flash Gordon, He-Man, She-Ra or Skeletor, that is.

For they will find Ay Robot, a famous store selling comics, toys and discs belonging to Dan Terzuola, a ‘chapín’ (Guatemalan), son of American diplomats and who decided to open a shrine to the vintage era, “because there’s nowhere better for finding fans from all over the world.”

But if it’s Caribbean frenzy you’re after, you have to go to Como Como, a restaurant that combines the best of European cuisine and regional dishes, and also offers a choice of more than 50 of the best rums in the world. If your tastes lie on the other side of the Atlantic, Whisky Den and Coffee Bar, just north of the cathedral, has an unbeatable menu, with numerous brands of whisky just waiting to be discovered. And anyone who likes to savor premium cigars while enjoying his whisky will find Antigua Cigarettes just round the corner, where the most highly-renowned brands of tobacco and cigars on the continent will be found.

The Coffee Adventure and Other Delicacies
Antigua is one of the gourmet coffee denominations most coveted by connoisseurs the world over. Its taste can be savored at Viejo Café. There, master roaster Javier encourages visitors to discover every hint of flavor in the legendary beans from the strictly height controlled coffee farms that surround the city.

If there’s one thing nobody should miss, it’s the drinks and desserts at Café Condesa, located in a small corner opposite the main square, from where you can contemplate the park, the cathedral, and the impressive municipal buildings of what was formerly the Captaincy General of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala.

But if coffee tasting is an adventure in itself, the farms on the surrounding hills and volcanoes offer curious visitors a renewed agricultural tourism concept and the chance to witness coffee growing and harvesting and enjoy exotic flowers and macadamia nuts.

Fildelfia, El Pilar, Cerro de Santo Domingo and La Reunión farms have reinvented zip-lines and golf, restored restaurants, and a number of surprising museums have been added.

Designer Patios and Nights
Although the city’s architecture was a notable feature throughout its centuries of splendor, Antigua Guatemala is nowadays a trendsetter in the restoration of traditional areas and monuments. An observant walker can discover delights like the café-patios of the former Jesuits’ College and the Seville Spanish School. These are mystical, stimulating places for artists, photographers, and anyone who likes reading or relaxing far from the madding crowd.

At night, other patios waiting to be discovered have been turned into spectacular bars, or nocturnal terraces overlooking the sea of tiles from which illuminated domes and sacred facades rise up. Drinks at Kafka, Sereno or Café Sky have that special taste that only an environment designed for good taste can offer. Light snacks and a variety of cocktails and spirits are conducive to friendly conversation, enlivened by the sounds of live international music.

Antigua Guatemala is newer by the day, is still making history, and will be an unforgettable part of yours.

Antigua was declared a Unesco Cultural World Heritage Site on 26 October 1979.

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