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Category: Guatemala

Wandering the Cobblestone Streets of Antigua

Wandering the Cobblestone Streets of Guatemala

Antigua was easy to photograph, beautiful architecture and tidbits of history were waiting around every corner. Antigua, meaning ancient or antique, is a small colonial town that was established in 1543 by the Spaniards in Guatemala. Crumbling buildings stand next to refurbished hotels, while restaurants hidden behind courtyard gates beckon with their lush gardens. Primarily catering to tourists, the foreign influences on the town and in particular the food was apparent.

While wandering around our first night, along the dark, cobblestone streets in search of dinner we had an unexpected moment. While poking around what turned out to be a dead-end street, a couple exiting one of the buildings greeted us in English and asked what we were looking for. Hesitant, but curious as to why complete strangers would want to help us, we told them we were looking for a restaurant. They enfolded us into their friendly embrace, quizzing us about our preferences before suggesting an inexpensive Thai spot. Allowing ourselves to embrace the moment we hopped in the back of their truck for a ride over. That night we ate a delicious meal from Café Flor, a small, cozy and candlelit nook of a restaurant.

The next day we checked out of Hotel Candelaria, located on the edge of town, to try out Posada de la Luna, a family owned hotel located in a building with an old exterior and modern interior (plus beautiful views of Antigua). We were located just down the street from the Mercado de artesanias (craft market) and a few blocks from Plaza Mayor, where most of the restaurants and shops are. We spent the whole day wandering the cobblestone streets, letting our eyes be our guide as we searched for interesting and historic buildings.

Church of Candelaria, 1548
Church of Candelaria, 1548

Dotted throughout Antigua are crumbling buildings, all that remain of the original colonial town after the 1773 Santa Maria earthquakes. With much of the town destroyed, rebuilding of religious and civic buildings and the founding of a new university helped to preserve the original town layout and style of baroque architecture.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua is considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its town plan and grid layout inspired by the Italian Renaissance. Everywhere are charming cobblestone streets, giving the impression of walking in the past. However, the beauty of the town is marred by the presence of vehicles choking up the narrow streets.

Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala

 

Antigua Guatemala

After the earthquake, half of Antigua was abandoned, with the towns people moving to Guatemala City, the new seat of the government. It was not until the mid 19th century when coffee and grain crops in the region brought investment and rebuilding back to Antigua.

Antigua Guatemala

San Pedro Hospital, 1636
San Pedro Hospital, 1636
Tanque de la Union (public laundry washing basins)
Tanque de la Union (public laundry washing basins)

One interesting piece of architecture, not a civic or religious building, but facilities for the public, are the laundry washing basins known as the Tanque de la Union. These basins were where the local towns women would gather to do their laundry and catch up with friends. To this day the laundry basins are still in service and if you stop by on the right day you can see women performing the arduous task of washing clothes by hand.

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
Santa Catalina Arch, 17th Century
Santa Catalina Arch, 17th Century
"Chicken Bus"
“Chicken Bus”

Known as a “chicken bus,” we saw these repurposed US school buses all over Guatemala, picking up people from the side of the road and belching out thick, black exhaust. The main source of public transportation, the buses careened around sharp turns and sped down hills on the way to drop off their passengers, sometimes with groups of men hanging by a hand from the open door because there was no room left inside the crowded bus.

Antigua Guatemala

La Merced Church, 1767
La Merced Church, 1767
Street Sign
Street Sign
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Crossing the Border into Guatemala

The drive from Palenque to the border ended up taking almost the whole day. What we thought would be a two hour drive through the mountains from Palenque to San Cristobal became an excruciating five hour drive going from 5 to 25 miles per hour to accommodate the vast number of speed bumps strewn along the road. Finally dropping out of the mountain, feeling irritated and road weary, we decided to risk the oncoming evening and continued to the border. We arrived to the border at dusk, stressed but relieved to have made it into the next country.

Entry Point: Cuidad Cuautemoc, Mexico

Paperwork Required:

  • Passport
  • Vehicle Registration
  • Vehicle Title
  • Driver’s License (DL) of vehicle owner
  • Canceled Mexican vehicle permit

Cost:

  • 18Q ($2.35) for fumigation
  • 160Q ($20.90) for vehicle permit

Exiting Mexico:

  • About 3 kilometers before reaching the border you will pass through an area with a large cement building with an overhang to the left. There are guards standing about, but no signs stating that this is the area where you cancel your vehicle permit, but rest assured it is.
  • Pull into one of the parking spaces in front of an one story building with barred windows and doors.
  • Then walk towards the large cement building with the overhang, where you will see a small sign stating you are at the Banjercito. Inside the building, on the left, is the office of the man who will cancel the vehicle permit. Give him the vehicle permit paperwork you received when crossing into Mexico. He will check the paperwork, then go outside to check the VIN on your vehicle, take a picture and remove the permit sticker. After processing the paperwork you are done.
  • Next got back to the building with the bars, heave open the sliding glass door, greet the grumpy man behind the counter. Present passports and tourist cards, he will stamp the passport and keep the tourist card. You are done.
  • Continue driving to the border past a burning dump on the right. The border crossing is just a single lane with a gate on either side.

Note about the deposit: since we paid the $200 deposit by credit card there was nothing to do except wait for the money to be credited back to my card which took a few weeks.

Entering Guatemala:

  • Pass through the gate and pull into the orange coned area on the right hand side to fumigate. At this time people with fannypacks, known as “cambios,” will ask you if you would like to exchange money. We exchanged the last of our pesos to quetzals to pay for the fumigation and vehicle permit, but the exchange rate was not the best.
  • A man with a uniform will come out to your vehicle to tell you he will fumigate, make sure to roll up your windows. When done get out your vehicle and walk into the small fumigation office to pay the fee and receive a receipt.
  • Next get back into your vehicle and pull into a parking spot immediately after the fumigation office. There is a row of parking spots available.
  • First, go to the building that is immediately next to the fumigation building. Here they will stamp your passport and give you the form to fill out for the vehicle permit.
  • Take the completed vehicle permit form past a windowed kiosk to an office with two barred windows and an armed guard. Stand in line to present passport of vehicle owner, DL of vehicle owner, registration, title, and canceled Mexican vehicle permit. The official will make copies of the documents and check the VIN on the car. He will process the paperwork and then give you a “bolete declaraguate” to take to the bank just next door to the right.
  • Inside the bank pay the fee for the vehicle permit and receive a receipt.
  • Return to the official at the barred window, hand over the receipt. He will have you check over a document for accuracy of information before having you sign several copies. Then he will give you the vehicle permit paperwork and receipt. The official will walk to your vehicle to place the sticker on the windshield.
  • Before leaving the parking area, a second official will come by to check the documents you just received.
  • Pass through the second gate and head out of town.

Have you experienced a border crossing, what was it like? Any questions about crossing the border into Guatemala? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email  at shanontheroad@gmail.com.

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