Deja Vu in Antigua, Guatemala

The View of Central Park in Antigua, Guatemala with Volcán de Agua in the background
The View of Central Park in Antigua, Guatemala with Volcán de Agua in the background

Tourist shops line the cobblestone streets, as backpackers zig-zag between locals in central Antigua.

The old capital city has helped write a rich history for Guatemala, and today it finds a way to balance old traditions with a growing tourism industry that pushes for change.

Sunday Market for Tourists next to Ancient Ruins in Antigua, Guatemala
Tradition Meets Tourism: A Small Market for Tourists next to Ancient Ruins in Antigua, Guatemala

The best example of this is the McDonalds and Burger King Restaurants that sit inconspicuously within the Spanish-style storefront framework in town.

Burger King in Antigua, Guatemala
Burger King in Antigua, Guatemala (photo via Flickr CC user J. Stephen Conn)

Antigua was once the nucleolus of Guatemala, serving as the cultural, economic and political center and home to some 60,000 residents. That was until 1773, after severe earthquakes devastated the city and forced the capital to be moved to present-day Guatemala City.

In more recent years, Antigua has become the central jump-off point for travelers exploring Guatemala and Central America, as ancient ruins, colonial architecture and an abundance of travel agencies lure them in. It’s only a 45-minute ride from Guatemala City and you can setup hikes to one of the nearby volcanoes and other tours around the country from here.

Antigua, Guatemala
A traditional Guatemalan women passes through Central Plaza in Antigua, Guatemala

I couldn’t figure it out, but upon my arrival in Antigua, I immediately got this feeling of déjà vu.  It was as if I’d walked the streets and visited these shops before. I couldn’t find the inspiration to pick up my camera and I was content with just enjoying my time in this oddly familiar place.

The more I thought it over, I felt bad that I wasn’t so amazed by Antigua and that I couldn’t find it’s own unique place.

The mingling of tradition and tourism in Antigua reminded me a lot of Cusco, Peru and the colonial charm and cobblestone streets brings up thoughts of Cuenca, Ecuador (without the tainted love).

A peek into a typical shop in Antigua, Guatemala
A women making fabric in a traditional shop in Antigua, Guatemala

In total, I spent five days in Antigua, exploring the markets and ruins by day and strolling through the romantic streets at night with a special guest.

We rented an amazing home in a quiet part of town thanks to and tried to blend in like locals, if only for a few days.

The view of Volcan de Agua from our terrace in Antigua, Guatemala (thanks to
The view of Volcan de Agua from our terrace in Antigua, Guatemala (thanks to

Well… that is until Sunday came around and I gave into my craving for American Football, nachos and beer at the gringo-friendly bar, Monoloco.

Sometimes you just need a little taste of home when you’re living abroad (especially during football season).

MonoLoco Restaurant and Bar in Antigua Guatemala
Homebase for 7 hrs of comfort on Sunday in Antigua - The Monoloco Restaurant and Bar

All-in-all, while the streets and buildings were familiar, the memories that I take from Antigua were definitely original.

The city provided me with yet another reminder that it isn’t where you are or what you’re doing, but who you’re with that’s important.

Ancient Ruins and Beautiful Women in Antigua, Guatemala
Ancient Ruins and Beautiful Women in Antigua, Guatemala

Now, if the Bills could just get a win it would have been the perfect break from my Kiva Fellowship in Sololà.

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


    1. Absolutely, Stephanie. I felt bad because I didn’t take many photos at all… I guess I got wrapped up in the place.

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