In all the long, earnest discussions about where to get off the beaten track in Guatemala, you can be sure the name Antigua won't come up. This is fantasyland – what the country would look like if the Scandinavians came in and took over for a couple of years. It’s a place where power lines run underground, building codes are adhered to, rubbish is collected, traffic diverted and stray dogs ‘disappear’ mysteriously in the middle of the night.
But you’d be a fool to miss it. Antigua’s setting is gorgeous, nestled between three volcanoes: Agua (3766m), Fuego (3763m) and Acatenango (3976m), and its streetscapes – with sprays of bougainvillea bursting from crumbling ruins, and pastel facades under terracotta roofs – offer photo opportunities at every turn. The language school scene is thriving, the hostels offer colonial-chic accommodations and the dining is some of the best in the country.
The most exciting time to visit Antigua is during Holy Week – especially Good Friday. It takes planning (reserve hotels at least four months in advance), as this is the busiest week of the year. Other busy times are June through August and November to April.
Antigua is cold after sunset, especially between September and March, so bring warm clothes, a sleeping bag or a blanket. Antigua residents are known by the nickname panza verde (green belly), as they are said to eat lots of avocados, which grow abundantly here.