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Ancient Ruins of Antigua (Self Guided), Antigua

It would appear as if the time machine has finally been invented in a place none other than Antigua. The glorious ancient city offers so much history beyond its streets and buildings, fountains and courtyards, that the great ruins are almost impossible to explore in a single day. Luckily, with this self-guided walk, you will get to select from the myriad vestiges set against the impressive backdrop of Agua Volcano. Mentioned below are only some of the highlights, as you'll soon realize there is a church at almost every corner!
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Ancient Ruins of Antigua Map

Guide Name: Ancient Ruins of Antigua
Guide Location: Guatemala » Antigua (See other walking tours in Antigua)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: Nick
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Church of Candelaria (ruins)
  • Church of Santa Rosa (ruins)
  • Church of Santo Domingo (ruins)
  • Convent of the Capuchins
  • El Carmen Church (ruins)
  • Santa Clara Convent and Church
  • San Jose Cathedral (ruins)
  • Church and School of the Society of Jesus (ruins)
  • San Jeronimo Convent (ruins)
  • La Recoleccion (ruins)
1
Church of Candelaria (ruins)

1) Church of Candelaria (ruins)

Erected in 1548 by the bishop Francisco Marroquín, the Church of Candelaria later became a parish church. Complete with swirling columns and scrupulous filigree ornamentation, its Baroque architecture reveals a structure that even now seems spectacular and picturesque. All the earthquakes from 1717 on pretty much turned it into one of the most rubbled ruins you will see in Antigua. Rebuilding occurred at least twice but in 1773, much of it was shaken, and crumbled to its foundations. It seems they are currently trying to revive the structure for tourism.
2
Church of Santa Rosa (ruins)

2) Church of Santa Rosa (ruins)

The church complex of Santa Rosa was built in 1570 for a sisterhood known for their white clothing. Today, the building is infamous for two cracks running through the main part of the building, which tell a devastating story of the monstrous earthquakes that ravished the region in the 18th century. Although the church's domes collapsed long time ago, its facade still has the image of Santa Rosa de Lima, crowned with roses and carrying baby Jesus in her arms, as well as figures of several Dominican saints: Santo Domingo, San Francisco, and San Vicente Ferrer.
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Church of Santo Domingo (ruins)

3) Church of Santo Domingo (ruins) (must see)

The church of Santo Domingo is all that remains of the 16th-century convent of Santo Domingo's Order – one of the most important orders at the time. Founded in 1542, the convent became the largest and richest in Antigua; unfortunately, however, it was destroyed by quakes in the 18th century and was not excavated until the 1970s, finally becoming part of the hotel that opened two decades later.

Domestic areas and kitchens, skeletons held behind glass, chapels, stairways and fountains are just some of the things you'll see here. The site also houses several museums that offer exhibits of colonial and pre-Columbian art, archaeology, and even silver work, so there's quite a bit to take in if you have time on your hands!
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Convent of the Capuchins

4) Convent of the Capuchins (must see)

One of the finest examples of an 18th-century convent in Guatemala, the Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas was consecrated in 1736; in fact, it was the last convent to be built in the city, and the first one that stopped asking for a donation to the new nuns, allowing then poor ladies to embrace religious life. Daily routine for the nuns was ruled by strict regulations, however, which included, for some, maximum discipline on poverty, penance and fasting (for instance, drinking chocolate was strictly forbidden); also, the requirement that they should survive on the tithing only.

Like the rest of the city, the building complex suffered damage during the 1751 and 1773 earthquakes, respectively, and was abandoned by order of the Captain-General at the time. Today, the monastery's well-preserved cells, gardens, and courtyards are open for public viewing and provide excellent photo-ops. Each twist and turn presents a view your camera will ache to capture! It's also interesting to see how small the cloisters were, and how the nuns lived during colonial times.

Tip:
The only guide is the map in the first room, so study it carefully! Don't miss the round room beneath the Nun's tower: sing quietly and be rewarded – the acoustics are incredible. The 2nd-floor art display is new and very nice, as well.
5
El Carmen Church (ruins)

5) El Carmen Church (ruins)

With its ornate stonework and majestic columns, El Carmen was a lavish Catholic church in the city of Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala that survived relatively well the Santa Marta earthquakes but was almost destroyed by ulterior 20th-century ones. Despite this, the facade remained in rather good condition and has since then been admired as an example of the Guatemalan seismic Baroque.

No longer active, the church can only be viewed from the outside (try peering through the bars used to protect it), but that gives you time to enjoy the popular handicrafts market right next door; an excellent place to buy gifts for your loved ones, though sometimes you have to know how to bargain if you want to pay a good price.

Tip:
Also across the street is the excellent EPICURE restaurant inspired by European cuisine, and next to it is the amazing home that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry lived in when he wrote 'The Little Prince'. If you crave a vegetarian/vegan meal, do not miss LA BRUJA, tucked into the back corner of an off-street courtyard surrounded by plants. The food is simply amazing!
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Santa Clara Convent and Church

6) Santa Clara Convent and Church

The convent and church, founded in 1699 by nuns from Puebla in Mexico, became a popular place for well-to-do young ladies to take the veil, as the hardships were none too hard, and the nuns quickly earned a reputation by selling bread to high society. The original convent was totally wiped out in 1717, as was the second in 1773, but the current building was spared in 1976 and its amazingly beautiful ornate facade remains intact.

You walk into a smaller garden, wonderfully kept with beautiful plants and flowers, and can have a good look at the place where they had the bread oven originally, walk past the embedded pila (wash house) to the amazing courtyard with its fountain in the middle, then continue to the church with its underground tombs.

Buy a drink, take a picnic, relax and enjoy the beautiful settings inside this convent. The arches, openings, fountain, layers of exposed walls, and volcano in the background are beautiful to photograph.

Tickets cost Q40 for non-nationals and are good value. A tour of the site takes about an hour.
7
San Jose Cathedral (ruins)

7) San Jose Cathedral (ruins) (must see)

The first cathedral on this site was begun in 1545; construction was so poor, however, that the structure was in a constant state of disrepair, and an earthquake in 1583 brought down much of the roof. In 1670 work started on a new cathedral worthy of the town's role as a capital city.

For 11 years the town watched as conscripted Maya labored and the most spectacular colonial building in Central America took shape. The scale of the new cathedral was astounding: a vast dome, five naves, eighteen chapels, and a central chamber measuring 90m by 20m. Its altar was inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ivory and silver, and carvings of saints and paintings by the most revered of European and colonial artists covered the walls.

The new cathedral held out the 1689/1717 quakes, but its walls were weakened and the 1773 upheaval sent them tumbling to the ground. Today, two of the chapels have been restored as the Church of San José, which opens off the Parque Central; inside is a figure of Christ by the colonial sculptor Quirio Cataño, who also carved the famous Black Christ of Esquipulas.

Behind the church, entered from 5 Calle Oriente, are the ruins of the rest of the structure; a mass of fallen masonry, broken arches and hefty pillars, cracked and moss-covered, the great original cupola now a window to the sky. At the very rear of the original nave, steps lead down to a burial vault, blackened by candle smoke, that's regularly used for Maya religious ceremonies – an example of the coexistence of pagan and Catholic beliefs, so characteristic of Guatemala.
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Church and School of the Society of Jesus (ruins)

8) Church and School of the Society of Jesus (ruins)

Just like many of Antigua's temples, the Church of the Society of Jesus was founded after a Jesuit petition was made to build a school here in 1561, given that education was the primary goal of the Society. The permission was granted and work began, paving the way, about 50 years later, for both a school and temple. Saint Luke was well respected by the Society of Jesus and therefore the school was named after him.

In 1653, the San Lucas School had a staff of only thirteen priests, a very small number compared to the size of the building; the Jesuits, however, made a major impact on the cultural and educational life in the Capitanía General of Guatemala. The school was the city's most prestigious and from it graduated most of the elite members of society of the time. Most of its students were secular and went on to get the best positions in the country after graduating from the Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos.

On September 29, 1717, the San Miguel earthquake struck the city and destroyed the San Lucas School building; however, the Jesuits had rebuilt the structure three years later. Later on, the complex hosted a Guatemalan handcraft product market until 1992, when the International Cooperation Agency for Development from Spain committed to restoring the school building in exchange of being able to use it to create an international educational center, with the blessing of the National Council for Antigua Guatemala Protection.
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San Jeronimo Convent (ruins)

9) San Jeronimo Convent (ruins)

Initially a school built in the first half of the 18th century by the Catholic order of the Mercedarians, San Jeronimo is nothing more than a large ruin – but a spectacular one at that. With its well-kept gardens woven between the huge blocks of fallen masonry and crumbling walls, it seems to be popular with local couples and is regularly used as a site for classical music concerts. You can still climb several stairways, which allow a good view from the top towards the central courtyard and its water fountain, with the majestic Agua Volcano in the background. Note that a small fee may apply.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
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La Recoleccion (ruins)

10) La Recoleccion (ruins)

Behind the San Jerónimo Convent, a cobbled path leads to the even larger, and more chaotic, ruin of La Recolección, where the middle of the church is piled high with huge chunks of the roof and walls. Fan of history and photography should take serious note, but the place is also great for a picnic on the grass or letting the kids run around, climb ruins and explore.

Though the friars of the Recollects first arrived here and asked for permission to build in the 1680s, it was not until 1701 that they were allowed to start their monastery, and a further fourteen years before the cloisters, library, and infirmary were finished. Only a few months after completion, the architectural complex was brought to the ground by a huge earthquake. It suffered again in the 1751 earthquakes and more so in the devastating Santa Marta earthquakes of 1773.

Today the ruins are surrounded by parkland; they are a protected national monument with public access to the cloisters, albeit for a small charge. If you have some extra money, it is worth witnessing another testament to the incredible power that nature has over humans.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm

Walking Tours in Antigua, Guatemala

Create Your Own Walk in Antigua

Create Your Own Walk in Antigua

Creating your own self-guided walk in Antigua is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Antigua Shopping Tour

Antigua Shopping Tour

Shopping is arguably Antigua’s most popular activity. Tourists find themselves spoiled for choice with a terrific collection of souvenirs, textiles, hand-made articles, cigars, and local Jade jewelry. Prices are usually very affordable, so it will be a shame not to hunt for something special to bring home.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Antigua Museums

Antigua Museums

With a rich heritage combining Spanish colonialism and Mayan culture, Antigua is a fasinating place to visit in Latin America. Several museums in town are well worth exploring if you to learn more about the history of the country. Follow this self guided tour to visit the best museums in Antigua and get a history lesson along the way.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Antigua Nightlife

Antigua Nightlife

Antigua features a variety of attractive clubs, fabulous discos, and cozy bars, making it the self-designated "capital of Guatemala's nightlife." The city's nightlife starts at 10 PM and offers a terrific selection of venues to enjoy a great night out.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.6 Km or 0.4 Miles
Antigua Introduction Walk

Antigua Introduction Walk

Surrounded by volcanoes, the city of Antigua is a small yet very picturesque example of Spanish colonial architecture. Full of historic and religious sights, its most notable landmark is arguably the baroque-style La Merced Church which, once a year, becomes a pilgrimage destination for the famous Holy Week tradition or 'Semana Santa'. Follow this self-guided walking tour to explore this...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Parque Central Walking Tour

Parque Central Walking Tour

Parque Central is the center of social life for the residents in Antigua. What makes the park so popular for tourists is the opportunity to visit a good number of famous buildings around the park. Follow this self guided walk to explore the history behind the buildings at the very center of the city.

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.3 Km or 0.2 Miles