Guatemala City was founded in 1776 after an earthquake destroyed the former Spanish capital of Central America, Antigua Guatemala (or simply Antigua). Clearly planned according to the Spanish system, the city stretches across a mountain valley at the foot of the volcanoes Pasaia and Fuego, occupying both the valley itself and the nearby slopes, along which the streets of the outskirts climb. Today it is not only the largest, but also the most modern and cosmopolitan city in Central America with a population of more than 3 million people, noisy and chaotic, where slums coexist with fashionable mansions, and San Carlos, one of the first universities in Spanish America, rises above the markets and dilapidated fuming buses. Like all Spanish cities, the city is clearly divided into quarters by a system of avenides (going from north to south) and calles (from west to east), forming 15 ”
Downtown – “Zone 1” – is a rundown world of old houses, winding sidewalks, parking lots and a lot of rather unsightly shops. This is undoubtedly the most amazing part of the capital, where the splendor of old mansions and squares coexist with faceless houses of the late 19th century, and the broken bars of old fences – with new institutions that are opened by the city administration on the site of brothels. The heart of the city is the windswept Parc Central Square, from where all distances in Guatemala are measured. Despite its importance, the square is a dead place visited only by taxi drivers and pigeons. Only on Sunday, when a live market opens here, visited by local residents not so much for shopping, but just for walking, gossiping and eating with friends, the square comes to life.
Viva Zone is the financial and entertainment center of Guatemala City. Here along the Reform Avenue there are offices of the largest firms, banks and hotels. Many bars, restaurants and discos make this place also the center of the city’s nightlife, and it is to them that it owes its name.
The old capital of the country – Antigua (Antigua Guatemala), lies in the wide mountain valley Panchoy, sandwiched between the cones of the volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego, 45 km west of Guatemala City. Founded in 1524, somewhat to the west of its current location, the city over a century became one of the largest cities in the Spanish Empire, comparable to Lima and Mexico City, and served as the administrative center of all of Central America. In 1541, powerful landslides and lava flows caused by the eruption of the Agua volcano forced the city to be moved to its modern place, and the “old Antigua” was named Ciudad Vieja. The city reached its peak by the middle of the 18th century, when an unprecedented building boom tripled its area, and the population grew to fifty thousand people. In 1773, Antigua was destroyed by the strongest Santa Marta earthquake. during which almost all buildings, monasteries and architectural structures were destroyed, many of which are currently restored and are museums. As a result, Antigua became the main tourist center of the country, with many churches and palaces, but the capital was moved to Guatemala City. In 1979, Antigua was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Currently, Antigua Guatemala City has the same number of inhabitants as in the colonial era – 14 thousand people, but during the tourist season the city is visited by more than 100 thousand people weekly.
Panajachel and Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlán, without a doubt, is considered the most beautiful not only in Guatemala, but throughout Central America. It is located 120 km west of the country’s capital at an altitude of 1500 meters in an area called “high lands”. Geologists say that 15 million years ago three volcanoes appeared here: Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. About 100 thousand years ago, during the eruption of one of them, a mountain lake arose. For a long time, the shores of the lake were inhabited by tribes of Indians. The culture of the lake inhabitants differed from the culture of the rest of the Indians of Guatemala.
Each tribe of the lake, and there were several of them, wore clothes of their own colors – from rich blue to crimson. Merchants from the surrounding lands sailed to Atitlan, the Kaqchikel and Tzutuil Indians. Gold and precious stones, honey and pepper, ropes made from agave fibers, rubber and leather, the sacred kopal tree were put up for sale. The locals had a warlike disposition. The Atitlians especially revered Cabrakan, the goddess of earthquakes, who could uproot forests, raise cities into the air, carve fire to set fire to the earth. Now there are 12 small traditional villages on the shores of the lake.
Lake Atitlán and the small villages of Santiago de Atitlán, San Juan la Laguna, Santa Catarina, and especially the main tourist center of Panajachel, attract hundreds of travelers along the banks. As a rule, they spend two days on Atitlan. They manage to take a walk along the perimeter of the lake (its diameter is 24 km) on a motor boat, visit one or two villages that are inhabited by three different Mayan ethnic groups – Kish, Tzutui and Kachikel. Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the lake in a kayak, go windsurfing, take a bike or horseback ride, a guided eco-hike or even climb to the top of the volcano (such a trip with a guide takes a whole day – you have to climb to a height of 3500 meters).
Panajachel is a cozy town on the coast of Atitlan with narrow stone-paved streets, numerous hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, markets selling a variety of handicrafts. In the 1960s, Pana – as the locals call the town for short – became a mecca for hippies from around the world who came to Atitlan in search of peace and harmony with nature.