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Central America & Caribbean

Guatemala: an alternative sun destination

Jonathan van Bilsen



May 8, 2016

Guatemala: an alternative sun destination

I have come to grips with the fact that seasons seem to be changing and winter is just not what it used to be. However, there is still a great deal to be said for heading south and relaxing in a quaint village where the temperature is guaranteed to be hot. One of my favourite destinations is the picturesque village of Antigua in Guatemala, especially at Easter.

Virtually untouched since its origin in the late sixteen hundreds, Antigua is a quaint village of colourful houses, small shops and wonderful restaurants. And for those who want a beach, it’s only an hour or so from the resort area of Lake Atitlan.

Getting there is simple. American Airlines, although their planes are not very comfortable, gets you there in just under 7 hours, which includes a layover in Miami. Your basic flying time is 5 hours.

Guatemala is a poor country, having been successfully rid of civil war for only sixteen years. I found the people extremely friendly and the places of interest are pristine and free from typical tourist debris. 

Antigua is 90 minutes from the airport and once you are there you feel as if you have been transported back in time. I stayed at the Porta Hotel, a mere five minute walk from the town square. The hotel caters to the seasoned traveler and has a wonderful swimming pool, clean, modern restaurants with exceptional cuisine (I love to eat) and spacious rooms. 

Antigua is the kind of village where you can spend three or four days and be totally oblivious to the goings-on around the world. Long, pleasant strolls along cobbled streets doing nothing more than gazing in shop windows or admiring local architecture is an extremely relaxing way to spend a few days. There are many clothing shops, which offer the latest in local fashion, jade factories, which create jewelry that begs to be purchased and all at reasonable cost. Tourism has not yet reached a point where greed has escalated prices beyond reach.

I especially enjoyed the square in the centre of the town. Large shade trees kept the hot temperatures at bay. Everyone was preparing for Easter, a time very special to Guatemalans and a bustle is noticeable everywhere. Lunchtime around the square brings out busy chatter about the planned festivities, all while enjoying an ice cream. The colourful clothes of the ladies add a festive mood. Each village in Guatemala has its own colour combination for fabric, creating a pleasant uniformity to the area. Kids are kids anywhere in the world and Antigua is no exception. The cute and friendly smiles are a surefire recipe for receiving candy, but most were intrigued to view photos of themselves in my camera. They all wanted their pictures taken, which created a buzz of excitement around me.

The Mayans inhabited Guatemala and the surrounding area for more than two thousand years and created the basis for the present day culture. With the introduction of Christianity new traditions have emerged. Beautiful cathedrals and magnificent statues are everywhere and March was a great time to visit as Easter preparations were well underway. 

Antigua in spring is a time not to be missed. The entire season is a grandiose homage to Christianity and is reflected in the many processions where images made artistically by Guatemalan artisans are paraded throughout the city. Another part of this tradition is the creation of beautiful carpets made with dozens of varieties of flowers mixed with coloured sawdust. They then adorn the streets of Antigua, turning the entire city into a living work of art.

 The entire spring season, surrounding Easter, is a reflection of the religious fervor brought from Spain five hundred years ago and is a time well worth the visit. Take your cameras and your sun tan lotion and leave the cold of Port Perry behind.

Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel TV show can be watched on RogersTV and YouTube. To follow Jonathan’s travel adventures visit

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