Antigua, Antigüeno Style

The city packs a plethora of monuments into a compact area, but we recommend savoring it leisurely, the way locals do. Remember that most sights close promptly at 5 pm, and that some ruins are closed on Sunday and Monday.

1. Attend mass. History and religion interlock in Antigua like nowhere else. The city's numerous churches hold mass several times a day, all week long. Even if you aren't Catholic, this is Antigua at its most devout, and well worth a look.

2. Pay homage to Brother Pedro. Pedro de San José Betancur, Guatemala's very own saint, is said to intercede on behalf of the faithful who pray at his tomb in the San Francisco Monastery.

3. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride. It's a wonderful way to see the city by day. Wagons congregate on the central park. Expect to pay Q200 per hour. Drivers are happy to give running commentary, but speak little English. If you want a tour in your own language, bring along your own guide.

4. Jockey for the perfect photo position. The Santa Catalina arch is the symbol of the city; and standing in front of it is the de rigueur photo. Your best chance of getting a clear shot is on weekends, when 5 Avenida Norte, the street running under the arch, is closed to traffic.

5. Listen to the marimbas. Music from the buzzing, xylophone-like marimba wafts from restaurants and hotel gardens, or out on the street as small ensembles spontaneously set up shop. Don't forget to leave a coin in their collection bowls for the entertainment.

6. Scope out a bench in the Parque Central. Antigua's tree-shaded central park is the people-watching venue in the city. You may have to circle benches like a vulture on Sunday when everybody else has the same idea.

7. Get a shoe shine. Locals pay Q5 to have their shoes polished to a brilliant shine. You'll likely be asked double that, but don't quibble over price with the kids who approach you in the central park. (They speak little English, but they do know the words "Shoe shine?") It's still a bargain, and your shoes will look like new again.

On the topic of shoes, flimsy soles mean you'll feel every cobblestone press through to the bottoms of your feet. Wear something sturdy and comfortable.

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