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Central America Antigua and Pacaya (Guatemala)

The beautiful colonial city Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes (volcano Agua, Fuego, Acatenango and somewhat farther away by volcano Pacaya). They make a wonderful scenery however at the same time they are the reason of many earthquakes that hit Antigua by the centuries, the most destructive one coming in 1773. Since then the new capital of Guatemala was set in Guatemala City (about an hour away) from Antigua. That is probably why Antigua conserved the atmosphere of a small tranquil city, a fascinating combination of colonial houses, cobbled streets and ruins of old churches (most of which were never reconstructed). In the year 1979 Antigua was proclaimed world heritage by UNESCO.
What here: Wonder through the streets, take a cup of coffee in the arcade watching the main park. Make a tour to the ruins of old churches and to the ones that still stand (definitely worth seeing is the main cathedral „Catedral de Santiago“ and a convent „La Merced“). On Avenida 5a Norte you can admire the yellow arcade „Arco de Santa Catalina“, a favorite theme of Antigua´s postcards and a little north of Antigua you can climb (about 20 minutes walk) to a nice viewpoint „Cerro de la Cruz“. It used to be a favorite work place of muggers, but nowdays tourist police is everywhere and the place is reasonably safe. Should you wish to stay in Antigua longer you can take some of the Spanish courses widely offered.

Volcano Pacaya. Now this is a perfect half day tour for those who prefer to be more active. You can buy trips to Pacaya anywhere in Antigua, depending on what they include and how well are they organized the price vary from 10 to 40 USD. In general it is an excellent, few hours, reasonably challenging climb through a strange forest that grew rapidly on volcanic soil and over chunks of cold lava almost to the top. You will get nice views at the steaming crater (you can´t go all the way up because of its activity) and if you take an afternoon tour you can also watch the beautiful sunset. If you bring sausages you can bake them in one of the burning holes close to the crater. Seriously.

Since colonization, Pacaya erupted 23 times! The last big eruption was registered in May 27th 2010. The ash ascended 1500 meters up and volcanic soil felt down on Guatemala City and its outskirts.

Accommodation:
If you are looking for a cheap but still nice and clean place, try Casa Cristina (a small well run hotel, rooms from 22 to 40 $ including coffee and tea). Another option is behind the corner, Hotel Posada Don Diego with a pretty patio and a cafeteria (rooms from 25 to 62 $). 
There are many "middle of the way" options in Antigua from around 65 to 80 $, usually including breakfast, here are two hotels I saw and liked: Hotel Casa Antigua or Hotel Aurora. But if you don' t mind paying few bucks extra, my favorite and most recommended place would be El Meson de Maria (85 to 165 $ including breakfast). It is a beautiful hotel with well kept rooms, green patios with fountains and little amusements such as "cleaning your shoes for free".


How to get here: Frequent buses leave from Guatemala City to Antigua (about an hour and 15 minutes), you can also take a cab or minibus from the international airport La Aurora.