We slept soundly in the cool mountain air of Coban. It definitely was a refreshing change from the warm sticky and sweaty nights we have been experiencing for quite some time now. I'll have no problem gearing up in this brisk morning air, I may even need to turn on the heated grips! We pull the bikes out of the hotels personal garage and begin our ride…it is 7:30am. The alpine air smells fresh and wonderful. The misty low hanging clouds are hugging and obstructing our views, so our pace is cautiously slow. The road and ride is just as spectacular today, as it was yesterday… as we twist, turn, wind and grind our way through this amazing countryside. Within the hour the clouds have cleared and…Ahhh, what a view, its a beautiful ride. The truck traffic picks up as we move closer towards central Guatemala. We do not have the Central America maps loaded in Navi yet, but are on a fairly large highway that feels like we are going in the right direction. Three lanes, become two, then one and we are funneled and tunneled around a University campus…"That was nice!", I radioed Kev. "Let's stop at the next petrol station, fill up and ask for directions", Kev suggests… We fill up, I walk inside the station and go to the toilet guarded by an armed guard and Kev get directions. It seems like we are not far off, but we do have to back track a couple of kilometers. We really got lucky on this one!
We follow the road heading back towards the mountains. Finally, I see a marker for Antigua and breathe a sign of relief. Antigua Guatemala means 'Ancient Guatemala' and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. This well preserved Spanish Baroque colonial village is lovingly known as La Antigua or Antigua amongst Guatemalans. The road wound up and around into the lush mountainside. When the diesel fumes had settled from the straining trucks and buses, the mountain air was pleasantly fresh and crisp. "We are turning off to the right!", I radioed Kev and we started our steep descent into a fabulous valley. The road was tunneled by fresh mountain pines streaming twinkly, filtered light. The tropical type of vegetation we had been accustomed to has now been replaced by acid loving hydrangeas, tree ferns, mosses, pines and huge oaks. We pulled off the paved highway onto the polished, rough blue cobbled stoned streets of La Antigua and pulled over to the side of the road to get our bearings. "What do you think, should we follow this road in?", Kev states…"No... I think that this is the place we are looking for!", I replied. We had some how stopped directly in front of the parking entrance to Casa Santo Domingo, how lucky was that!
We actually learnt about Casa Santo Domingo from a Veterinarian and his wife while in Tikal. They were on their way to La Antigua, grandkids in tow, to help with a dog spayed project. We did not have any reservations and decided to check it out first before making our decision. Believe me it was not a hard decision to make! The hotel is located on, and stunningly incorporated around the ruined grounds of the Santo Domingo Monastery. Dating back to 1538 when the Dominicans arrived in Guatemala, this citadel was regarded as one of the most grandest convents in the Americas. The two towered ten belled, treasure filled monastery was unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake in 1773. The hotel has preserved the baroque period architecture and cleverly displays the Dominican treasures from this period.
Antigua's alluring spanish colonial architecture, baroque buildings, postcard picturesque countryside and mild climate makes it a popular tourist destination. There are also many language schools to choose from in Antigua Guatemala. Initially our plans were to stay here for 6 weeks, enroll and immerse ourselves in a language school. Although, after arriving in Antigua Guatemala later than planned, we postponed this original idea. The village is surrounded by four volcanos, three which you can see from the main square...Volcan Agua, Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Fuego. Acatenango has lay dormant for thirty years, but the others are active and erupt from time to time. Active Volcan Pacaya lies closer to Guatemala City and has logged more than 23 eruptions since the 1500's. We enjoyed our time wandering up and down the polished cobbled stoned streets that are beautifully lined with brightly painted old buildings all weathered, flakey and chipping. Exploring hidden expat European run cafes, local craft shops, eateries, churches and museums. Oddly enough… while in Antigua Guatemala, we did happen to run into the Veterinarian and his family along with another family we had met lounging by the pool in Tikal!