Antigua is a photographer’s dream for street photography. The city in itself is very picturesque with its small streets, colourful façades and the volcanoes in the background. It is also safe enough to walk around with a camera in hand. And the week between Christmas and New Year is a busy time in the city, where locals and travelers mix.
This is probably the most popular city in Guatemala. It’s one of these places where you think “yeah, I could live there.” What’s not to like? Great food—probably the most interesting mix of comida tipica and world food can be found here—,historical buildings and a relatively modern way of life. Unlike Guate, Antigua is easy to navigate, even though the cobblestone-paved streets can be hard on the feet and the knees.
The city in itself hasn’t changed much since 2003. We even had the same desayuno Antigüeno as we used to have at the Rainbow Café. The place and the dish are still here, eight years later. The buildings are the same and we can find our way easily.
Yet, there are a few subtle differences. For once, Antigua has been “yuppified.” Eight years ago, the few businesses that specifically catered to hippy gringos were cafés with book exchange services and numerous small restaurants that showed pirated movies on a big screens in the evening. Nowadays, you can find a few spas, a handful of franchised coffee places where drinks are almost as expensive as Starbucks’. The only movies shown are documentaries about Maya kids and literacy in the highlands. In some restaurants, the food is certified “organic” and the menu specifies that veggies and fruits are washed with purified water.
The gap of wealth within Guatemala is also fascinating to observe. Antigua attracts wealthier travelers from all around the world more than backpackers, but it also attracts local tourists. On one hand, you have the locals who barely get by—the kids who sell candies in the chicken buses, the Maya girls who sell necklaces etc. And on the other hand, there are groups of Guatemalan tourists who, cameras in hands, have their pictures taken with the “exotic” Mayas.
People-watching is still a fascinating activity, perhaps more than ever. The various mixes of travelers and locals are strangely oblivious to each other’s’. Most people brush the sellers off: “no gracias.” It’s hard to do otherwise when every five meters, you are stopped by someone selling flutes or colourful bags. The old ladies praying non-stop at the many churches don’t seem to be disturb by tourists taking pictures of Jesus and Judas. And nuns do their shopping at the local supermarket (no, they don’t buy booze—I checked).