Superbly situated in a sweeping highland valley, suspended between the cones of Agua, Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes, is one of the Americas' most enchanting colonial cities: Antigua. In its day this was one of the great cities of the Spanish empire, ranking alongside Lima and Mexico City and serving as the administrative centre for all of Central America and Mexican Chiapas.
These days Antigua is a haven of tranquillity, and it has become Guatemala's foremost tourist destination, a favoured hangout for travellers looking to recharge. The beauty of the city itself is the main attraction, particularly its neat cobbled streets and grand Baroque-style colonial buildings. You'll find the ambience unhurried and enjoyable, with a sociable bar scene and superb choice of restaurants adding to the city's appeal. Antigua's language schools, some of the best in all Latin America, are another big draw, pulling in students from around the globe, and forming a vital part of the local economy. Antigua's Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations are perhaps the most extravagant and impressive in all Latin America – a week of vigils, processions and pageants commemorating the most solemn week of the Christian year. The big crowds of expats contribute to the town's cosmopolitan air, mingling with local villagers selling their wares in the streets and the middle-class Guatemalans who come here at weekends to eat, drink and enjoy themselves. The downside is that though it's a great place to wind down and eat well for a few days after you've been travelling hard, eventually this civilized, isolated world can perhaps seem a little too smug and comfortable. After a few days of sipping cappuccinos and munching croissants, you could almost forget that you're in Central America at all.