Imagine a place that has year-round springtime temperatures, educated, friendly people who genuinely like foreigners, an established English-speaking expat community, excellent medical care, great restaurants and rich cultural diversions, all available at a very affordable cost. Then picture that city in a stunningly beautiful setting in a semi-tropical valley between mountains and volcanoes. This is La Antigua, Guatemala.
The Volcán de Agua (Volcano of Water) dominates the south side of the valley where Antigua is situated. Dormant for several centuries, the volcano earned its name from its giant crater that filled with water and flooded the original city location in the 16th century. To the southwest are two other volcanoes, Acatenango, now dormant, and Fuego (Fire), which erupts periodically with small lava flows and great clouds of smoke and ash. The Volcán de Fuego provides impressive light and sound shows, but is too far away to be a risk to Antigua. Together, these three volcanoes provide a spectacular backdrop to the city.
Antigua is a traditional city, steeped in history and religious traditions that are preserved today in the processiones (religious parades) that pass through the city streets regularly, especially at Christmas and Easter.
The landscape around Antigua is a mixture of coffee fincas and forested areas of pine and silk oak. Antigua’s coffee, grown in the rich volcanic ash, is among the finest in the world.
Antigua is much more than just another quaint World Heritage City. It is a vibrant 16th-century colonial monument full of history, art, culture and language education. It is a place of friendly people from many different nations who have sought out Antigua as their home. What better testament could be offered for any city?
Antigua is known as a land of eternal spring. Its southern location ensures warm winters, and its altitude translates to cool summers. Average daytime temperatures in December and January, the coldest months, range from 53 to 71 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning no central heating is required. (Though you might use a space heater in the bedroom for a few weeks each “winter”.) Temperatures in May, the warmest month, range from 61 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, so you won’t need air conditioning either. You will want a sun hat for walking around town, though, because while temperatures are never hot, the sun shines year-round.
Antigua has a friendly, relaxed, small-town feel. People know their neighbors, and the heart of the town is the Parque Central, where everyone meets and passes by at least once a day. The Plaza was first laid out in 1541, and has been the social center ever since. It was a place for markets, bullfights, hangings and gossip in past centuries, and the gossip still continues.
The buildings originally erected around the Plaza remain in place today. On the east side is the Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace. The City Hall Palace fills the north side, the Palacio Capitanes Generales occupies the south side, a mix of businesses entices pedestrians on the west side and a large fountain dominates the center. Surrounding it all are manicured gardens, trees and benches, tempting local residents to linger as they pass through. Around the edges of the Plaza circulate horse-drawn carriages, tuk-tuks, a few cars and hundreds of pedestrians.
Making Antigua even more irresistible is the overall cost of living, which is notably cheaper than in the United States. Property taxes are negligible, and the moderate weather translates to low utility bills. Groceries, restaurants and entertainment expenses run 20 to 30 percent of those costs in the U.S. Living in the historic center, you could walk everywhere you’d want to go, so your transportation costs would be minimal. You also have easy access back home to North America whenever you want to make the trip. It’s just a four-hour flight to Texas.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.