Agua Volcano overlook, Antigua Guatemala, Sacatepéquez Department

Atigua Guatemala's majestic Agua Volcano

At 3,500 meters, Agua Volcano towers over the city of Atigua Guatemala, five kilometers away.  With no volcanic activity during recorded history, this natural icon creates perfect selfies without worrying mom.

3 February 2021

Brian Lüdtke

Brian Lüdtke

This scenic city, at an altitude of 1,500, enjoys cool air and refreshing breezes.  It exemplifies how Guatemala got its moniker: the Land of Eternal Spring.

Although the volcano has never erupted in recent centuries, it has not always been entirely benign. In 1541, a mudslide came down the slopes and buried what was then the capital city of Guatemala. (Ciudad Vieja was the second capital city of Guatemala.  The first one was established on the Mayan city of Iximche.)

The Spanish governor and hundreds of other residents were buried under the mud.  The colonial administration decided to move the capital a few kilometers further away from the stratovolcano, closer to the current site of Antigua.

Agua Volcano visible from the tourist town of Antigua Guatemala

As the capital of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, Antigua’s history was dominated by natural catastrophes.  In 1717, 1751, and 1773, earthquakes largely destroyed the city.  

Finally, the leaders of New Spain had had enough.  They decided to move the capital city to the site of modern-day Guatemala City.

Fauna found on and around Agua Volcano:

Keel-billed toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus

Black howler monkey, Alouatta caraya

Jaguar, Panthera onca

Ironically, the earthquakes of the 1700s may have been a blessing in disguise.  By causing the capital to shift away, they prevented Antigua from transforming into the large global city that is today Guatemala City.  

Instead, Antigua kept its small town charm that attracts so many tourists.  (Of course, a culturally-rich global city has its own attractions, but it’s nice to have both options.)

A view of the Agua Volcano from the city of Antigua

These days, the Agua Volcano is known mostly for its natural beauty.  Tourists enjoy gazing upon it while drinking Guatemalan coffee — the world’s best — in the charming street cafés of Antigua.

Poets, musicians, and content creators from all over the world have affirmed that Agua Volcano inspired them to produce their best work.  Maybe it’s also the milieu of bright Mayan fabrics, the scent of divers spices wafting from contemporary restaurants, and the enchanting birdsong of tropical avian species.

Of course, Antigua constitutes a logical destination for visitors headed to Guatemala’s amazing Lake Atitlán.  Typically, tourists en route to the lake spend a few days soaking in the culture and natural charm of Antigua.

Relatively inexpensive by global standards, the city nonetheless offers high-quality restaurants and hotels that accommodate any price point.