Antigua Retro with John Heaton

John HeatonTraveler, collector, Central America correspondent for Travel+Leisure, founder-owner of Quinta Maconda, awarded Nat.Geo.Traveller 50 Tours of a Lifetime 2008, Heaton’s Guatemala projects have been acknowledged by the international press for over two decades.

How many years living in Guatemala?
Almost a quarter of a century.

Why the move to La Antigua?
Guatemala was terra incognita: wild, unfashionable, yet terribly alluring and void of Western habits. Mostly, I was drawn to experience the vibrant indigenous Mayan culture. It was a unique privilege—Maltiox chech alak! Antigua was the ideal base from where to explore this country then considered the Bhutan of Latin America. An ideal climate, an extraordinary setting of old stones, myths and legends, close to an international airport, yet a world away from civilization.

For those who fell under her spell it couldn’t get any better. And, believe it or not, the civil war had an appealing edge that drew a small but interesting group of adventurous individuals.

Antigua’s best time?
Early morning walk and the puffs of Fuego!

What has changed, for the better or the worse?
Being “out there” in Central America was very seductive. Antigua exuded a culturally authentic sense of place, and something unique and magical was always in store. It was unpretentious, its commercial ambitions unobtrusive and was graced by poetic imperfections and centuries-old patina that made Antigua a very special place in the world. Communication was expensive and unstable and delicacies were rare, making the arrival of a post card or a bar of Toblerone feel like a gift from the gods!

In the past decade a whirlwind of circumstances has transformed Antigua into a backpacker mecca, a petri dish for fast food and culturally invasive commerce where the “Miami Colonial” is replacing the baroque and making Antigua a caricature of itself. Even its ghosts are fleeing the fumes ‘n tunes of the fast stuff. A waste of potential and valuable opportunities.

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