Ciudad Vieja was Guatemala’s second colonial capital. Its destruction by mudflows from the Agua Volcano in 1541 caused residents to move the capital to Antigua. These days it’s a small and sleepy city.
The Spanish founded Ciudad Vieja as Santiago de los Caballeros in 1527. Some 14 years later, an earthquake hit the city and caused a giant mudslide to come crashing down the Agua Volcano. The city was buried and the Guatemalan capital was soon moved to present-day Antigua, some four miles (six km) north. Beatriz de la Cueva, the second wife of Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, died in a nearby chapel while seeking refuge from the storm.
There’s not much left of the original city besides a tree in the corner of the plaza with a plaque commemorating the first mass held in the country. There is also an eighteenth-century colonial church that was recently restored.
Just past Ciudad Vieja, on the road to San Miguel Dueñas, is an experimental macadamia nut-farm. At Estación Experimental Valhalla, visitors can tour the plantation, sample macadamia pancakes, and learn about reforestation practices and sustainability.
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