10 Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala and Reasons to Visit
Antigua is a charming colonial town in Guatemala and one of the most famous travel destinations in Latin America!
If you’re planning a trip there soon, you’re in luck, as this complete travel guide will tell you all about the top things to do in Antigua as well as where to stay, where to eat, how to get around and more.
First of all, why visit Antigua?
Antigua has become one of the most famous travel destinations in Central America over the last few years – for numerous reasons. First of all, it’s really beautiful. Imagine pastel architecture, cobblestone streets and historical landmarks.
But there’s also something really special about this city. It’s probably the only town in the world where you’ll see 3 ancient volcanoes as a backdrop. And if that doesn’t impress you… I don’t know what will! And yes, you can even climb these volcanoes for a unique experience. Then come back to town to indulge in Guatemalan cuisine. Spoiler: it’s insanely good!
This being said, let’s find out all you need to know to plan your trip from my complete Antigua travel guide below:
10 Best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
From the world-famous yellow arch to beautifully restored churches and local markets, here are some of the best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala:
1 - El Arco de Santa Catalina
Arco de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Arch) is hands-down THE most famous landmark in the city and taking a picture with it is definitely one of the top things to do in Antigua during your visit!
The arch has a very interesting story as well. The arch connects two buildings. The one on the west side used to be a convent, and as the covent grew, it expanded into the building on the east side as well. The arch was built in the 1690s so that the nuns (who lived in isolation, you know) could cross the street between the two premises without being pestered. A wonderful idea, if I might add!
By the way, if you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day, you’ll be able to see one of the volcanoes in the background – Volcan Agua, to be precise.
If you’re in the mood for some exploration, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, shops, cafes and street performances around Arco de Santa Catalina.
TIP: Go early in the morning if you want to take a picture without any tourists or cars around. This is one of the most famous Antigua attractions, so it gets crowded real quick!
2 - Hike a volcano
Yep, I’m damn serious! You can hike a volcano in Antigua and you can also watch a volcano erupt here. Don’t worry, though, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds. But if you decide to take on this activity, I assure you that it’ll be the highlight of your trip to Guatemala! There are 3 volcanoes surrounding Antigua (Volcan Fuego, Volcan Pacaya and Acatenango) and I’ll tell you which ones to hike depending on your fitness level:
Volcan Fuego is one of the 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala and it erupts every 30 minutes. Its eruptions are rather small and usually not dangerous at all. Of course, you can’t hike this one. But! You can see this fascinating phenomenon if you take a hike up Acatenango Volcano. This hike includes an overnight stay in a camp close to the summit. There’s going to be a bonfire and lots of staring at Volcan Fuego erupting through the night! Plus lots of uphill hiking, of course (7 hours of it), so a basic level of fitness is a must for this one.
But honestly, what an incredible experience to watch an active volcano erupt! This is a no brainer to me – you’ve got to do it! Trust me, you’ll lava it! (heh heh).
You can arrange a tour with your accommodation or you can book an overnight Acatenango Volcano hike here.
If you don’t feel brave enough for this one, don’t worry, I have a solution! Pacaya Volcano is the most “friendly” volcano out of the 3 (and the most hiked as well), so you can do a hike here instead. It’s not visible from Antigua, though, but it’s most commonly associated with Guatemala city. The hike on Pacaya Volcano takes a bit more than 2 hours and, once at the summit, you’ll see dry lava and ashes. It looks like you just landed on the moon!
3 - Cerro de la Cruz Viewpoint
What could be better than a panoramic view of Antigua after a full day of exploration and adventure? Cerro de la Cruz (“Hill of the Cross”) is an amazing viewpoint located only 10 minutes away from the centre of the city and it’s one of the most famous places for sunset-watching in Antigua. The ‘hike’ to the top only takes half an hour (maybe even 20 minutes) and it’s not challenging at all.
If the sky is clear and sunny, expect to see the 3 volcanoes as a backdrop too, so don’t forget your camera! If you want this spot to yourself, I recommend going very early in the morning instead of in the evening. You’ll encounter fewer tourists and you might snap a unique photo at the same time. Sunset you’ll find tourists and locals alike chilling with a bevvy, enjoying the view.
NOTE: Some articles and travel guides on the web suggest that you need to find a police escort to take you to the top of Cerro de la Cruz because there are lots of robberies happening along the way up. That’s, in fact, not true anymore – there will already be police officers there from early morning ‘til evening to guard the place and keep it safe. This information was true before February 2019.
4 - San Francisco Church
There are multiple churches in Antigua, but none of them can compare to San Francisco Church (Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande). It’s the oldest one in the city, built in 1542, and the surprising thing is that it’s still active, with ceremonies taking place there every day. Its monastery was almost destroyed in an earthquake in 1773, the ruins are still beautiful. There’s also the tomb of Saint Hermano Pedro there and an interesting museum with a 7 GTQ (0.90 US$) entrance fee.
5 - La Merced Church / Iglesia de La Merced
This beautiful baroque church with yellow walls was built in the 16th century and it has a long history. It has been destroyed by earthquakes many times – and each time it was rebuilt. Truth be told, it’s well-preserved and it looks great, especially the facade!
Entrance fee: 15Q/person (2 US$) to enter. Or you can admire it from the outside.
6 - Visit the Mercado
You know how much I love local markets everywhere I travel, but the Mercado in Antigua is something else. This is the main market in Antigua and one of the largest ones too. Here, they really have it all – vintage clothes, fresh fruit and fish, cellphones, sports shoes and more. Nope, it’s not just a farmer’s market! Although the atmosphere there is pretty chaotic, with hundreds of locals and tourists roaming the stalls, there are clearly demarcated areas for food, clothes etc. So it’s pretty hard to get lost and not find what you’re looking for.
TIP: The most popular market days are Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. That’s when the Mercado is most crowded, but the prices are usually lower too. Pros and cons… it’s all up to you to choose!
TIP #2: If you decide to try some fresh fruits from the market, please make sure to wash them many times. Many times!
7 - Shop for souvenirs and handmade objects
Now that I told you about the local market, it’s time to talk about artisan goods. Guatemala is world-famous for its beautiful handmade objects, from dresses to scarves and bags, and going home with artwork made by a local artisan might be the best souvenir idea you’ll have during your trip.
It is said that the best handicraft shops are located at Chichicastenango Market close to Lake Atitlan, so a bit outside of Antigua. But you can also go to Mercado de Artesanias or El Carmen Ruins for some good local shopping.
8 - Parque Central / Plaza Central Park
Visiting the main square in the city centre is an obvious choice in every city in the world. There’s one in Antigua too and it’s called Parque Central. It’s a vibrant plaza where you’ll find beautiful buildings, trees, street performers, shops, cathedrals and more. I totally recommend starting your trip here in order to get a glimpse into Antigua’s vibe!
9 - Taste ALL the chocolate
Guatemala is known for its excellent coffee and chocolate, and you’re going to discover both of these gastronomical pleasures in Antigua. If you’re a chocolate fan, you must know about Mayan Chocolate. And you MUST stop by the Chocolate Museum to see how chocolate is made and how it tastes here by sampling some goodies (chocolate tea, hot chocolate, strawberries covered in chocolate etc) from their shop. In case you want to take things to a whole new level, you can also join a chocolate making workshop on-site.
And don’t forget to buy some choco goodies from their shop before you leave – your loved ones will surely want to try a piece of chocolate from the place where chocolate was BORN!
10 - Visit a coffee farm
Time for a coffee tour! Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I can’t help but recognize the importance of Guatemalan coffee – the elixir of life, as they say. After all, Guatemala is known for having one of the best coffees in the world!
If you want to visit an authentic coffee farm, I recommend De la Gente – a small, charming farm and the best place to learn and see exactly how coffee farmers and makers work on a daily basis. You’ll get to see the plantations, their house, the equipment they use and more. Even if you don’t want to taste any coffee during your visit, I still think it’s a unique experience to add to your Guatemala travel plans.
If you want to arrange things beforehand, you can book this Coffee & Culture Full-Day Tour that includes a visit to a coffee plantation and a hike up Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint.
BONUS: Extra things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
My list above includes the 10 most fun things to do in Antigua that are absolute must do’s during your trip, but if you’re lucky enough to spend more time in this wonderful city, get ready for a bigger dose of adventure! Here are some extra things to add to your Antigua itinerary:
- Cathedral de Santiago – This cathedral built in 1541 was destroyed by the earthquakes over the years but it was rebuilt and looks beautiful now.
- Sip a drink on a rooftop bar – Antigua is scattered with wonderful rooftop bars where you can sip a drink and watch the city from above. One such example is Café Sky, which is probably the most popular rooftop bar as well;
- Take some cooking classes – Guatemalan cuisine is simply incredible and taking a cooking class while you’re in Antigua might just be the highlight of your trip, especially if you’re a foodie like myself. I recommend this one;
- Casa del Tejido Museum / Museo Casa del Tejido – an excellent place to see and learn about the woven textiles of Guatemala. They also have some pretty cool exhibitions!
- Take a salsa class – if you want to learn some dancing moves, Antigua’s your place to be;
- Hotel Casa Domingo / Casa Santo Domingo – This beautiful building was once a convent. Now it’s a hotel, a museum, a church, a restaurant and a bar. Talkin’ about preserving Antigua’s cultural landmarks!
- Palacio de los Capitanes Generales – built in 1549, this was once a palace hosting the colonial headquarters of Central America. After the earthquake, this place was among the sad ruins in Antigua. But now it’s a place of culture where you can see live shows and exhibitions. I recommend visiting at least to see the south facade that has been preserved since the beginning!
- Convento de las Capuchinas – I recommend visiting this place if you want to get a taste of history. Here you’ll be able to see how nuns lived back in the day!
- Cooperación Española – Another one on my list of historical buildings that have been destroyed and then restored back again some years ago, this is a place full of history where you can also sit down in the open air garden and enjoy a good Guatemalan coffee;
- La Antigua Galeria de Arte – This is the perfect place to visit for art lovers, especially if you want to see some beautiful artworks from regional artists. The building is a colonial mansion and it’s pretty striking as well!
Best Antigua tours by type of traveller
In case you need a little bit of help with planning your itinerary for Antigua, I recommend booking some tours in advance to make things easier for you! These are the best ones I could find:
- Antigua Guatemala: Half-Day Walking Tour – for all those of you that don’t have a lot of time but want to visit the highlights of the city;
- Pacaya Volcano Trek – if you want to do the most famous trek around!
- Coffee & Culture Full-Day Tour – for those interested in the coffee culture of this place;
- Authentic Guatemalan Cooking Class – for all foodies excited to learn how to make some authentic Guatemalan dishes.
Best day trips from Antigua
- Lake Atitlan Tour Full Day From Antigua – visiting Lake Atitlan and its villages (San Pedro, San Macros etc.) is one of the most popular day trips from Antigua;
- Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan Tour From Antigua – alternative tour for the one above.
Where to stay in Antigua, Guatemala
RELATED READ: I have written a separate post dedicated to the subject – Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala – and I recommend you check it out!
Now that you know all there is to know about the best places to visit in Antigua, let’s elucidate another technical mystery: where to book a room for the best experience! Antigua offers a plethora of accommodation options that will cater to all travel styles and pockets.
Below is a roundup of some of the best hotel options out there:
COMPLETE SPLURGE. Hotel Museo Spa Casa Santo Domingo
BOUTIQUE HOTEL. El Convento Boutique Hotel
MID-RANGE. El Carmen Hotel
BUDGET HOTEL. Hotel Casa del Cerro
HOSTEL. Maya Papaya
APARTMENT. New and Luxurious Apartment
Best restaurants in Antigua + What to eat
If you want to truly experience Antigua’s (and Guatemala’s in general) food the right way, I always recommend roaming the alleyways and trying the street food. It’s pocket-friendly, it’s authentic and it’s super delicious. After all, we’re talking about Guatemalan food cooked by Guatemalans!
You can find good street food in Antigua in lots of places such as the Mercado, near the parks or close to the churches. A good spot to go is right in front of La Merced Church!
If you want to dine in restaurants, let me give you my recommendations below, as well as some unmissable dishes to try while you’re in Antigua:
This is said to be Guatemala’s national dish and a must-try in any city. It’s basically a stew made with meat or veggies and you can find it at street food vendors and in restaurants as well. I recommend going to Los Tres Tiempos for one of the best pepian dishes around. Plus, the rooftop view is pretty much incredible!
Guatemalan turkey soup-stew with tomato sauce and lots of yummy spices. It’s usually spicy and some locals consider it to be some kind of national dish. Although the best kak’ik is found in Cobán (a different town), you can still try a very good one in Antigua at Panela.
Let’s say this is the Guatemalan version of a hot dog – delicious sausage placed in a… tortilla, of course. You can find them at numerous food courts on the streets or at La Casa de Las Mixtas which is said to serve the most delish ones in town.
RELLENITOS DE PLATANO
Traditional Guatemalan dessert also served as street food. They look like crunchy donuts and they’re basically black beans surrounded by mashed plantains. All fried and delicious. And naturally vegan! The best ones are definitely at the food stalls around the city.
TIP: If you want to make sure you tick all these dishes off of your culinary bucket list for Antigua, I recommend booking a food tour with a local such as this one. It’s an exciting experience that will help you understand the way locals eat and cook and a great way to taste as many local dishes as possible!
OTHER NOTABLE RESTAURANTS:
Other than the dishes above, I’ll list some incredible restaurants and places to eat below that you might want to add to your itinerary for a quick bite:
- Caoba Farms – Caoba Farms is not only a very good place to eat, but it has become one of the best things to do in Antigua over time. It’s basically an organic farm that has a garden with home-grown food but also a restaurant where you can experience the whole farm-to-table concept. I think it’s pretty great and they have both Guatemalan and international dishes. Plus local beers and live music! The only downside is that this place is not in the centre, but 15 minutes away from Antigua. Tip: if you can, visit the Caoba Farms on a Saturday morning, as you’ll be able to buy fresh produce from them on this day as well!
- Toko Baru – an awesome restaurant with super good prices and super big portions;
- Samsara – for yummy vegan and gluten-free dishes;
- Taqueria Doña Lupita – for the tacos outside of Mexico;
- La Esquina Antigua – a very cool, modern style food court and lots of instagrammable corners;
- Cafe Boheme – for some VERY good Guatemalan coffee;
How to get to Antigua, Guatemala
Although you might not expect it, getting to Antigua is quite easy. Most people fly into Guatemala City Airport and then they go to Antigua from there. The route is quite short (less than 40 km, approx. 1 hour) and there are multiple ways of getting there:
SHARED SHUTTLE BUS. Cheap and pretty convenient. The prices vary from 70 to 200 Q (10 to 25 US$) and you’ll find buses waiting outside of the airport in the bus terminal. The downside is that you’ll have to wait for the bus to fill completely before they depart.
CHICKEN BUS. This is a very pocket-friendly option if you’re visiting from Guatemala City. Chicken buses are local buses and the cheapest option I can think of. But take note that it’s not the safest option, as there are frequent thefts in this type of bus. Plus, they don’t have air-con and they’re, naturally, very slow. The price is 10Q, which is incredibly cheap – around 1.30 US$. If you decide to go for it, I’d advise to them them only during the day.
TAXI. One of the most expensive options, but they’re fast and safe. The price from the airport to Antigua is between 230 to 350Q (30 to 45 US$). You can find lots of taxis outside the airport, which makes this option very good for travellers that didn’t have time to plan in advance.
MY RECOMMENDATION? A private driver. Although it’s not as cheap as a chicken or shuttle bus, it’s faster and way safer. And if you book it online in advance, you’ll get way better prices than the local taxis. You can book your transfer beforehand here – this guy has very good reviews!
Getting around Antigua, Guatemala
There are different ways of getting from point A to point B in Antigua:
BY CAR. The easiest and most convenient way of roaming Antigua is by rented car. This offers you endless flexibility, as you won’t have to depend on the bus schedule (spoiler alert: there is none) and you won’t have to plan your route according to public transportation. The rates are not high and you can choose whichever type of car fits your travel style and party. I recommend checking out this website to book the ideal rental car for you.
BY CHICKEN BUS. Another very popular option is to take chicken buses, which are basically local buses. They’re extremely cheap but they have a big downside: they don’t have any fixed schedule; the drivers just wait until the bus gets full and then they depart on their route. And they’re very slow, too. But they work well if you’re on a very tight budget. Tickets are bought from the driver, after you get on the bus.
BONUS: FAQ & My travel tips before you visit Antigua
Now that you know everything there is to know about the best things to do here as well as where to stay and where to eat, let me offer you some of my most precious tips for visiting Antigua and Guatemala in general. Plus some frequently asked questions as well:
WHEN TO VISIT ANTIGUA
Even though Guatemala is a pleasant place all year round, you might want to avoid the wet season because, well... rain. I recommend going during the dry season, from November to April. Peak season in Antigua is mid-December to mid-April.
HOW LONG SHOULD I STAY?
I’d say at least 3 days, ideally 4, maybe even 5! Especially if you want to tick everything on my to-do list above! And if you want to hike the volcanoes, keep in mind to reserve at least 2 days just for that!
IS ANTIGUA SAFE?
This is one of THE most popular questions regarding this destination. In short - yes, Antigua is safe, especially compared to Guatemala City. Yes, there are pickpockets from time to time, especially at night, but if you use the normal safety precautions just like in any other country, you’ll be fine. Don’t walk around alone late at night, don’t carry lots of expensive things with you on display and stay vigilant with your belongings. Respect these three rules and you’ll feel safe there.
IS BARGAINING ACCEPTED?
Yes. Not only accepted, but expected! Most of the prices you’ll see, especially in the local markets, are made for bargaining, so don’t be afraid to do so. Also, don’t be afraid to walk away if a price or product doesn’t suit your needs - that’s okay!
And my advice for buying things from markets anywhere in the world: don’t just buy the first thing you see from the first stalls. Scan the entire market first to understand the prices, then go wherever it’s cheaper.
Also, I strongly recommend you bring cash with you, especially smaller bills. It feels a bit uncomfortable handing over a big bill after you've struggled to negotiate, right?
Well, you’ve made it to the end! This was my complete list of things to do in Antigua, Guatemala! Plus a complete Antigua guide which includes the best hotels, best restaurants, best ways to get there AND the best tours to book for your trip! I hope you found this article useful, as I have tried to encompass all my most precious stories and pieces of advice from my trip to Antigua.
And if you’re curious to find out more about Guatemala in general and other exciting destinations there, I recommend clicking here to read all about my adventures in this unique country.