Roughly a one hour drive away from the country’s capital sits the city of Antigua, Guatemala. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a beautiful colonial city filled with picturesque architecture, artisan markets, and rich Guatemalan history. A trip to Guatemala is not complete until you’ve spent a few days in Antigua.
Because it’s a more touristy town in Guatemala, travelers have experienced mixed feelings when staying in Antigua. Before going, I read several complaints about there not being many things to do in Antigua, Guatemala. But after visiting myself, I think perhaps these people didn’t look hard enough. I really enjoyed Antigua and found enough things to do to fill up several days!
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An Introduction to Antigua
Antigua has seen a number of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods which have caused damage and forced the city to rebuild time and time again. Because of this, Antigua is a city that contrasts old and new in a beautiful way. Colorful colonial buildings sit flush against crumbling stone walls that bear the dirt and dust of time. In 1979 the city was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site in order to preserve the lovely Spanish colonial architecture and promote tourism.
If it’s your first time in Central America, Antigua is the perfect place to go. There is a good mix of local culture and tourist comforts in the city so you can ease yourself into Central American travel. Antigua is the place to get fresh handmade tortillas on the street, and also get a McDonald’s fix if you need a little taste of home. In addition, if you’re nervous about your Spanish speaking skills, most people in Antigua speak enough English that you don’t have to bury yourself in Google Translate.
Getting to Antigua: It’s very easy to get to Antigua. From Guatemala City, you can catch a local chicken bus to Antigua for very cheap. But if you’re not familiar with local transportation in Central America, I’d suggest hiring a shuttle. You can find shared shuttle vans at the Guatemala City airport heading straight to Antigua for less than $30USD. You can also find shuttles to Antigua from all over Central America, as it’s a pretty popular place
Is it Safe to Visit Antigua, Guatemala?
As with most visits to Central America, traveling to Antigua brings up the question of safety: Is it safe to visit Antigua, Guatemala? Compared to the crime rates in other Guatemalan cities, I’d say that Antigua is very safe. The city has a specific Tourist Police which helps keep crime down. Visitors do still run the risk of petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing. It’s also commonly advised not to wander around the city at night. But like anywhere else, if you stay aware of your belongings and surroundings and take normal precautions, you can often avoid any issues.
As a female traveler, I felt very safe walking around in a group, but when venturing out solo I did get a few uncomfortable whistles and catcalls. This is not an uncommon occurrence in this part of the world, so just be aware that it could happen.
Fun Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
Okay, let’s get down to it. Antigua’s a great city and it’s very popular with travelers to Central America. I would recommend planning at least three to four days in Antigua, with more time added if you plan on doing day tours that leave from the city. If you’re wondering what you can do to fill up your time in Antigua, here are some suggestions on fun things to do in Antigua, Guatemala!
Wander Around Antigua
Antigua, Guatemala is a small city, and it’s incredibly easy to navigate. The city is laid out in a simple grid pattern, with roads running north to south and east to west. Just pick a direction, start walking, and see what you find! The city is so picturesque and colorful, it’s easy to spend a few hours just wandering around. You may just happen upon some warm, homemade tortillas being sold out of someone’s house! Remember to stay aware of your surroundings and take your walks in the day time. The city is not well-lit at night, and the sidewalks can be uneven or altogether non-existent!
Visit the Artisan Market
Antigua is one of the best places in Guatemala to get your souvenir shopping done. The artisan market has just about everything you could want to bring home
Sample Some Guatemalan Chocolate
If you’re a sweets lover like me, chocolate may be one of the best reasons to visit Guatemala! The ChocoMuseo in Antigua is a great place to start your Central American chocolate extravaganza, by learning about the farming, harvesting, and production of chocolate. In addition, you can learn about the important role of chocolate in Central American history. But more importantly, there are free samples and the museum itself is completely free to visit!
Hang Out in Parque Central Like a Local
There are many parks throughout Antigua, but Parque Central is the main square of the city. The park is always alive with market stands, kids playing, couples making out on benches, and many many walking vendors selling things for “one dollar”. There’s also a huge fountain in the middle, open for… artistic interpretation. Parque Central is just a great place to grab a bench, enjoy a bit of shade, and just watch life in Antigua happen around you.
Make a Bakery Run
There are a handful of bakeries in Antigua, Guatemala, but the best one is Dona Luisa Xicotencatl. It’s one of those bakeries where you walk in, and the delicious smell just slaps you in the face. With a limited menu, they are known mostly for their
Learn Something New
Antigua is a hub of culture and learning. Many people come to Antigua and stay for several weeks or months, attending immersive Spanish classes. If you’re interested in improving your Spanish, check out some of these great Spanish schools in Antigua:
But Spanish isn’t the only thing to learn in Antigua. You can sign up for a cooking class and learn to make delicious Guatemalan dishes. Why not check out a dance class, or maybe even go on a coffee plantation tour to learn about Guatemalan coffee!
Check Out the Arco de Santa Catalina
This pastel yellow arch is the symbol of Antigua, and cannot be missed when you visit! The story behind the arch is quite interesting. The building on the west side of the arch used to be a convent where nuns lived. However, in the late
The arch has since seen its fair share of damage and rebuilding from earthquakes. The clock tower at the top of the arch was added in the 1800s and the convent is now a large hotel. But the arch still stands as a popular stop for visitors in Antigua!
Explore Some Ruins
There are dozens of ruins all over Antigua, Guatemala! You could easily spend a day hopping from one ruin site to another. Many will charge entry fees, but these sites are just fascinating to visit. Some of the best ruins around Antigua include:
- The Ruins of Santa Rosa
- Church of Santo Domingo
- Capuchins Monastery
- San Jeronimo Ruins
- Ruins of Santa Clara
- La Merced
- La Recoleccion
Visit Beautiful Churches
Along with the many church and convent ruins around Antigua, there are also several stunning churches in working order. Between the bright colors and intricate architecture, exploring the churches around the city is a great way to spend an afternoon. Just remember that these are sacred places for many locals, so please be respectful and quiet when you enter the buildings. Do note that some have small entrance fees for visitors. Some of the most popular churches to visit in Antigua include:
- Church of San Francisco
- La Merced
- San Jose Cathedral
Savor Delicious Dishes
The foodie scene in Antigua is awesome. The city has a diverse mixture of cuisines, so if you’re sick of the traditional beans and rice, Antigua is a great place to head. Not only can you get some incredibly tasty guacamole, tacos, fried plantains, and fresh tropical fruits, you can also get pizza, crepes, Indian curry, and more! You can even try out Pollo Compero: Guatemala’s own fast-food chicken
Hike the Cerro de la Cruz
The Cerro de la Cruz (or Hill of the Cross) is an iconic site in Antigua. At the very north end of town is an uphill path that will take you to this scenic overlook. The hike is not that bad, taking about 15-20 minutes. You can also drive or take a
Hike a Volcano
There are a number of volcanos that surround the city of Antigua. This makes it a great base for hiking any one of these volcanos! If you do choose to hike a volcano when in Antigua, it is recommended to hire a guide or join a group tour, due to safety concerns. Here are some options for volcano hiking around Antigua:
- Volcan de Agua is an extinct volcano (meaning there are no records of it erupting). It generally takes 4-6 hours to get to the top and offers beautiful views of Antigua and the surrounding villages.
- Acatenango Volcano offers a pretty intense hike. It takes between 4-7 hours to summit the volcano. Most hikers like to do the hike in the evening hours or camp overnight on the volcano. In the dark of the night, you can often see neighboring Volcan de Fuego spewing red hot lava into the air.
- Pacaya Volcano is probably the most popular hike from Antigua. Due to its fairly recent volcanic activity, you probably won’t get to fully summit the volcano. But you will come across a few places where the heat escapes the volcano and you can roast marshmallows. The hike generally takes between 4 and 6 hours.
Antigua is a great place to get your Central America bearings and begin your journey. One of the greatest things about Antigua, Guatemala is that if somehow you’ve found you have run out of things to do, there are many travel agencies in the area that will hook you up with transportation to another place to explore in Central America. Take a bus and be at beautiful Lake Atitlan in only 2.5 hours! Or move on to Tikal or Semuc Champey or another country altogether! If you’re looking to explore more of this beautiful country, check out this guide to backing Guatemala!
Visiting Guatemala? Check out my Guatemala page for more posts and travel tips!
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