There are so many things to see, eat, and buy in Antigua, that visiting this historic town should be an essential stop in every traveler’s Guatemalan itinerary. Imagine waking up to awesome volcano views towering over you and strolling across cobblestone streets on your way to artisanal markets and trendy cafes. There are so many things to do in Antigua, Guatemala that we stayed 6 weeks to explore all that we could!
Visiting Antigua, Guatemala
No matter your purpose for traveling, there are plenty of things to do in Antigua to satisfy your traveling desires.
Love to hike? Antigua’s got plenty of scenic trails. Hike up Volcano’s Acatenango and Pacaya. Or hike the lesser known ‘Corazon de Agua’.
Fancy yourself a food connoisseur? No problem, Antigua’s got you covered. From breweries, to vegan pizza, to delicious Guatemalan entrees, you could spend months in Antigua and never eat at the same place twice.
Interested to learn about history and culture? Antigua’s got that, too! Wander around the many ruins that dot Antigua’s historic center or catch daily events usually happening around Antigua’s central park.
There are so many best things to do in Antigua, and in this post, we’re going to share all our favorite activities and experiences so that you can get the most out of your trip to this historic city!
– Guide To Hiking Acatenango Volcano
– Visiting Tikal: Top Tips & Planning Ahead
– Exploring The Uaxactún Ruins: How To Visit & Top Tips
Best Things To Do In Antigua, Guatemala
1. Shop For Handicrafts At Artisans Markets In Antigua
Some of the best handicrafts in Latin America are made right here in Guatemala. And if you won’t be heading out to Lake Atitlán, where most of the artists live and work, Antigua is a great alternative to pick up some fantastic souvenirs before heading home.
Three handicraft markets in Antigua that we enjoyed visiting were:
Mercado de Artesanias: A large indoor market specializing in handicraft products near the El Carmen ruins. Prices are flexible, so make sure to shop around and be ready to bargain.
El Mercadito: Perfect location on the western side of Antigua’s central park. Lots of individual stalls selling everything from bags, to clothes, to jewelry.
Nim Po´t: Great market set inside a warehouse. It’s a good place to go if you like to shop at your own pace without being hassled by individual shop owners.
2. Take A Photo Of El Arco de Santa Catalina
Easily the most ‘touristy’ thing to do in Antigua, but even we couldn’t help it!
El Arco de Santa Catalina (The Arch of Santa Catalina) might just be the most iconic architectural site in Antigua.
What is the best way to frame the arch in your photos? Most would agree, if you can capture the arch WITH the massive volcano in the background then you’ve got a photo worth sharing.
For the best and clearest photos, visit the arch early in the morning. Before 8am is best. This way, you’ll get there before the crowds and cars arrive. Also, you’ll have a better chance of getting an unobscured view of the volcano in the background.
3. Hike Acatenango Volcano (Definitely The Best Thing To Do In Antigua!)
Doing an overnight hiking trip to Acatenango Volcano is absolutely the best thing to do in Antigua. It is an arduous 12km round trip hike but the highlight is sipping hot chocolate by the campfire and watching the nearby Fuego Volcano erupt non-stop all throughout the night.
Bring along a good camera and capture the red molten rocks as they spew out of the volcano’s vent. Optional hikes also include getting dangerously close to the active Fuego Volcano and summoning Acatenango Volcano for sunrise.
4. Visit Antigua's Many Religious Ruins
Lots of colonial-era churches, schools, and convents dotted the historic center of Antigua, but a series of earthquakes in the mid-1700s have resulted in many of these architectural monuments becoming ruins and left to the mercy of weather and time.
Simply strolling around Antigua’s center, you’re sure to accidentally run into at least a handful of ruins. Some of our favorites include:
- Ermita San Jeronimo: Originally built in the early 18th century, we loved these ruins because of the peaceful garden in the middle. We also enjoyed exploring each of the side rooms and walking up to the 2nd floor for great views of the ruins from above. We walked our cat here and Maya loved it!
- Convent of the Capuchins: An 18th century convent with well preserved cells, courtyards, and gardens.
- Santa Clara Convent & Church: Wonderful convent with a beautiful grassy garden space to rest and relax. Tickets cost Q40, but we thought the site was well worth the cost of entry.
- San Jose Cathedral: Originally built in 1545, this cathedral was always in a state of disrepair because the original construction was so poor. A major renovation in the late 1600s saw the cathedral become one of the grandest colonial buildings in Central America. That is…until the 1773 earthquake brought much of this glamorous church to the ground.
Learn more about Antigua’s ruins from this useful Antigua Ruins Walking Tour
5. Take In Antigua's Landscape At Cerro De La Cruz
Any visit to Antigua must include the short hike up to Cerro de la Cruz, “Hill Of The Cross”. The walk up (mostly stairs) takes about 30 minutes from the central park and you are quickly rewarded with a gorgeous view overlooking Antigua and Volcán Agua in the background.
To get the best chance of getting a clear view of Volcan Agua in the background, get to the viewpoint in the morning, ideally before 9am. There will be less clouds obstructing your views as well as less people.
6. Grab A Drink With A Gorgeous Rooftop View
One of the best views of Antigua involves finding a cafe/restaurant with the perfect rooftop terrace and sipping away your drink while looking out across town.
Depending on which business you visit, your views can be drastically different. From roofs with weathered, rustic red shingles, to colonial churches and ruins, to simply the magnificent view of the nearby Volcano Agua, you’re sure to score a fabulous view no matter where you are.
Some of our favorite rooftop locations are:
Café Sky – This cute cafe might just have the best view of Volcano Agua in town. Come hungry as this cafe does a mean western breakfast and an even better BBQ platter.
Rooftop Antigua – Trendy rooftop terrace that functions as a cafe during the day (fast Wifi!) and transforms into a bar at night. First floor is the shop where you can purchase Guatemalan coffee and liquors for souvenirs.
Los Tres Tiempo – Beautifully decorated upstairs patio with views of the church rooftops and of the surrounding hills. Unfortunately, no views of the volcano, but the food here make it worth the trip.
7. Eat Lunch Like A Local Antigueño - Menú Al Día
If you’re traveling on a budget, eating the Menú Al Día (dish of the day) is a great way to eat healthy, affordable meals. Many restaurants around town offer daily specials and will advertise their daily menu with a sign just outside their front door.
Common dishes include BBQ chicken or beef, grilled shrimp, or stews. Typically included are a side of tortillas and a drink.
Prices for these daily lunch specials usually range from 20-35Q ($2.5-$5).
Learn more about our favorite food spots in Antigua: Where To Eat In Antigua
8. Learn Spanish In Antigua, Guatemala
Taking Spanish lessons here is definitely one of the best things to do in Antigua!
Teaching Spanish to travelers is big business in this town and taking a Spanish class is one of the best things to do in Antigua! With over 30 Spanish language schools here, finding a school and signing up for lessons is easy.
We took our Spanish lessons from Spanish Academy Antigueña and absolutely recommend this school after studying there for 6 weeks. Our teachers were excellent. They spoke slowly, clearly, and were patient with our language struggles every step of the way.
And the best part is that they really seem to love their profession.
All our lessons at the Spanish Academy were private, one-on-one classes. And at the end of every week, we could appreciate just how much we improved from the week before.
Lessons at the Spanish Academy are held outdoors in a beautiful, lush garden on the edge of town. We much preferred this setting as opposed to learning indoors in a white-walled room.
9. Get Lost In The Antigua Main Market
The local market in Antigua is huge! Located on the east side of town, you can find almost anything you could ever want here. Fresh fruits & vegetables, cheap food court, clothes, kitchenware, electronics, and even high-end pet food; it’s all here.
The Antigua main market is a huge maze inside, and it’s easy to get disoriented. So it can be helpful to keep your maps app open on your phone to stay on top of your location and orientation.
Eat like a local at the food court inside the market. You may have to walk around a bit to find it (there aren’t any signs), but there is a large room inside the market with over 20 different food vendors. Set meals typically cost about Q15-30 ($2-4) and include soup, tortillas, and a drink.
Sampling tropical fruits at low prices is one of the best luxury things to do in Central America. On Monday, Thursday and Saturday, the market offers the most fresh and biggest selection of fruits and vegetable.
Monday is also when fresh seafood arrives in the Antigua market, so you can often find yummy seafood soup being sold in the market food stalls. Or you could even purchase fresh shrimp to cook on your own!
How To Get To The Antigua Main Market: Just search for “Central Antigua Market” on Google Maps. It is located on the east end of 3rd Calle Poniente and 4a Calle Poniente.
10. Brunch At Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm
The surrounding areas around Antigua are fertile grounds for Macadamia trees. And the Valhalla Macadamia Farm, just 10km south of town provides a wonderful day trip opportunity from Antigua.
Have brunch at the farm’s delicious on-site restaurant amongst the macadamia trees. We had the handmade tortellini, with ground pork and macadamia nuts, and a handmade polish sausage sandwich. This was some of the best food we’ve eaten in Antigua.
After your meal, there is a free macadamia farm tour where they show you the lifecycle of the macadamia nut, from when it’s grown on the tree to the shelling process. Unfortunately, the roasting process is done off-site.
How to get to Valhalla Macadamia Farm: Uber is probably the only convenient way to get to the Valhalla Macadamia farm. It costs about 43Q one way.
11. Visit Cervecería 14 Brewery
Visiting this happening brewery is also one of our favorite things to do in Antigua, Guatemala.
Hankering for that perfect open air, grassy environment with love band performances, and an excellent selection of craft beers over looking at stunning view of Volcan Agua?
Cevecería 14 has got you covered.
When we came here on a Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with Guatemalan families, there was BBQ, fresh pizza, and a great selection of American tunes. We honestly felt like we had been transpórteles back to the USA.
The pizza here might just be the best in Antigua. Children & pets friendly.
How to get to Cervecería 14: Uber is probably the most convenient way to get here. It’s about 40Q from Antigua’s Central Park. Can pair your trip here with a visit to the Valhalla Macadamia Farm.
12. Take A Yoga Class In Antigua
You better believe you can get your yoga fix here in Antigua!
Whether you need to relieve stress, stretch those muscles after a 4-hour Spanish class, or just looking for a fun community to join, there are plenty of Yoga studios and classes to fit your schedule.
During our stay, we joined Shakti Shala. Their drop in rate is Q85 ($11), but for Q500 ($65) they offer unlimited classes for a month. We thought that was a great deal!
Best Time To Visit Antigua
The best time to visit Antigua is during the dry season, between mid–December and mid–April.
Arriving between May and June is also a good time as there are less tourists, but these months are entering Antigua’s rainy season.
The rainy season in Antigua typically runs from May to October.
Where To Eat In Antigua
Best Guatemalan Cuisine
- Refacción de Paty: One of the cheapest & most delicious eats in town. No street sign. Look for the Spanish Academy Antigueña and this little shop is located two doors to the left. Worth the effort to find.
- Rincon Tipico: Popular with locals and tourists (in the know). Delicious daily menus with scrumptious meat options and plenty of in-door seating.
- Antigua Main Market: Large food court in the local market on the east side of town. Takes a bit of time to find, but worth the effort. Lots of cheap eat options here.
- La Cuevita de los Urquizú: Perhaps the best Guatemalan food we’ve had. Pots cooking delicious stews displayed right by the sidewalk. Q80 per plate, which is on the pricey end, however.
Best International Options
- Kombu Ramen Shop: Yuko approves this ramen shop, which is all you’d need to know about this delicious noodle joint.
- El Viejo Café: It’s a bakery in the front of the shop, but walk to the back and there’s a beautiful sit down garden inside. Delicious burgers!
- Mulan Chinese: Hands down the best Chinese food we’ve had in Mexico & Guatemala. Food is pricey, but portion sizes are large and food is as authentic as you could reasonably expect for Latin America.
- Caoba Farm Restaurant: A great place for excellent, high-quality organic food. Opens only from Thurs – Sun 8am to 4pm.
- Pappy’s BBQ: Is this the best BBQ joint in Central America? You’ll have to come visit to see for yourself!
Vegetarian / Vegan
- Once Once: Excellent vegan restaurant on the northeast side of town. They have lunch specials: two people for 75Q. We loved our vegan burritos and apple pancakes.
- La Bruja: Huge selections of vegan / vegetarian burgers and tacos! Central location with beautiful garden, strong WiFi is a plus.
Unión Café Antigua: Try their vegetarian bowls and fresh smoothie! Great atmosphere and friendly staffs.
Best Cafes In Antigua, Guatemala
Fernando’s Kaffee – Locals approved, the best Guatemalan coffees in town! Not only coffees, but they have large selections of chocolates you can purchase at their store.
Fat Cat Cafe – Delicious, high-quality coffee. Limited capacity and tables, however.
Cafe Boheim – Good option for work with fast wifi and plugs. Brownie with vanilla ice cream is a must!
- The Portal Cafe – Awesome location right next to the central park. Comfy seating and groovy vibes.
Where To Sleep In Antigua
Being such a major travel destination in Guatemala, there is no shortage of options for accommodations in Antigua. Everything from budget hostels to beautiful mid-range hotels, to stunning luxury hotels, you can find it all here.
Best Budget: Maya Papaya – It’s hard to beat this traveler favorite in terms of location, cleanliness, and traveler vibes. Lots of great community spaces, comfy bunk beds, and a delicious Guatemalan breakfast is included in the price.
Best Mid-Range: Meson de Maria – Rated one of the best hotels for couples, and we can see why! Less than 200m from the main central park, this great mid-range option has great interior design, relaxing garden space, and a gorgeous roof-top view.
Best Luxury: Posada Del Angel – Set in a stunning historic colonial house, staying at the Posada del Angel will be one of the highlights of your stay in Antigua. Gorgeous garden, stunning rooftop restaurant, and a swimming pool to cool off after a day of exploration. Live the life of a real Antigueño!
For Digital Nomads In Antigua
With great accomodation options, good wifi, and a plethora of cafes, Antigua is a popular spot for digital nomads. And when work is done, there’s an endless supply of bars, restaurants, and tourist sights to de-stress.
- Sim Cards: Staying connected with a cellphone data plan is simple and affordable. Tigo and Claro are the two major cell service providers in Antigua. Buying a SIM card is easy at any little store advertising a Claro or Tigo logo. All sim cards are prepaid, no monthly contract, and for Q100 ($13) you get 10GB of data. When you run out, simply refill your account.
Best Cafes For Working In Antigua
- Selina Co-Work: A popular hostel chain throughout Central and South America. Notonly do they provide great accommodation, but there is also a trendy coworking space inside with fast wifi. Daily, weekly, and monthly rates are offered.
- Cafe Boheim: A quiet cafe near the central park. Not much of an entrance, but climb up the stairs to the terrace and you’re greeted with great rooftop views. Plentiful plugs and great wifi.
- Impact Hub: Awesome community with a focus on social-impact in Antigua. Great networking events, workshops, and meals. Great value for any digital nomad looking to stay in Antigua.
Groups & Communities
- Facebook Group: Expats Living In Guatemala – A great community for getting all your questions answered about Antigua and around. Also a great resource for learning about current events and traffic conditions (travel times can get bad here!)
Fitness & Gyms
- Shakti Shala (Yoga): Awesome Yoga studio with drop-in rates and monthly, unlimited passes. Reserve your spot online on their website.
- La Fabrica (Gym): No matter your preferred type of workout, La Fabrica has you covered. Weightlifting, boxing, gymnastics, and even martial arts; you can find it here.
- Antigua’s Gym: Your standard full fitness gym, complete with all the weights and machines you need. Daily and monthly rates available.
Transportation To & Around Antigua
The historic center of Antigua is very walk-able and you can get almost anywhere in under 20 minutes.
In the case you need to get around Antigua quick:
Tuk Tuks: Will take you anywhere within the historic center for ~Q10. Be sure to confirm the price before getting in.
Uber: Yep! Uber works great in Antigua. You’ll need the Uber app, of course. Rides will typically cost between Q15-Q25, depending on how far you want to go. Uber is a great way to quickly get to places around Antigua, like Hobbitenango & Cervecerita 14.
How To Get To Antigua From Guatemala City
To get into and out of Antigua, there are several options:
Chicken Bus: Looking for a real adventure? Then getting on a Chicken Bus, named because these old American school busses are brightly painted/decorated and you may often find yourself sitting next to a flock of chickens! You won’t get to your destination quickly, but you’ll definitely have a good story.
Uber: Uber is also a popular way to get between Guatemala City and Antigua. The one way cost is ~Q150 ($20).
How To Get To Lake Atitlán From Antigua
Shuttle: Many hotels and hostels can help you book a space on the many shuttles that run between Antigua and Lake Atitlán. Simply let the front desk know. These buses are air conditioned and pick you up right at your place of accommodation.
Top Tips When Visiting Antigua
1. Grab A Menú Al Día For Lunch
Looking for an affordable, healthy lunch option when visiting Antigua？Look for the ‘menú al día’, or Almuerzo(lunch)the dishes of the day, at most restaurants in town. If a restaurant is serving a dish of the day, they will often post the menu by their front door.
These dishes usually cost between 20Q-40Q (~3-$6) per plate and are considerably healthier than your usual ‘cheap options’ in town.
2. Visit The McDonalds In Town (No Joke)
We don’t usually make it a point to visit American fast food places when we travel, but the McDonald’s, just west of the central park, has one of the best interior gardens in Antigua.
There’s a beautiful water fountain in the middle of the garden and, on clear days, perfect views of Agua Volcano.
For clear views of Agua Volcano, we suggest arriving at McDonald’s in the morning. If you’re hungry, grabbing the ‘Super Chapin’ breakfast burger is a good choice. This burger is a basic sausage McMuffin with cheese, but also includes grilled plantains and a blended bean spread. Delicious!
3. Use Uber To Get Around Outside Antigua
The historic downtown area of Antigua, Guatemala is easily accessible by foot. But to get to specific places just outside the downtown area, Uber is a great choice. This includes if you want to get to places such as Valhalla Macadamia Farm, Cervecería 14 Brewery, and Hobbitenango.
Most rides in Uber will cost you between 20-40Q ($3-$6).
4. Early Morning For The Best Views
Morning time is usually when the sky is the clearest. By mid-afternoon, clouds (and other air pollution particulates) start to obscure the skies. Therefore, for the best views of the neighboring volcanoes, we recommend setting out early for clear views of Agua, Pacaya, Fuego, and Acatenango volcanoes.
5. Stay Vigilant & Keep Your Belongings Safe
Antigua is a safe, tourist-friendly city. But as with all tourist places, it’s worth having some street smarts and keeping your belongings with you and out of sight from curious eyes. If you can help it, don’t walk alone along the streets at night and if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, learn to say ‘no’ and get out.
But by and large, we did not feel unsafe during our 6 weeks in Antigua and we think you will love your visit here!
History of Antigua, Guatemala
In The Beginning...
Antigua was once the capital of Guatemala and the city began it’s reign as the center of the country on March 10, 1543. Antigua’s original name, when it was Guatemala’s capital, was Ciudad de Santiago de Los Caballeros de Goathemala (City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala).
Antigua was a planned city. Meaning that the city is laid out with ‘Avenues’ running north to south and ‘Streets’ running east to west. This is similar to New York city. Many of the important government and church buildings were built near the city’s central park.
Over the next 200 years, a number of different christian groups would settle in Antigua. The first to arrive were the Franciscans in the mid-1500s and soon after the Jesuits, Mercedarians, the Order of Preachers, and the Society of Jesus were quick to follow suit to establish churches and schools to convert the local Guatemalan indigenous population.
This is why when you visit Antigua today, there are so many different churches (now ruins) all throughout the city’s historic center.
The End Of An Era...
But Antigua’s reign as Guatemala’s capital city was doomed to end. Throughout the early and mid-1700s, a series of strong earthquakes destroyed much of the city and religious buildings, and prompted Spain to move Guatemala’s capital to modern day Guatemala city, just 40km northwest of Antigua. Due to the extensive earthquake damage, the city was largely abandoned and renamed ‘La Antigua Guatemala’ (Old Guatemala).
FAQ - Visiting Antigua, Guatemala
How many days should I spend in Antigua Guatemala?
Aim to spent at least 3 whole days in Antigua. This includes hiking up Acatenango Volcano. But there is so much to do in Antigua that you could easily spend a month.
Is Visiting Antigua Safe?
During our 6-week stay in Antigua, we felt safe the entire time. At popular sites in the city we saw numerous “Tourist Police” to help maintain safety and order.
That being said, Antigua is a tourist town and this can attract opportunistic people seeking to profit off of unwitting tourists.
To keep safe when visiting Antigua, we recommend the following:
- Minimize your time walking alone at night. When walking at night, keep to the main streets.
- Don’t linger too late at Cerro de La Cruz
- Keep your valuables safe and out of sight. Wallets should be in your front pockets at all times. This is especially true in the local market west of town.
- Treat the locals and townspeople with kindness and respect. Not only are they honest, hard-working people but you don’t know what might happen if you make the wrong local angry.
Is Antigua Expensive?
On the surface, Antigua can seem more expensive than your average city/town in Central America or in Mexico. Many of the restaurants, cafes, and shops that are spread all throughout the historic center can charge surprisingly higher rates than you might be used to.
It is also becoming common for a 10% gratuity to be automatically charged to your bill.
But for those traveling on a strict budget, great deals in Antigua can still be found. When eating out, look for ‘Menú Al Día’ options being served at restaurants or try wandering around the perimeter of the city center for lower prices.
What Are The Important Festivals In Antigua?
Antigua has a strong Christian history and identity. So major Christian dates such as Lent, Holy Week, and Easter are important festival dates in Antigua.
During Lent, a different local Christian parish will lead a procession through Antigua’s streets with an abundance of purple robes, flowers, and fanfare. Elaborate ‘alfombras’ (carpets), made of vegetables flowers, and dyed sawdust, are laid out in churches and streets throughout the city.
Best Veterinary In Antigua
Vet Pro | If you need to visit a vet for whatever reason, Vet Pro is, without a doubt, THE place to go. Diego and JP at Vet Pro took great care of our kitten, who we adopted in northern Guatemala. Check ups, vaccinations, and health certificates; Vet Pro has all the services you need.
Fluent in English.
Maxillo Facial Center | When Yuko needed a root canal to fix an aching tooth, we went to Maxillo Facial Center. Extremely professional service with some of the most up-to-date hardware. The main dentist speaks great English.
Visit Guatemala’s Famous Ruins:
– Visiting Tikal: Top Tips & What To See
– Visiting The Uaxactún Ruins