The colorful colonial town of Antigua, Guatemala boasts cobblestone streets, cute cafes and volcanoes looming in the distance. This city is unarguably charming and easy to fall in love with.
If I had a dollar for each traveler I who said "Antigua is my favorite city in all of Central America!", I'd be a millionaire... ermmm, well I guess I'd have around 15 dollars. But still.
Upon first glance, it reminded us of San Cristobal de las Casas, our favorite town we visited in Mexico. So yeah, we definitely have a soft spot for Antigua, and we have a feeling you'll fall for it too!
There are plenty of things to do in and around Antigua, and we're going to share our favorites so you can experience the best this city has to offer!
1. See Volcan Fuego Erupt
Watching Volcan Fuego erupt is one of the highlights of any Central America trip. You’ll spend the night at a base camp that overlooks Volcan Fuego, which is famous for its frequent eruptions*. (Like every 30 minutes or so!)
You can stay warm near a bonfire and watch hot lava spew over the edge of the volcano not far from where you sit.
Fun Fact: Guatemala has 37 named volcanoes, and 3 of those are still active. One of them being Volcan Fuego.
But this trek is not for the faint of heart. The hike itself is a grueling 5-7 hour hike straight uphill. Near the top, you’ll likely notice the effects of high altitude, like a headache, dizziness or shortness of breath. And that doesn’t include the chilly nighttime temperatures and the fact that you may be sleeping in a tent with strangers.
If you can get past these things however, seeing Volcan Fuego erupt beneath the stars might just be one of your favorite travel memories.
Tip: We’d recommend renting a walking stick from the small stand at the base of the volcano. It costs just 10Q ($1.30 USD) and is super handy on the hike. Also, if you didn’t pack warm clothes, you can rent jackets, gloves and a hat (which you will need!) from many places in town, like hostels or outfitters.
*Typically, the eruptions are small and harmless, however, there are exceptions. We visited Antigua just a few weeks before Volcan Fuego’s deadly eruption in June 3, 2018, and our hearts go out to all those who were affected. If you visit this area, be mindful of the lives that were lost and be respectful of the power of Mother Nature.
Book your trip: Many hotels can set you up with the trip if you let them know a few days in advance. If you’ll be crunched for time or want to book ahead for peace of mind, book with Get Your Guide.
2. Toast Marshmallows on Volcano Pacaya
If an overnight trek sounds like a bit too much, you can still experience one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes.
Volcan Pacaya is the most accessible volcano, making it also the most visited. The hike to the top covers an elevation gain of around 1,500 feet and takes around 2 hours, depending on your fitness level. And if hiking just ain’t your thing, you can also rent a horse to bring you to the top for around 300 Q (or $40 USD).
Once at the top, you can experience the moon-like landscape and even toast marshmallows over hot rocks. But don’t expect red, flowing lava here – you’ll have to venture to Volcan Fuego to see that.
Book your trip: get your dates set by booking with Get Your Guide Tours.
3. Self-guided Ruins Tour
Antigua was built in an earthquake-prone region, and a massive earthquake in 1773 destroyed much of the town. However, some of the main monuments in town were preserved and can still be seen today.
Throughout the city, you’ll find a handful of churches, a monastery, a convent and even a school that date back as early as 16th century.
Download this self-guided tour on your phone to get a bit of the history between 6 of the ruins in Antigua.
4. Handicraft shopping
Guatemala is known for beautiful artisan goods, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to take something home to remember your trip by.
While the best handicraft shopping in Guatemala can be found at the Chichicastenago Market near Lake Atitlan, you can certainly find some great souvenirs in Antigua.
Here are 3 handicraft markets to check out:
Nim’Pot: This is actually a retail shop that sells consignment goods from local artists. While you can’t barter here, it’s really well laid-out and you can see pretty much all the types of handicrafts you’ll find in the country. We wandered around to get an idea of what price is fair for some of the items we wanted, and we purchased them elsewhere from the artists themselves.
Mercado de Artesanias: Inside this market, you’ll find lots of little stands with vendors selling all types of goods. Again, bargaining is key, as the initial price is usually much higher than you should pay.
El Carmen Ruins: On weekdays, this market is located indoors, but if you’re visiting on a weekend, you’ll find vendors set up inside the stunning El Carmen Ruins. Prices start a bit high, so be prepared to bargain.
Walk around the whole market first and get a few different prices before buying something.
Be prepared to walk away. Often, as soon as you turn to leave, the price will “magically” drop.
Carry small denominations of bills so you’re not stuck in an awkward situation handing over a huge bill after working hard to get the price down.
Don’t just talk numbers. Try to get to know the artist, how long it takes them to make their work, what other things they make, where they are from. Being friendly, even with minimal Spanish, will go a long way.
While bargaining can be fun, we always encourage our readers to be mindful and willing to pay a fair price, as this is the artists’ livelihood.
5. Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Chocolate Museum
Located on the main drag, the chocolate museum is a popular place to stop in while wandering the town. There are exhibits that describe the chocolate making process, and you can of course find all sorts of the stuff to taste and purchase.
If you want to get a more detailed breakdown of how your favorite sweet is made, consider doing a chocolate making course. This 2-hour class will bring you through the whole process.
If you want to learn more about food in Antigua, take a walking food tour. Take a morning and learn about various foods in the city, where and what locals eat and you’ll get samples along the way.
6. Photograph the Famous Arch
The most iconic sight in the city, Arco de Santa Catalina, is a must-see while in Antigua. Make sure you bring your camera, because it is stunning. On a clear day, you will have a fantastic view of Volcan Agua.
What is the purpose of this arch, you ask? Well, the building on the west side of the arch was used as a convent back in the day. Eventually, they expanded and bought a building on the other side of the street as well.
But since the nuns were supposed to live in isolation, they needed a way to cross the street without being bothered. Solution: Build a passageway inside an arch! And what a beautiful solution it was.
Insider Tip: For the best photo ops, go early in the morning, because you’re not the only one who wants a picture of this beauty, and the crowds get thicker in the afternoon. Plus, you’ll have a better chance of getting a clear sky.
7. See the city from Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint
For a fantastic view of Antigua, the short walk to Cerro de la Cruz is a must. The name, which translates to “Hill of the Cross” is a pretty self-explanatory description of what you’ll find here.
If you’re lucky and are visiting on a clear day, you’ll get a stunning view of the volcano looming in the distance.
8. See the artwork of the “Guatemalan Picasso” for free
Santo Domingo del Cerro is an open-air gallery houses the works of Guatemalan artists, the most famous of whom is Efrain Recinos. Known widely as the “Guatemalan Picasso”, it’s a wonder you can see his works (as well as the works of many more artists) free of charge!
This art gallery is open every day except Mondays, and the Hotel Santo Domingo offers free shuttles every hour.
9. Tour a Coffee Farm
The region surrounding Antigua produces high quality beans that are shipped around the world; and it’s likely that they have ended up in your mug on more than one occasion.
Get a deeper understanding of where your favorite morning beverage comes from, and meet the people responsible for bringing it to you.
De la Gente translates to “of the people”, and this organization does just that: it focuses on the people behind the coffee. Tour a small family-run coffee farm to learn about the process, and know that your money is going directly to better their lives.
Book your tour through De La Gente.
10. Visit the Mercado
From Central America, to Europe to Asia, we love visiting local markets all around the world. It is a great way to experience a taste of local life and get a feel for what ingredients and items are important in the culture.
At the main Mercado in Antigua, you’ll find everything from produce to clothing, to freshly butchered meats and fish. While the market is open every day from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., the main market days are Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and will be significantly busier (that may be more exciting or more frustrating, depending on what vibe you’re looking for).
Insider Tip: Whenever eating produce in Guatemala, be sure to wash it thoroughly with filtered water. You don’t wanna know what happens when you don’t.
How to get there: The easiest entry point is at the end of 3rd Calle Poniente and 4a Calle Poniente.
11. Cheers with a view at a rooftop bar
Antigua is beautiful from above, and luckily, there are a handful of great places you can enjoy a drink while glimpsing the city’s colorful architecture and charming cobblestone streets.
Café Sky: Likely the most popular rooftop bar in the city, Café Sky offers tasty cocktails with a fantastic view.
Los Tres Tiempos: With excellent food and just as noteworthy views, this is a great choice if you’re looking for dinner with a view.
Antigua Brewing Company (and Kafka restaurant): If it’s craft beer you’re after, look no further than ABC (aka Antigua Brewing Company).
12. Visit Caoba Farms
Just a short walk from the city center, Caoba Farms is a place you should definitely plan to visit during your time in Antigua.
First, stroll past their beautiful gardens and see how food is grown, and then dine in their onsite farm-to-table restaurant where you’ll get to taste it for yourself.
With a variety of international dishes as well as traditional Guatemalan cuisine and options for vegetarians, there is something for everyone here. And you’ll feel good knowing where the food you’re eating comes from.
If you’re feeling like a mid-day pick-me-up, pair your meal with one of the locally brewed beers they serve on tap.
Important Note: Beware that Caoba Farms is closed on Mondays
Other events at Caoba Farm:
Farmer’s Market: Every Saturday vendors bring out their tables and sell a variety of handicrafts while live music plays.
Flea Market: first Sunday of the month, you’ll find a variety of second-hand items for sale, live music, food and drink stands, and activities for children.
Free Yoga: every Sunday and Wednesday from 10 – 11:15 a.m. Call before going to double check on class.
Butterfly House: open Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Admission: Q15)
13. Try Pepián
Considered by many as Guatemala’s national dish, this hearty meat and vegetable stew can be found everywhere from street vendors (for a few dollars) to restaurants ($5-15) to locals’ homes.
It is said to be a fusion of flavors from both Mayan and Spanish culture, and is
Here are some top restaurants to try pepián:
Los Tres Tiempos
La Cuevita de los Urquizú
Or for the best pepián you’ll try, learn how to make it yourself in a cooking class. Read more below...
14. Take a Cooking Class
While Guatemalan cuisine is not as well-known as its northern neighbor (aka Mexico!), taking a cooking class will be a surefire way to delve in and try more than just rice and beans.
We’ve always been huge fans of taking cooking classes on our travels because it gives us deeper insight into the culture.
There are a handful of great cooking schools in Antigua to choose from.
But if you want to support locals and make sure your money is going back into the community, we’d recommend booking a Pepian Cooking class through De La Gente. At just Q100 ($13) per person, it is an inexpensive experience and also includes a tasty meal!
15. Stay on an Eco Farm
Located 8 kilometers outside of Antigua, Earth Lodge offers a tranquil escape from the city center. With stunning volcano views and famously delicious home cooking, you might just fall in love with this special eco-friendly lodge and avocado farm.
Stay in a magical treehouse and make your childhood dreams come true! Or if you have flexible travel plans, stay a little longer as a volunteer. The minimum stay is 6 weeks, but many volunteers stay even longer.
16. Take a Yoga Class
While many yogis flock to Lake Atitlan to get their downward dog on, Antigua has a few yoga studios where you can deepen your practice, or just stretch out after a bumpy bus ride (a real struggle!).
Whether you're staying in Antigua for a while (trust us, it has a way of drawing you in!), or just exploring for a few days, you can drop into a studio and get a flow in.
Here are two of the most popular yoga studios in Antigua:
Shakti Shala – With an onsite smoothie bar, Shakti Shala is one of the most developed studios in Antigua. They offer a variety of classes for all levels and the drop in rate is Q55 ($8 USD).
YogAntigua – Offering a variety of courses, from the typical flows to aerial yoga, YogAntigua is a good choice for a drop in class. Drop in classes start at Q70 ($9 USD).
17. Practice your Spanish
If you are looking for a city to base yourself in while practicing your Spanish, we can't think of many options better than Antigua. It is the perfect size: with lots to do (aka all the things on this list!), yet small enough to make you feel at home, we could see ourselves staying a while.
Antigua es una ciudad muy hermosa y divertida. After your class, you'll know what that means!
There are a few Spanish courses out there, but after doing a bit of research, the offering from Spanish Academy Antiguena seems to be one of the best.
Where to Stay in Antigua
There are tons of options when it comes to accommodation in Antigua. But compared to other parts of Guatemala and Central America, you’re going to notice that it’s quite a bit more expensive.
We were looking for a social atmosphere, but it seemed many of the nice hostels only had dorm rooms. And well, we are a bit past our dorm days... Private rooms in hostels were quite expensive for what you get.
Budget Private Room: Selina Antigua - Fancy hostel chain in Central America does not disappoint with this room. Stylishly decorated, co-working space with strong WiFi, and has a great location. Check prices on HostelWorld.com.
Where to Eat in Antigua
There are plenty of dining options in Antigua, from fine dining to local eats. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but instead a few options that serve yummy and reasonably priced food!
Taqueria Doña Lupita: Best tacos we had south of Mexico! For a cheap and delicious meal, head to Doña Lupita for tasty food and great service. After your meal is prepared, you can top it off with a variety of fresh salsas from their buffet. They have meat and veggie options.
Toko Baru: For a huge meal at a super cheap price, Toko Baru is where you need to go! Order the falafel plate and be sure to try all the sauces that are served with it. We were tempted to eat them with a spoon!
Samsara: With delicious vegan eats, even carnivores can appreciate this menu. They also have a location near Lake Atitlan.
Restaurant at Caoba Farms: While this isn’t super cheap, it is fairly priced when you consider the quality of the farm-to-table ingredients that are grown on site. A visit to this beautiful farm is well worth a visit.
Los Tres Tiempos: Guatemalan dished served with a rooftop view.
Shtilero Antigua: This sandwich shop was very close to the place we were staying, and we were intrigued with the VW bus inside. We popped in for a late dinner and were pleasantly surprised by the creative sandwiches that are served hot. The atmosphere is a little meh, but if you’re in the area and in search of a tasty and reasonably priced sandwich, this isn’t a bad option.
We want to hear from you!
Are you going to Antigua? What do you want to do in Antigua? If you have been there, what were some of your favorite things? Let us know in the comments below.