Bucket List: 15 Best Places to Visit in Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The streets are lined with historical sites, restaurants, galleries, and street food vendors with a great view of the volcanoes. The ancient city is an hour’s drive from Guatemala City and is known for its churches and convents damaged by the 1773 earthquake, backdropped by highlands and volcanoes. Antigua is a city like no other, so be sure to bring your most trusted walking shoes, camera, sun protection gear, and comfortable clothing to enjoy the best of the city’s weather and tourist attractions.
Take a Photo at the Santa Catalina Arch
The Santa Catalina Arch is one of Antigua, Guatemala’s most distinguishable and iconic landmarks. It was built in 1694 to connect the Convent of Santa Catalina, where nuns used to live, and the Convent of the Virgin, where the nuns taught during the day. At the time, the nuns took their vows of seclusion, and the bridge was the only way to cross from one convent to another without being seen in public and making contact with the outside world.
Today, the convent has been turned into a hotel, Hotel Convento Santa Catalina, where public gatherings are held. Out on the streets, tourists and visitors can be seen taking a photo with the Santa Catalina Arch.
Explore Antigua on Foot
Walk around the cobbled streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and explore the historical religious sites, vibrant architectural heritage, and rich colonial history that draws visitors from around the world. Visitors can take guided or self-guided walking tours to sample Guatemalan street food, enjoy the parades at Parque Central, see the historical church ruins and even climb an ancient volcano like the Pacaya. Walking tours are a great way to gain a personal connection with the city and converse with the locals.
Hike Up Volcán Pacaya
Hike through the pine forests of Pacaya, get a personal look at the caldera, and enjoy the picturesque views from the summit of the volcano. Volcán Pacaya is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and frequently erupts small amounts of ash. Guides will lead visitors through the 40-minute uphill La Corona Trail to the river of molten lava. Visitors can toast a marshmallow on the river and make coffee and pizza. The best time to hike the volcano is at 2AM when visitors get a chance to witness the rising sun and avoid foot traffic on the trail.
Take an Overnight Trip to Volcán Acatenango
Getting a close view of one of the most active volcanoes in Guatemala, Volcán de Fuego, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hikers are not allowed to step on Fuego, but it can be seen from Volcán Acatenango. To see Fuego up close, hikers will have to trek through La Soledad Village, take more than ten kilometers of a hike uphill, and spend a night camping on the side of the Acatenango. There are no boring parts of the trip as hikers can enjoy being surrounded by an alpine forest, a sky full of stars, and a magnificent view of Volcán de Fuego itself. Before sunrise, hikers can reach Acatenango’s summit and see a sea of clouds and Guatemala’s coastline.
Cerro de la Cruz
One of the best tourist spots to get a sprawling view of the city is from Cerro de la Cruz, “Hill of the Cross.” The elevated area is an easy 20- to 30-minute uphill hike from the city center, where visitors can watch the sunset or admire Antigua Guatemala from the view deck. The mountains surrounding the city and the three volcanoes are visible from the top and make a great backdrop for travel photos.
Visit the Historic Church Ruins
Antigua Guatemala was founded in the 16th century by Spanish explorers, bringing Roman Catholicism and making the city its cultural and religious center. Because of this, dozens of churches, convents, and monasteries can be found within walking distance of each other. In the 1700s, earthquakes damaged most of these religious sites. Some of the churches have been restored, while others are left in their ruined state after the earthquakes.
Walking around the city and visiting the church ruins are some of the free things to do in Antigua. Guided tours are offered, and visitors can take a self-guided tour like this one. Some of the churches and ruins worth visiting are listed below:
- Convento Santa Clara
- Casa Santo Domingo Museums
- Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
- Convento de la Compania de Jesus
- Convento Capuchinas
- Iglesia de San Francisco
- San Juan de Dios Convent
- Nuestra Señora de la Merced
- Nuestro Senora de Belen Convent
Hike the Corazón de Agua Trail
Another outdoor activity for adventure lovers, the Corazón de Agua trail is a short, moderate, and exhilarating hike that runs through Corazón de Agua Ecological Park. The loop trail is almost 3 kilometers and starts from the eco-park’s parking lot. At the end of the trail is a view deck where Lake Atitlán and Volcán Pacaya can be seen on a cloudless day. Bicycles are also allowed on the trail, but cyclists are advised to be cautious on the parts when the road becomes narrower and steeper.
Visit the Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen
A local market worth checking out, Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen, is a wonderful place to pick up souvenirs. Teeming with stands that sell all types of goods, from clothing, textiles, handicrafts, and even fruits, vegetables, condiments, medicinal herbs, and local delicacies are also sold there. The market is always open for business, with local vendors willing to bargain with tourists for more than half the price.
Visit the Mercado de Chichicastenango
Mercado de Chichicastenango is known as the largest handicraft market in all of Guatemala. Every Thursday and Sunday, the mountain village becomes a spree of colorful flowers, ceramic wares, native textiles, and carved wooden masks with a whiff of exotic incense sold by perfumers. Artisans and craft sellers from neighboring cities set up makeshift stalls, following the historical order of the market’s set up as the Mercado de Chichicastenango used to be the central meeting place for inter-village trade and commerce.
Take a Coffee Tour at La Azotea
Coffee is one of Guatemala’s main export crops and has been producing high-quality beans since the 1800s. The country has several coffee plantations, and local coffee farmers offer educational tours to visitors. La Azotea is a local coffee plantation in Antigua which offer visitors a tour to see the coffee-making process from seeds to the coffee mug and a private guided tour in their Coffee Museum. At the end of the tour, a warm cup of locally-produced coffee is served. The coffee plantation also has a mini-golf course, chocolate workshop, and horse-riding activities and lessons around the plantation.
Learn about Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in Caoba Farms
Caoba Farms is a local producer of organic agricultural produce and livestock which supplies to Antigua, Guatemala City, and Caoba Café. Aside from being an organic farm, Caoba has a weekly farmers market and is known for its environmentally-friendly farming techniques. Volunteering opportunities and permaculture courses are also offered, which align with their vision of sustainable agriculture. In doing so, organic fertilizers are locally produced, food forests are designed to provide habitats for animals, and Caoba works with land management, aquaponics, and biodynamic farming techniques.
Join a Guatemalan Cooking Class
Booking a Guatemalan cooking class is a fun way to learn about Guatemalan cuisine, culture, and tradition. Cooking classes and workshops are offered around the city, which supports local trainers. Some of these culinary schools include El Frijol Feliz, Mayan Kitchen Cooking Class, Nicole’s Table, and the recommended La Tortilla Cooking School. These classes can include cocktails, appetizers, desserts, and main courses.
Go on a Street Food Tour
If a cooking class is too much of a hassle, maybe a food tour will suffice. Trying out Guatemalan street food is easy and affordable, with lots of stalls around the city. Visitors can head to La Merced Park and chow on some of the best Guatemalan street food like Rellenitos, Taquitos, and Shucos. Guided culinary tours can also be booked to try different street food or visit different restaurants with an English-speaking Guide.
Make Your Own Chocolate with ChocoMuseo Guatemala
ChocoMuseo Guatemala is a chocolate shop that offers three activities to tourists and visitors. A free museum tour includes a history lesson on cacao and learning the process of chocolate production and transformation from harvest. Second, Bean to Bar Workshop is a two-hour workshop to learn the history and origin of chocolate and learn the entire chocolate-making process from the cacao tree to the very hands of the participant. Lastly, the Mini Chocolate Workshop is a 45-minute version of the Bean to Bar Workshop, ideal for visitors in a hurry. Handmade chocolates can be left at the shop and picked up the following hour.
Take a Day Trip to Hobbitenango
Situated in the mountains that overlook Antigua, Guatemala, Hobbitenango is a restaurant, park, hotel, and Guatemalan equivalent to New Zealand’s Hobbiton. There are several activities to try while enjoying the spectacular views of nearby volcanoes like archery, ax-throwing, playing mini-golf, participating in fair games, and taking a swing over the largest tree swing in Central America. Hobbitenango also hosts gatherings for artisans where visitors can try locally-made chocolates, coffees, and delicacies. For those staying longer and who decide to spend the night in Hobbitenango, the hotel has three hobbit-style houses that visitors can rent with incredible views of volcanoes across the valley.
Antigua is accessible by plane and car. The nearest airport to Antigua, Guatemala, is the La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. From the airport, visitors can take a taxi or book an Uber from the airport to Antigua.
Best time to visit Antigua, Guatemala
The best months to visit Antigua depends on the itinerary. November to March is ideal for travelers looking to enjoy the dry weather and watch the festivals like the Day of the Dead and Holy Week. June to August are the best for outdoor adventures like hiking and trekking. The slow season starts just after Holy Week to the end of May and from September to the end of October. This is also when hotel accommodations are cheaper and the rainy season starts.
Our Top Hotel Picks for Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala Travel and Tour Packages
Searching for the best hotels, resorts, and affordable flights in the nearby Cities? Check out our list of cheap Antigua, Guatemala hotels and resorts via Agoda, Booking, or you may also see available Airbnb properties in the city.
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