Looking for the best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala? I’ve got you covered. Whether you want to hike an active volcano, immerse yourself in local culture, or indulge in local food, Antigua has something for you.
I lived in Antigua for more than 1 year in total and I explored a lot. And not just the typical tourist attractions either – I really made a point to get off the tourist trail and experience Antigua like a local and try as many different activities, restaurants, and shops as possible, to really have an objective view of the best things to do.
In this post, I am sharing all the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala, and the surrounding area to help you plan your trip and find your way around.
Surrounded by mighty volcanoes, and brimming with charm from old baroque churches and a colonial feel, Antigua is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Central America.
My first time in Antigua Guatemala was in 2018 when I spent about 2 months housesitting in a beautiful home and a month traveling around Guatemala.
Fast forward 2 years I came back to the same house for almost one year, to spend most of my lockdown while working on this site. But I also took some time to explore the city and make it my own.
This is why I waited so long before writing this post. I wanted to be fully acquainted before writing.
Things to do in Antigua: An Overview
The old capital city of Guatemala was founded in 1524 as Santiago de Guatemala but renamed La Antigua Guatemala after the terrible Santa Marta earthquake in 1773 which destroyed almost everything.
It was at that point that the authorities decided to move the capital to Guatemala City while renaming the city, La Antigua Guatemala.
Some of the buildings that survived the earthquake have been restored and you can nowadays still admire what remained of them, especially the magnificent, and yet crumbling, churches.
Nowadays, while Guatemala City remains the capital and commercial center of the country, it’s pretty much ignored by travelers who rightfully prefer the charming Antigua to the dangerous and much less appealing capital.
I am not sure how the two cities so close to each other and with pretty much the same history have grown so different from each other.
In fact, Antigua itself turned out quite unique compared to any city in Guatemala. The city structure is inspired by the Italian Renaissance, while most of the remaining buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries and represent magnificent examples of colonial architecture in the Americas.
For a reason, many foreigners decided to make Antigua their home and many digital nomads choose this pretty city as one of their temporary residences during their journey.
Antigua is definitely one of the must-visit places in Guatemala. In fact, travelers either use Antigua as a base for their trip, or include La Antigua in their Guatemala itinerary, and inevitably fall in love,
And of course, there is a great chance that they stay there longer than planned, most of the time.
How can you blame them?
Pretty colorful houses, flowery balconies, cobblestone roads, street vendors in their typical dresses, old baroque churches, vintage-looking cafes, serving the best coffee in the world, and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. Also, the vegan and healthy-eating community is growing here.
Add to it the spectacular backdrop of the three volcanos towering over the city, Volcan de Agua on the South and Acatenango and Fuego East, and you have a magical place.
But let’s dive into all the amazing things to do in Antigua Guatemala.
Since they are a lot, and I keep finding more, I have grouped them into different categories to help you find what’s most interesting for you.
Unique Free Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala
1. Visit the local market
Among the most popular things to do in Antigua, visiting the market is definitely a must. Located right in the heart of town, the Antigua Market is basically where local life happens, and where you will find everything you may be looking for. It’s huge and divided into compartments by product.
My favorite part is the fruit and veggie market, not only because that’s where I used to go grocery shopping but it’s also a delight to watch the way the products are artfully displayed forming perfect designs and decorations. It is incredible how they make a veggie market look like an art gallery.
Here you will also find cheap clothing, arts and crafts, and all sort of stuff, including a shoe-repair stall and a section for used clothes, called PACA.
There I found great stuff for my trip. You need to have a lot of patience, and you may find great bargains. Especially if you decide to climb to any of the volcanos but you don’t have the equipment, here is where you should look.
Market days are Monday, Thursday, and Saturday but it’s open every day from 8 to 5. So if you don’t like crowded places you should go on a different day.
Insider tip – On the way to Antigua ask your driver to stop at a TIGO shop and buy a local SIM card. Read my post to understand why it’s useful.
2. Walk around the historical center
Antigua historical center has been proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site, for its unique baroque architecture and charming ambiance.
Its cobblestone streets, beautifully decorated shops and cafes, old colonial buildings, charming hotels, old courtyards, rooftop terraces, and more… are just a sight for sore eyes.
I suggest you just walk around Antigua on your own and let your heart show you the way around.
Amongst the most iconic places to check out:
- Santa Catalina Arch
- La Merced Church
- The Santa Clara Convent
- San Francisco el Grande Sanctuary (San Francisco Church)
- The old cathedral
- Tanque la Union (The old public washhouse)
Do not stop here, though, go and discover beautiful Antigua!
➢ Do I need
Among all the multiple reasons why you should get
3. Free Walking tours
After exploring the city on your own I would suggest you book a free walking tour with an expert local guide. I have booked through a free tours site and I grew fond of the guide, Pablo, a young and knowledgeable historian so passionate about his country.
I was impressed by his story as he didn’t go to college but he learned everything he knows on his own, including 5 languages.
He really deserves your support. You can also book tours of the villages around Antigua with him, also worth the money. Contact Pablo on Instagram. He will take you around Antigua and share everything he knows about his below country, its history, and art.
Other Antigua walking tours
4. Old Churches tour
It’s not properly a tour. I have just made it up because I believe Antigua’s old churches are worth visiting and it’s something you can do on your own.
Most of them are closed, but only looking at them from the outside is like traveling back in time.
Here below is a map of my favorite churches, but there are many more and you should just get lost around the city center and find them out.
Start from the Antigua Old Cathedral though. Located behind Parque Central, it’s only 20Q to get in, you can walk around the remaining of the Cathedral of San Jose’ built in the XVI century.
You can also have lunch at Tartines, one of the most renowned restaurants in Antigua, mainly for its terrace overlooking the Church ruins. Continue to La Merced church, with its yellow baroque facade.
This church is a perfect example of the Baroco Antigueño style which was designed to cope with earthquakes with low heights and wider arches and columns to enhance stability.
It was opened in 1767 and in fact, it was one of the few churches that survived the catastrophic Santa Marta quakes in 1773.
Click on the MAP image below to open the interactive map that you can follow to get to all these churches in Antigua.
5.Hike to the Cerro de la Cruz
For amazing views of the city, you can take a short hike to the Cerro de la Cruz from where you can admire the structure of the city with a pattern of straight lines that was inspired by the Italian Renaissance.
Although it’s just a 20 minutes hike to get there, make sure you go during opening hours from 8 am to 4 pm and ideally don’t go alone. Local people will tell you that it’s not completely safe as there have been some assaults in the past.
More police reinforcement has been placed but when I went I haven’t seen anyone, although more people were exercising and enjoying the lovely view. I felt pretty safe but I was with the tour guide.
If you are alone you can join an organized tour of the city that includes this stop. Or you can contact Pablo to arrange a private tour that includes the Cerro de la Cruz. That’s what I did.
6. Take a picture at Santa Catalina Arch
Obviously, you cannot miss the iconic arch, with the Agua volcano as a backdrop. If you get there after a rainy day and in a clear sky, you can get the perfect picture with the water reflection and the volcano in full sight, something that is easier to see in winter months (which they actually call summer), from December through March when there is less chance of rain.
Santa Catalina Arch has become the iconic landmark of Antigua Guatemala that you can see in any picture representing the city. But there is more to it than just a pretty yellow arch.
In fact, it has been built in the 17th century to allow the cloistered nuns living in Santa Catalina Convent to reach the nearby school without being seen.
Santa Catalina Convent is now a lovely hotel with an authentic colonial feel, a great option to stay in Antigua’s historical center.
7. Hang out at Parque Central
Antigua Parque Central (Central Plaza) is the beating heart of the city. It’s where you can see local artisans’ market on Thursday nights, where local vendors are selling their products every day and usually the meeting point of the free walking tours, and where tourists and locals usually hang out.
It’s surrounded by arcades on three sides where you can admire old colonial buildings, the Palacio de Capitanes Generales, the south, cafes and shops on the west side, the government palace and the chocolate museum north and on the east side the Antigua Cathedral.
Any road you take from Parque Central will lead you to discover the most incredible secret corners of the city. You should walk them all.
The best Museums in Antigua
If you happen to be in Antigua in the summer (which locals call winter) between May and October chances are you will see a whole lot of rain, so what to do?
Check out one of the interesting museums.
To be honest, regardless of the weather, some museums are really worth your time, whether it’s about art, history, or chocolate…but let’s take a closer look.
8. Learn how to make chocolate in the Museo del Chocolate
There are actually two places in Antigua where you learn all about the “sacred” drink, the Choco Museum and the family-owned place Ek Chuah where you can take their courses and learn how to make chocolate in the authentic original way.
Or you can just eat it without taking the class. That’s what I did. I took a chocolate class in Cuzco, Perù, though (in my defense).
In both cases, it’s a great way to delve into the local culture and Guatemalan roots by learning how they make God’s favorite drink. Click on the map below to see where they both are located.
9. Museo de Arte Colonial (ex colegio San Carlos)
Located right opposite the entrance to the Cathedral’s remains, the Museum of Colonial Art is even more interesting for its architecture and history than the art itself.
Even if you are not into religious art, you will appreciate the sculptures and paintings included in this permanent museum, representing the unique techniques of the Baroco Antigueño unique style.
The building was originally built in 1676 as the first University in Guatemala and was functioning as such until 1777 when the university was moved to Guatemala City (Nueva Guatemala), the new capital.
Before officially becoming the Museum of Colonial Art, it was home to a school for kids and a library among other functions.
Now the museum is open for visitors every day at a cost of 50Q which also includes a guide to show you around. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and it’s totally worth it.
10. Santa Clara Convent
What remains of the ancient Santa Clara Convent is a magnificent building and a very well-maintained garden to make up for the crumbling walls and recreate the ancient atmosphere of a monastery of the XVI century.
The Convent was founded in 1699 by 6 nuns coming from Mexico. Like many other buildings, it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1717 rebuilt, and fixed in 1734, and demolished again by the infamous Santa Marta quake in 1773.
What you see during your tour is what remains of the old structure that has been restored and made safe for visitors. To learn more about the history of this convent and the architecture I would suggest you should hire a guide since the convent doesn’t provide the service.
Entrance fee 50Q
11. Santo Domingo Convent
This spectacular historical building has been turned into an exquisite luxury hotel, the most luxurious and expensive in Antigua.
Make sure you try their Sunday brunch and then explore the remains of the convent, the manicured courtyards, and the museums.
The entry fee to the museum is 50Q and they also have a candle shop that does workshops if you want to learn the art.
12. Museo del Libro Antiguo
Every time I tried to visit the museum I found the door closed, until today. As I am writing this I have literally come back from the city where I have finally managed to visit the famous Museo del Libro Antiguo, meaning Old Book Museum.
Too bad there were no books. The irony. One of the guides explained that the museum had a leak and the books are somewhere to dry up.
Instead, I could appreciate an amazing exposition of paintings made by local artists. The guide explained that being a government building, the Department of Culture and Education decided to use this space to offer an opportunity for young artists to show their work.
I thought it was a great initiative worth mentioning. The exhibitions vary and last a couple of months. Here below I am sharing some pictures I took. I am curious to know what artist you will find when you visit.
The museum is located within the same building as the local government office, worth admiring for its unique architecture.
13. Museo Casa del Jade
Casa del Jade is a shop, workshop, and museum altogether, a unique place to visit where not only you can shop among amazing precious stones and handmade jewelry but also learn about their historical origins and their importance for the Mayan civilization.
The Mesoamerican Museum of Jade exhibits more than 70 pieces of the four most representative Mesoamerican cultures of their time; Mokaya, Olmeca, Maya, and Azteca, and offers free guided tours to learn about Guatemalan history and culture related to the use of Jade.
There you will be able to appreciate and value what Guatemalan ancestors called “The stone from heaven.”
You will be able to see the precious stone in its natural state and appreciate the various colors and tones that make the Guatemalan jade so unique. (see the Antigua Map below for the location)
14. MUNAG Museo Nacional de Arte De Guatemala
It’s a brand new museum in Antigua, hosted in the historical building Palacio de Capitanes on one side of the Plaza Mayor in Antigua.
It’s a beautiful exposition showcasing pieces of Guatemalan Art across time, which giant map of the chronological evolution of Guatemalan history before and after the Spanish colonization.
If you get there in a day with a clear sky you will be able to admire the Agua Volcano as a majestic backdrop.
After you enter the museum, you can also get audibles for a self-guided tour of the museum. It’s free but you are required to leave a document as a guarantee.
A second part of the museum is scheduled to open sometime in 2023. The museum is currently free to enter but they may add an entry fee later.
Unique Restaurants and Lookouts
Although I will talk about where to eat in Antigua in a different section of this post, there are places that are worth visiting not only for the food but their unique settings, ambiance, and the best views.
15. Brunch at Santo Domingo
I have already mentioned the Santo Domingo old convent which is actually a luxury hotel and a museum worth visiting. However, you should also add a scrumptious brunch on Sunday, very popular among locals and expats alike.
The food is delicious and you can satisfy your culinary cravings in the unlimited buffet featuring local delicacies, pastries, crepes, and juices of all sorts among others for only 177 Q
A must if you happen to be in Antigua on a Sunday. Reservation is not required but recommended.
16. Caoba Farms
Just outside Antigua historical center, you can enjoy this garden of Eden, aka Caoba Farms, where tables are scattered around lush greenery and next to a vegetable garden, and a butterfly farm.
Delicious dishes are prepared with ingredients from their own fresh produce and other local organic farms. When I visited, they had live music during brunch on the weekends, which was very popular with expats.
The restaurant is now open from Thursday through Sunday from 8 am to 4 pm. But they also have a shop with delicious organic food and ready-made dishes open every day except Monday.
They also have different activities including Yoga, acro yoga, flea market on Sundays, and more. Check out their website to find out what’s up when you are in town.
17. Have lunch at El Tenedor
Located on the hills just outside Antigua El Tenedor is the restaurant located in Santo Domingo del Cerro, the same property as the popular luxury Hotel Santo Domingo. The unique location facing the three volcanoes makes it a special place where to spend a few hours.
The restaurant is quite popular, especially during weekends, but what I enjoyed the most were the incredible art displayed throughout the property and the 5 art galleries.
Unfortunately, when I was there it was cloudy and I couldn’t appreciate the view, but the incredible art expositions surely made up for it.
18. Have lunch with a view at Earth Lodge
I visited this place only a few days before leaving Antigua and I regret not doing it before. It’s a cozy lodge with cute little wooden cabañas scattered around a manicured and lush jungle garden on a hill overlooking Antigua and facing the three volcanos.
On a clear day, the view is just breathtaking. I spent there one night, but I wished I would have stayed longer.
The nights are magical as well, even more with the sound of the rain on the roof of your cabaña.
However, you can just visit for the day, have a nice breakfast or/and lunch read a book, or work from the tables in the beautiful garden with one of the best views in Antigua.
Shopping for souvenirs in Antigua
In Antigua, you will find a lot of shopping temptations, from street vendors to artisan markets and shops there are thousands of things that you can buy and take home as Guatemalan souvenirs. Here I am sharing a few.
19. Nim Pot
I am kind of embarrassed to say it, but I’ll say it anyway. I have spent almost one year in Antigua and only now, at the end of my Guatemalan Journey, I have found out about Nim Pot. Oh well!
It is located on the Quinta Avenida Norte, only a few steps from the iconic yellow arch and I walk past it thousands of times. Here you will find every sort of local art piece and craft from all parts of Guatemala.
If you don’t have much time to explore more this is the place to go. For sure you will find something you like in this expansive colorful exposition.
20. Artisan Market
Located right within the market area, in a separate section, you will find the Artisan Market, an indoor space with alleys and stands brimming with colorful objects from the Guatemalan tradition, from masks to paintings, bags, textiles, huipiles, decor objects, and more.
21. Mercado de Artesania el Carmen
Located close to the Convento Capucines (another interesting stop), two blocks from the main square, you can find this small indoor venue with different stalls.
22. El Telar (Loom Tree)
El Telar offers the finest handmade cotton and Yuta accessories from your home decor, in pastel colors or beige and white. You will find incredible rugs, bedspreads, carpets, curtains, cushions, and much more. Even if you don’t have space in your suitcase, it’s worth a visit. or you can always ship them.
23. Casa de Artes
If you are looking to buy local textiles and art pieces that are a little bit more sophisticated and adapted to the modern style, this is your place.
It’s a local art and textile shop and museum where you can also find pottery, accessories, and other interesting objects pertaining to the authentic local prehispanic tradition.
All the products you find here are handmade and mimic the original pieces that they have been collecting for ages and showcased in the museum that you can access for 5 USD. It is a small one but worth your time if you love local art and crafts.
On another note, on the same street where the arch is, on the right side, you will also find a couple of amazing shops where you can buy the finest clothing made with local textiles but transformed into a more delicate and modern design, Nativo and Quinta Maconda.
Day tours in and around Antigua Guatemala
24. Take a cooking class
If you are a foody, one of the best ways to learn about the local cuisine, besides eating in local places, is by taking a cooking class. There are many options and all of them will teach you how to make some of the most popular local dishes that you can appreciate and remake at home.
What a good idea, right? Pick one of the options here below.
25. Taste the local cuisine with an expert
If you don’t care about cooking but just want to eat the local dishes, fair enough.
There are incredible food tours organized by locals to take you to the most incredible local restaurants to try authentic Guatemala cuisine.
26. Get Instagrammable in Hobbitenango
If you want to live in a fantasy world for a day you must go to Hobbitenango, one of the popular attractions among locals and tourists alike.
The creative resort is located on the mountains above Antigua facing the volcanos with spectacular views. You could also spend the night in one of the cute colorful homes resembling the ones described in the fantasy tale.
The place is entirely designed for the utmost enjoyment and an awe-inspiring experience.
Walk around the gardens and take your Instagram picture of the big hand sticking out of the mountain.
Launch yourself in the air on the swing, and most of all, eat one of the delicious dishes or/and deserts on the terrace while admiring the volcanos.
How to get to Hobbitenango
If you go on a weekday, get a Uber to their ticket counter 40Q, there you will pay the fee of 50Q and will wait for your turn to get a lift to the entrance through a very steep road.
On a Sunday, you can pay the full price of 150Q which includes the entry fee and a scrumptious buffet brunch.
Personally, I went on a weekday and I was happy that I didn’t find the Sunday crowd.
27. Visit one of the nearby coffee plantations
Antigua is surrounded by coffee farms. It is the closeness of the three volcanos that makes the soil rich in minerals, ideal for coffee growth. And the reason why Guatemalan coffee is so good!
I would suggest going on a coffee tour of a local farm. If you decide to go on your own, you can always get a Uber and get to Finca La Azotea, a family-owned farm where you will be given a small tour for 75Q and you can enjoy a nice lunch or a drink and hang out in the beautiful gardens.
You can even bring your laptop with you and spend there the entire day working in these magical surroundings. The food is delicious.
There is also a chocolate shop where you can book a chocolate-making class.
Entrance is 15Q – Tour 75Q (entrance fee included)
Or you can choose among the following pre-organized tours to the surrounding coffee plantations.
28. Learn about all the amazing benefits of macadamia on the Valhalla farm
Located at only 15 minutes drive from Antigua the Valhalla Farm is not only a place where they cultivate and distribute macadamia, it’s an incredible project to help the families in the nearby rural communities with scarce resources to sustain themselves.
In fact, the farms distribute 1000 small macadamia trees per year to the communities most in need.
Additionally, the Valhalla Farm is committed to promoting sustainable eco-tourism to increase environmental awareness and education.
You don’t need an appointment to visit. The driver will drop you off at the beginning of a trail where you will start walking through macadamia trees and flowers.
At the reception, you will be warmly welcomed by the local staff and you will be offered a 30-minute tour around the farm where you can learn about the process of macadamia farming from the seed to the final product. It’s extremely fascinating.
At the end, you will be given a free 5 minutes facial with the natural products created from the macadamia and a taste of chocolate and nuts.
Of course, all those products are on sale and you will be totally tempted to buy some. I did. It really makes a great healthy gift to bring home that doesn’t take up too much space in the suitcase.
You can also enjoy a delicious lunch on the lovely terrace or at one of the tables scattered around the garden.
To get there you may want to call a UBER and either ask him to wait or call another one when you are ready to leave.
29. Enjoy a local beer with live music and volcano views at Cerveceria 14
At a few minutes’ drive from Valhalla Farm, you will find this incredible space where you can enjoy a local beer and delicious dishes or just get a coffee with some pastry. You don’t have to be a beer lover to enjoy this place.
it’s like a food court with tables scattered around a terrace and a huge garden.
There is a stage where you can appreciate live music in the night with spectacular views of the Fuego volcano in the back. If you are there at night you may get the chance to see the volcano lava erupting.
A great atmosphere with delicious food and drinks.
30. Hike the Acatenango volcano
Hiking Acatenango is not for the faint of heart and I have decided to skip it.
If you feel fit, though, it’s a hike that I would recommend not to miss. Everybody I know who did it was enthralled by the experience.
If you are lucky enough to be there on a clear day you will be admiring the volcanic eruption of the Fuego Volcano.
The best way to hike Acatenango is with a two-day trip. On the first day, you will leave around 8 am from Antigua and you will hike for about 4 to 5 hours to the base camp where you will find your tent already set up.
Some hikers will continue to walk up to the peak to check out the volcano eruptions in the dark.
The following morning, you will get up very early to be able to be on top by sunrise and admire the volcano Fuego eruptions while the sun rises.
Now you know why it’s an incredible experience that I suggest you should do if you think you have the condition.
I am still pondering, while I am writing this, but if I go I will do it with a private tour, which is costly but it will make me feel more comfortable knowing that I am not slowing down the group.
I will certainly let you know if I go for it.
Also, keep in mind the weather. The best time to hike the Acatenango is from November through February when there is less chance of rain and more chance of a clear sky.
However, it will be much colder.
In the summer (called winter by the locals) it rains almost every day and night so good are the chances that you will be soaking wet and you want to see anything. But it may be worth trying. Tours are organized all year round.
If you make it to the Acatenango you will be ready to climb Santa Maria, from Quetzaltenango.
31. Pacaya Volcano
If you are tempted to do a volcano hike but don’t feel fit enough for the big challenge of the Acatenango, the hike to the Pacaya volcano is perfect!
It’s a beautiful 2-hour short (but steep) hike to the lookout right in front of the smoking Pacaya Volcano, one of the active volcanos in Guatemala.
Once you arrive at the lookout you will walk down to the lava rocks to roast marshmallows from the smoke coming out from the cracks. I found that hilarious.
Because of the Pacaya formation, it’s the only active volcano where you can get so close to the crater without any risk.
Book your Pacaya Volcano hike tour
32. Challenge yourself with the Agua Volcano hike
Warning – hiking the Agua Volcano is not only more difficult than the Acatenango but it’s even riskier for security reasons.
Local travel agencies can organize it for you and it will imply also hiring local police to escort the group, to “protect” you from potential assaulters which happen to be a real issue in the area.
To be honest, that wouldn’t really make me feel safer, but I have included the hike to Agua Vulcano in this list because I want it to be complete with all the things to do in Antigua and include all the options.
33. Take a tour of Lake Atitlan
Called “the most beautiful lake in the world,” by the German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, lake Atitlan is indeed a sight for sore eyes.
Nestled among the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range, Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and it requires at least a week to enjoy it and explore all the tiny villages sitting on the coast.
You will find the lake in the Sololá Department of southwestern Guatemala at only a 3-hour drive from Antigua. There are normally shuttle busses from Antigua that take you to Panajachel and then you move around the other villages by boat.
I would spend at least a week exploring the local villages nestled between volcanos and hills and stay in one of the spectacular Lake Atitlan hotels.
However, I understand that squeezing all the amazing places to visit in Guatemala in a couple of weeks is difficult. But worry not. There are tours from Antigua that will take you to the lake and back in one day so you can at least get the feel of it.
Mind that you may fall in love and decide to stay there, but that’s a risk worth taking.
34. Visit the archeological site of Iximche
If there is one archeological site that you must visit, after the majestic Tikal, is Iximche. The few ruins that have been brought to light from the thick forest are actually what remains of the first capital of Guatemala.
I am not delving into much detail here, but you should know that the city of Iximche was the capital of the Kaqchikel kingdom from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524.
The old city sits at an altitude of 2200mt, (6600 ft) among pine forests and was surrounded by deep ravines on three sides, for protection against the hostile Kʼicheʼ and Tzʼutujil.
When the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Alvarado arrived in Guatemala and fought the Kʼicheʼ, immediately found an ally in the Kaqchikel kings who invited the Spaniards into their kingdom.
The Spanish only stayed for a short time in Iximche, before continuing towards Atitlan, but when they returned to the Kaqchikel capital on July 1524 Pedro de Alvarado declared Iximche as the first capital of Guatemala and named it Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala.
The alliance didn’t last too long, though, and when the Spanish started to demand outrageous amounts of gold as a tribute, their friendship fell apart, and, well, the rest is history.
The archeological site has been brought to light in the late 17th century and although about 160 structures have been mapped, only a few of them are available to see and appreciate, among which, are temples, palaces, and the famous ball game (Juego de la pelota) which you may know from other archeological sites, especially if you have been to Mexico.
You should know, though, that the meaning of the game and the rules are different for each group.
Although it’s most of the time underrated by tourists, I thought it was worth visiting, even in the rain (lucky me) as a way to learn about the pre-Colombian civilization in Guatemala and admire the sacred Mayan temples.
Ixmiche is located at a 1h 30′ drive from Antigua and an Uber will cost around 200 Q which includes waiting time and return.
If you understand Spanish I suggest you hire one of the guides that you will meet at the entrance. For only 125Q they will tell you all about the site and its place in Guatemalan history.
They are independent workers and volunteers who look after the site and keep it clean and maintain as it seems, they don’t receive much support from the government.
Otherwise, you can book an organized tour from Antigua with an English-speaking guide. It’s usually a full-day tour which includes also a walking tour of Antigua.
The entry fee is 50Q
35. Take a day tour to Chichicastenango
Chichicastenango market is an absolute must among the places to visit in Guatemala. Why? Being considered a K’iche’ Maya cultural center, 98.5% of the municipality’s population is in fact indigenous Mayan K’iche.
The town may be insignificant during any day of the week but it comes to life on market days, on Thursday and Sunday. This is when locals from the nearby region gather and sell their unique goods from their stalls.
Colorful textiles, original masks, wooden artwork, and all sorts of local arts and crafts, together with traditional local food, but also pottery, wooden boxes, condiments, medicinal plants, candles, pom and copal, cal, grindstones, pigs and chickens, and tools.
It is indeed a place that you will want to visit. Just be careful of pickpocketers.
Even better if you visit on a Sunday when the San Tomas Church is open and you will be able to see firsthand what religious syncretism is all about.
There are shuttles from Antigua to Chichicastenango that you can book with any agency in town. Just keep the below rates as a reference.
Or you can check out an organized tour with a guide.
I stayed two nights because I wanted to get early to the market and I didn’t want to be tight to a schedule but the following day I had issues with finding a bus to Quetzaltenango because it’s not a common route for tourists and I had to use the chicken bus, an experience that I would not recommend.
But you can find shuttle buses from and to Antigua on the very same day.
However, if you are in Chichicastenango during the Day of the Dead you should make time to visit the cemetery, where tombs are covered with flowers and candles, the entire family takes offers to their beloved forever gone, over colorful altars. It’s a joy more than mourning.
36. Visit San Antonio Aguascalientes and other nearby towns
One of the tours that I have enjoyed the most is the tour of the villages around Antigua with Pablo. We met up in Parque Central and off we went.
Since it was a private tour, before setting off for the first village he kindly took me to the Cerro de la Cruz because I wasn’t comfortable going by myself. We were lucky that we caught a sunny day and the sky was sort of clear.
We then walked all the way beyond the market where the bus station is located and we left for the first town, San Antonio Aguascalientes. This tiny town is mainly famous for a special kind of weaving where the textile design is visible on both sides.
After looking at the church in the main plaza we went to the Market where local ladies dressed in their own traditional huipil showed me how they make those precious textiles. They are indeed works of art, and expensive.
They are used for special occasions, like weddings, where traditionally the bride would make one for her mother-in-law as a gift. So basically, when she finishes weaving they can get married.
Creating those precious pieces of clothing can take months for their complex design and process.
It’s amazing to watch them doing it. I ended up buying a scarf even if I didn’t need it. You will be tempted to buy everything, although you know that no matter how beautiful those pieces are, you won’t be wearing them at home.
After the market, we went to visit a local artist who makes and plays marimba even at a national and international level.
It was interesting to listen to the story of their work and the marimba tradition and see how passionate they are about their art. This was a nice surprise from Pablo, as not many tours have this show included.
Other villages usually included in Pablo’s tour are Ciudad Vieja, and San Luis Obispo, where you can admire the Antigua baroque architecture of the churches built in colonial times.
Antigua ATV Villages tour and Antigua Valley bike tour
There are other ways to visit the nearby villages and local agencies organize tours on ATV or bike. Those are usually half a day tours to show you around the area in a different way. I am sharing both of them here below. Click on the link and check them out.
You may also like
- Visit Guatemala in October – Weather and Climate and Other Travel Tips
- Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan Guatemala – The Best Areas & Hotels
- 11 ways to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
- 7 ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan + practical tips
- The Day of the Dead in Guatemala – 6 incredible things to do
- Guatemala celebrations – the 20 best holidays and festivals in Guatemala
- How Independence Day in Guatemala Is Celebrated + 6 Exciting Things to do
37. Take a hike to the Cucurucho peak at La Finca el Pilar
Ok, I may be biased with this one. I was lucky enough to live at La Finca el Pilar for almost all my time in Guatemala while housesitting two beautiful homes and sweet pets.
I was switching between two homes when I was requested, and when none of them needed me I would travel around, in and out of Guatemala. It was the perfect deal for me and while there, I enjoyed lovely walks in the woods and stunning views of the three volcanos right in front of my patio.
Summer was great for the warm weather although the clouds and rains pretty much covered the incredible views. Winter was gifting me with incredible sunsets which paid off for the cold temperatures.
On Sundays, many locals would come up to the nearby camping field with their tents to spend the night and enjoy the views and the walks.
You can walk from the gate to El Palmar, which is where the facilities are, or just get there by car and then take another walk up to the Cucurucho peak for stellar views of the Volcano Pacaya, Guatemala City, and Amatitlan Lake. The hike is short but steep.
By the entrance, you can enjoy some refreshing pools with spring waters. The area is not very fancy but after the hike, you may enjoy a good swim.
In the picture below you can check prices and schedule. Mind there is no restaurant up there.
38. Check out the giant kites in Sunpango on the Day of the Dead
If you are in Antigua by the day of the dead get on an Uber and go to Sunpango where you will admire the giant kites competition. Spectacular humongous and colorful kites are displayed in a field just above the cemetery.
People flock there on this special day to celebrate their beloved departed, by watching the beautiful artworks and walking around the colorful cemetery decorated with an abundance of flowers, candles, and altars.
Sunpango is only a 40-minute drive from Antigua.
39. Guatemala City private tour
Now, to be completely honest I don’t see any reason why you would want to go to Guatemala City, one of the most dangerous places in Guatemala, with many cases of assault reported, and not much to see.
However, if you really can’t resist and have time to spare, the best way to visit is by joining an organized tour. This way you will stay safe and will be visiting the few highlights of the city.
40. Book a photo shooting in the most instagrammable corners of Antigua
Now, all you girls traveling on your own like me, this is for you. Antigua is brimming with spectacular Instragrammable corners but chances are that if you are traveling alone you won’t be able to take the best shot of yourself unless you travel with a selfie stick or a tripod.
But even in that case, if you really want to surprise your followers or your family with amazing pictures, hiring a local photographer is one of the unique gifts you can do to yourself, to capture moments that will last forever.
Besides, the professional photographer will know more than anyone elsewhere are the best corners and the best time of the day to get amazing shots.
If you ask me whether I have done this, I am afraid I have to say no, because I hate being in front of the camera. You can see from this site that there are not many pictures of me.
Yet, it’s something that I would suggest you should do if you love having great shots of yourself in one of the most beautiful cities in Central America.
45. Visit Antigua during the holy week
If you happen to be in Guatemala for Easter you must get to Antigua for the Holy Week (Semana Santa) but make sure you book in advance as it’s a very popular event for locals as well and hotels get booked out quickly.
Especially the Indigenous population has a profound sense of religion and spirituality which is manifested at its best during Easter.
It is in fact a unique event, where their religious sentiment is expressed in one of the richest displays of local art and traditions, including chants, food, ceremonies, and performances.
Local communities will wear their original costumes, altars are generously decorated with flowers and fruits of all sorts, and the most elaborate rugs are displayed along the streets.
Antigua is the most popular place to celebrate the holy week but you can also see special ceremonies in Quetzaltenango, Chiantla (Huehuetenango), Villa Nueva (Guatemala), San Andres Semetabaj (Quiche) and Chicabal (Quetzaltenango).
Multiple days tours from Antigua
As I mentioned before many tourists prefer to stay in Antigua for their entire stay and take tours from there. In fact, there are organized tours even to the most remote places and for multiple days.
For example to Tikal archeological site and the spectacular natural monument of Semuc Champey.
If I am totally honest I would prefer to travel around Guatemala on an itinerary on my own but I understand that if you have a limited time, joining a tour from Antigua is definitely a great option.
Here below I will share some of the most interesting multi-day tours.
Where to eat in Antigua
In Antigua, you have an endless choice of places where to eat. I am going to share a few of my favorite restaurants and coffee here but I will write a more detailed post separately.
Also, I would recommend you not to listen to other people’s suggestions (including mine) and go explore yourself. You may discover some new great places.
If you are fond of local food but you like nice places you must go to Saberico, for a tasty Caldo de gallina. You will also find vegetarian and vegan dishes natural juices and desserts.
They also have a pastry shop with the best chocolate chunks ever, besides many other desserts.
But you will also appreciate the beautiful garden where the tables are scattered around flowers and plants of all sorts.
They don’t have WIFI, just so you know.
(pronounced “onsae onsae“)
The best and newest vegan restaurant in town. The menu is inspired by international cuisine including Asian and Mexican but all completely vegan. It’s set in a charming courtyard and you will be welcomed by three beautiful dogs.
Another great restaurant is located in a beautiful courtyard called La Fuente, where you will find many other restaurants. It’s perfect if you are traveling with a group and each one wants different things. The tables at the center by the fountain are shared by all the restaurants, so you can order from any of them and eat together.
La Bruja has great vegan hamburgers with many choices of sauces and vegan “meat” or veggie bowls, wraps, and more.
Los Tres Tiempos
Great restaurant located right by Santa Catalina Arch, also in the courtyard “El Arco”. This restaurant serves delicious food of any sort and has seating under the arcade, indoors, or on the beautiful terrace overlooking the city rooftops.
Antigua Brewing Company
If you love beer, Antigua Brewing Co is your place, with a variety of choices of locally brewed beer. They also have many delicious dishes and snacks that you can taste from the rooftop terrace while enjoying the view.
This tiny cafe’ has the best coffee in town – real expresso, made with the Guatemalan blend. The perfect marriage, I dare say!
The small room is nicely decorated in a vintage style but if you walk further you will find yourself in a spectacular flowery courtyard where you can sit either in the garden or on the rooftop.
A little upscale, right in front of the Convent of Santa Clara, this cute restaurant boasts delicious Spanish cuisine, but my favorite was the Crème Brûlée dessert. Also, this restaurant seating is located in a cute courtyard. You will see a lot of these in Antigua but you will never get tired.
Discover more amazing Restaurants in Antigua!
Where to stay in Antigua
Just like the restaurants, Antigua has an incredible variety of spectacular boutique hotels, most of them created from old colonial houses that have been refurbished and turned into functional buildings while retaining their colonial feel.
I have been in a few of them when I wasn’t housesitting and I have explored others, especially the luxury ones, and here I will share a few of the ones I loved, for every budget.
If you are traveling on a budget and love sharing rooms in hostels, Adra hostel is your choice. Amazing architecture and design, the rooms are located around a flowery courtyard decorated with colorful chairs and hammocks. They have an annexed restaurant and bar where I had a delicious breakfast and lunch. It’s also a great space to work online.
Hotel Museo and Spa Casa Santo Domingo
If you are looking for the ultimate luxury hotel you must stay in the Hotel Museo & Spa Casa Santo Domingo, the ultimate luxury in all of Guatemala.
The property is in fact inside an old convent that has been refurbished with the most modern amenities and luxurious details but still conserves the colonial charm.
My favorite hotel in Antigua that doesn’t break the bank but still provides a nice and comfortable place to stay is Ojala’ Hotel.
It has the best of everything. It’s close to the main plaza, has a young atmosphere, a great courtyard where a free breakfast is served in the morning together with a delicious coffee. You can choose between dorms and private rooms.
Obviously, I stayed in a private bedroom with a private bathroom, and although it was quite small, I loved the white soft duvet, comfortable mattress, and the spacious modern bathroom, besides the view of the Agua Volcano from my window.
A bit more expensive than the above-mentioned hotel but offering great value for money, Naif Hotel is a cute boutique hotel in the heart of Antigua, at walking distance of everything. The spacious rooms are finely decorated and equipped with world-class linen and towels, besides all the necessary amenities. They also face a beautiful lush garden from where you have incredible views of the Agua Vulcano.
The personnel is super nice and friendly and the WIFI is fast. One of the perks is that you have El Viejo Cafe’ express at the reception for your morning coffee and delicious pastries.
How to get to Antigua
As you have noticed, Antigua is the first place where you should go when you arrive in Guatemala. If you are flying to Guatemala City, there are different ways to get to Antigua.
Read my full guide on how to get from Guatemala City to Antigua
Getting to Antigua from Guatemala City Airport by Uber
I flew in and out of Guatemala a couple of times and I always got an Uber. Since I knew the driver I was making arrangements in advance and I had a fixed price, but if you are booking a Uber from the application when you arrive, keep in mind that rates may vary depending on the time of the day and the traffic (from 150 to 200 Q).
It’s not the cheapest option but the most comfortable and faster!
Getting to Antigua from Guatemala City Airport by private shuttle
If you have booked your stay in Antigua, chances are that your hotel also provides the transfer, of course at a cost. It can be more or less the same as Uber and the driver will be waiting outside the airport with your name on aboard.
Getting to Antigua from Guatemala City Airport by taxi
Just outside the airport, you will find taxis available. They will actually find you. This is the most expensive way to get to Antigua from Guatemala Airport but once you set the price it won’t change if you find traffic on the road, whereas with Uber you will have the rate recalculated if traffic is consistent.
And believe me, getting out of Guatemala towards Antigua, you will find traffic almost all the time.
If you arrive late at night I would recommend getting a hotel close to the airport and leaving the following morning, for safety reasons. Driving through Guatemala City at night can really be dangerous.
Getting to Antigua from Guatemala City Airport by chicken bus
Chichen busses are the cheapest local transportation and the least safe, especially the route from Guatemala City to Antigua where there have been reported frequent assaults. Also, you would need to get from Guatemala Airport to the bus station and from there get the bus. It is true that the cost is ridiculously low (something like 10 Q) but I don’t find it worth the risk and the hassle.
Therefore I really discourage you from using the chicken bus from Guatemala to Antigua but if you want to use the Chicken bus for some adventure, I would suggest choosing less urban areas and far from Guatemala City, and for shorter trips.
Getting to Antigua from the neighboring countries by shuttle bus
You should know that there are shuttle buses from Nicaragua (Leon), Mexico (San Cristobal de las Casas), and Honduras.
Here below are the rates from New Way Tours Agency in Antigua
How to move around Antigua
Antigua is a relatively safe and small city where you can easily walk anywhere, which is actually the best way to know the city. However, if you need to cover longer distances or get to the surrounding neighborhoods you have many different transportation options.
Chicken busses – if you want to try the local way, this is your chance. The chicken busses that serve Antigua and surrounding villages are safe and reliable, and most of all, very cheap. With 3 to 5 Q you can get to your destination in Antigua.
Insider tip – locals don’t call them chicken busses, but camionetas. I think the name was given by the expats living here because they saw that some of them would carry chickens in cages on top of the bus.
Local moto Taxi (TUC TUC) – those are funny motos with covered sits at the back. You will see them running around the city except for the plaza as they are not allowed to circulate within one block from Parque Central. If you need to cover short distances, those are a great option. They are cheaper than taxis and Uber.
Uber and Taxi – you can use both, but I always prefer Uber. It’s cheaper and for some reason provides better service. What I do is, when I find a Uber driver that I particularly trust, I get the number and I call him directly. This way they get more money and I have a more reliable driver.
Being a Digital Nomad in Antigua Guatemala
Antigua has become a huge hub for Digital Nomads, just because everyone falls in love with it. Besides, its closeness to the best hikes and all the major Guatemala attractions, great food, decent WIFI, yoga places, gyms, and a vibrant ex-pat community make it indeed very appealing for travelers of all ages to settle for a while and make it one of the hubs during their digital nomad journey.
Here below I will share some practical information that will help you settle in Antigua as a Digital Nomad
Where to find apartments for rent
My go-to places where to look for stays are Airbnb and Booking.com where you can find all sorts of accommodations. Airbnb is specialized in entire homes or rooms in private houses, while on Booking.com you will find absolutely any kind of accommodations from hotels to apartments and villas.
Use this map to find the best places and deals by location.
La Bodegona – recently refurbished and expanded, this is the biggest supermarket in town for any sort of grocery shopping. For better quality and variety you may need to go either to the city or La Torre supermarket at about 30 minutes drive from Antigua.
Antigua Market – it goes without saying that in the market you will find the best fruits and vegetables for variety, quality, and price. And of course, it always makes it a good trip browsing around the colorful stalls. In the market, you also find a shoe repair stall, in case you need one. 🙂
Organica – a great shop for organic chicken and vegan meat, organic eggs, gluten-free flours, besides all sorts of healthy (and less healthy) stuff, both for your body and palate.
Caoba farms – it’s not only a great restaurant and a farm but they also have a very well-furnished store with great sourdough bread (on Thursdays), all sorts of sauces and spreads, pasta, rice, meat and veggies, bakery, personal care stuff, ready-made food and much more.
Escalonia Vivero and Cafe – although not so well stocked as the previous ones, in the little shop at Escalonia Vivero and Cafe you can find some good healthy products, including teas, healthy snacks, and many products for personal care.
Epicurean and another little place with no name on Calle 3 right behind the Cathedral for delicious bread, bakery, and Italian products.
Akasha shop – an amazing shop that is all about saving the environment, from eco-friendly handmade soaps, body care, reusable feminine towels, and much more. And the best part is that you need to go with your own container to carry your purchase since they don’t use plastic of any sort. A real revolutionary place.
Sabe Rico delicatessen – it’s the shop within the restaurant with the same name, which is delicious by the way. The shop itself sells homemade bakery, cereals, and amazing chocolates of all kinds, bars, truffles, you name it. Definitely to try it!
Co-working places in Antigua
In Antigua, you will find more and more co-working places if don’t feel like working from home. Here are the ones I know of
Selina – the popular brand for hostels and co-working spaces is also in Antigua, of course. You can either decide to stay there or just have access to their co-working spacious and cozy space for 56Q.
Impact Hub – Impact Hub is an original open-air Co-working space under the porch of a courtyard. Right beside a nice coffee shop and the famous Wachuma vegan restaurant. Everything you need for a productive day!
Fat Cat – it’s not a co-working space, but a cute little cafe’ with great coffee where I always go if I have to work for only a couple of hours.
Travel insurance from World Nomads is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage, and a range of adventure sports and activities. Read the policy details to ensure that it's right for you.
Yoga in Antigua
In Antigua and all over Guatemala there is a thriving yoga community and in Antigua, you can find many places where to do your practice, and if you stay long enough and want to become an instructor yourself there are also many teacher training schools around Lake Atitlan.
There are also amazing opportunities to do yoga retreats for a full immersion into yoga and well-being.
If you just want to keep your yoga routine and find occasional classes, I recommend the following spaces:
However, there are many yoga teachers in Antigua that organize yoga classes in many different venues in the city. You should join the Girlfriends of Antigua FB group and check out any yoga-related post. (only girls, sorry! 🙂 )
Things to do in Antigua: Frequently Asked Questions
Is Antigua Guatemala worth visiting?
The short answer is, yes, Antigua is definitely worth visiting. It’s actually one of my favorite cities in the world. So much history, beauty, and art besides the delicious food, and cute cafe’ surrounded by imposing volcanos. It’s a unique place to visit.
What is Antigua Guatemala most known for?
Antigua is mainly famous for its cultural traditions, including its suggestive Holy Week processions.
The city is also known for its colorful handicrafts, particularly its textiles, which are made using traditional Mayan weaving techniques.
Also, the fact that it’s surrounded by three active volcanos one of which is often puffing is another reason why people flock to this colorful city from all over the world to enjoy the spectacular views.
How long should you spend in Antigua Guatemala?
It really depends on your interests, really. In general, a full week will give you enough time to do some hiking and enjoy some relaxing time around the city, visit farms, and try he delicious restaurants.
However, if you have a limited time, Antigua is worth visiting even for one day.
Is Antigua Guatemala safe?
Yes, Antigua is one of the safest cities in Guatemala. The one thing to be caution of, as I mentioned above, is the chicken bus between Guatemala City and Antigua. But once you’re in Antigua, you are safe to walk around, take local transportation, etc. Just take normal precautions, like not flashing money around.
About the Author, Founder & Editor
Hello there! This is Isabella, the author of this blog, and a cat lover and restless traveler. I am an Italian expatriate in Mexico, but I am now traveling full-time in and out of Mexico. After 7 years of living in Cancun, I have decided to leave my fancy job and explore the world, at a slow pace, one country at a time. Among my favorite countries so far, besides Mexico of course, are Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Ireland, Portugal, Norway, and the list goes on…
Planning a trip soon? Here are My Recommended
- TRAVEL INSURANCE – Safety Wing or TRAVEL INSURANCE MASTER
- BOOK FLIGHTS – Expedia, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and always remember to compare
- BOOK TOURS – GetYourGuide or Viator. Some of their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- HOTELS & HOMES – Booking.com – Expedia – VRBO
- CAR RENTALS: Discover Car Rentals