Founded in 1543, Antigua was the cultural, religious, and economic center of Guatemala.
Despite being largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, many of the colonial buildings have been renovated or completely rebuilt.
Today, Antigua is known as one of the wealthier parts of Guatemala and many people who reside here are proud of what it has become.
The openness of the local people and their willingness to talk about experiences and express feelings on what is happening in other parts of the country is endearing.
The nice thing about Antigua is that it continues to put heavy importance on its religious festivities. Events such as Semana Santa, which is celebrated all over Latin America is an event that usually takes place in March and attracts people to Antigua, from all around the country, and in some cases, the world.
Why Visit Antigua?
Today, the once Capital of Guatemala, Antigua, is not only a traveler and backpackers’ hub but also a springboard for anyone who wants to travel around Central America.
Despite once being known as an earthquake destroyed city, the restoration work has made the city a delight to explore and it can cater to almost anyone looking for a unique cultural experience. One attractive thing about Antigua is how well built the tourist industry and the infrastructure has developed.
Do you have specific food preferences or even food allergies? Here in Antigua, you can find a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian foods and menus that will cater to any food requirement.
Despite the fact that many claim Antigua is not the real Guatemala you really have to get out of Antigua and see for yourself. The reality is, though, it can be challenging to leave once you become acquainted with all it has to offer.
At least, outside of all the amenities and activities on offer, getting the opportunity to connect with local indigenous communities is a possibility whilst in Antigua. Just by walking around you get to see how the local people work within the tourism industry and how rewarding it is to be able to contribute to that as a visitor.
Best Time to visit Antigua
If you are looking for the best weather, visit Antigua during the months of November to April – during the dry season. You’ll be glad to know that Antigua is blessed with a year-round pleasant climate. During the wet season, the rainfall is only limited to a few hours a day.
It can get chilly at night in Antigua, and in the early mornings too so it’s recommended that you carry a fleece or equivalent to keep you nice and warm.
Top Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala
Aside from admiring the highly preserved culture as you stroll down the cobblestone streets, what else can you do in this idyllic tourist spot?
It is said that Antigua is one of the best places to learn Spanish in Latin America. Here you can find a ton of Spanish schools and immersion programs that will keep you one step closer to the daily life in Guatemala.
The immersion programs don’t just start and end in the classroom, you get to stay with a local family and experience traditional Guatemalan life. This is just one of many great ways to support local families as you stay in Guatemala.
Attend a Chocolate Making Workshop
Whether you travel alone with kids or a loved one, taking part in Choco Museo’s chocolate making workshop is a great way to learn about the whole chocolate-making process.
As you start traveling in Guatemala you’ll start to discover that Antigua is renown for its chocolate making workshops and by far the best place to take part in such activity.
Cacao is one of the original fruits used by the Mayans and one of Choco Museo’s 2-hour workshops will bring you up to speed with the history of this magical fruit.
Many people have noted this experience as one of the top things to do in Antigua. The practical process of extracting and making chocolate from bean to bar is something most people have only ever dreamed of doing.
See Local Artwork at Tenedor del Cerro
How about a morning visit to a mountain-top art gallery and a fabulous restaurant? Tenedor del Cerro is not only one of the top things to do in Antigua, but it is also one of the many places you wouldn’t want to be seen without your camera.
Located at the top of a mountain and filled with interesting art, including several mini-museums and even sculpture gardens, you get superb views of the surrounding volcanoes and of course Antigua itself.
There is also a high-end restaurant on site that is renowned for its delicious food and exertional service.
If you’re staying at Hotel Casa Domingo you can get a free shuttle bus here. The decoration of the artwork mixed with the landscape will make you feel like you were in another part of the world.
Buy Fruits at the Local Street Market
No visit to Antigua, Guatemala would be complete without a trip to the market. This is another great opportunity to connect with the local people and buy local produce.
The street market is free to enter and, of course, gets very crowded during the morning hours.
Throughout most of Guatemala, you’ll find that the markets offer the largest range of fresh goods. In Antigua, you can find everything you’d expect when it comes to locally sourced fruit and vegetables.
There’s an indoor section where you’ll find a labyrinth of passages that are filled with homeware and textile products. If you need to pick something up for family and friends back home, you’ll find the popular Craft Market located right next door.
There you can find all the souvenirs you could imagine. With 1000 items, including wooden handicrafts and textiles, the craft market can be a very competitive place.
It is not unheard of to barter with the vendors here so if you want to negotiate on a price, feel free to do so.
Lunch at Cerro San Cristobal
Having lunch at Cerro San Cristobal is a must for anyone wanting to taste locally grown ingredients freshly prepared and served in a rustic fashion.
Most of the ingredients used are grown on-site and you can walk around the gardens and see the farming process taking place. To get the full experience and to make the most of the surrounding views, it is best to come here on a clear day.
Located at the top of a hill overlooking Antigua and the surrounding volcanoes, you’ll feel at peace. The restaurant has its own shuttle bus that leaves every hour from Nim Po’t Textile Centre on 5a Avenida Norte.
The Shrimp Pizza was one of the dishes recommended by the waiter and along with the mountain top view, it certainly didn’t disappoint. To get the best views on a normal day, though, you may have to wait for a table, especially on a Sunday.
Many people come here for the breakfast buffet which is between 8-11 a.m every weekend.
Where to Stay in Antigua
Now you know some of the top things to do in Antigua, you’ll need to know where to stay.
There’s a plethora of accommodation in Antigua. Whether it’s a hotel or a backpacker hostel, no matter what you choose, you shouldn’t have a problem finding yourself a place to stay.
It’s no wonder that Antigua is one of the best cities to visit in Central America. This is partly due to its ability to offer world-class services to its visitors.
You’ll find everything from boutique hotels to budget hostels and even sustainable yoga retreats, eco-living spaces and camp-sites.
One great place to check out is Hotel Casa Domingo located in the heart of Antigua. This is also the place where you catch the bus up to Tenedor del Cerro as mentioned earlier.
Maybe you prefer something more laid back? If you’re looking for a more earthy place and wish to be in a more rural-inspired setting there are options for that too.
Just a stone’s throw away from the centre of Antigua, you’ll find the Earth Lodge which offers a unique experience in another mountain top location surrounded by volcanoes.
The Earth Lodge supplies everything from great views to fresh and tasty locally sourced vegetarian food and meats. Also, you can sit yourself down inside a wood-fired sauna where you can relax after a well-deserved Yoga session.
Where to Eat and Drink in Antigua
Whether you’re looking for trendy bars or back-street local restaurants, whilst in Antigua, you’ll be sure to find a handful of options, no matter what your budget is.
Heading out for some evening drinking? Head to Cafe No Se. It is one of the most popular places in town for live music and tasty drinks. See if you can find the hidden Mezcal bar that is located inside.
In Antigua, you’ll even encounter some well-known food chains that will make you question “How on earth did they get here?” In other words, you’ll be more than comfortable when it comes to food options.
Restaurants in Antigua
If you’re interested in feasting on the local cruise I suggest you check out Samsara for a unique experience, or, if Vegetarian food is not quite your thing then you’ll love Rincon Tipico as it caters for everyone and offers a wide range of locally inspired dishes.
Drinking tap water is something that you’ll need to avoid at all costs. Bottled water is widely available in most shops and restaurants.
However, if you’re not keen on the idea of consuming so much plastic it would be a good idea to invest in a filtered water bottle with which you can carry and fill up as you go along.
How Much Time Do You Need in the City
Many people spend at least a few days in Antigua, Guatemala. You could easily spend a week or two getting to know the surrounding areas. That would allow you to take time and get involved in other activities including chocolate and coffee tours at local farms.
I recommend spending a week here if you are coming to Guatemala exclusively to visit Antigua. When you include day trips to other places such as Guatemala City and Lago Atitlan you’ll definitely need a few extra days to break up your time.
Have you been to Antigua before? What things would you add to this guide?
Author’s Bio: Daniel James from Layer Culture is a cultural traveller from the United Kingdom. Daniel dedicates his time to learning Spanish whilst exploring and learning about life in Latin America.