Best Things To Do In Antigua, Guatemala | 2023 Guide

Founded in 1543, Antigua was the cultural, religious, and economic centre of Guatemala.

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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.

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
Local people in Antigua
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Why Visit Antigua?

Today, the former Capital of Guatemala and UNESCO World Heritage Site of 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 have 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.

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
Water Fountain in Antigua’s main Plaza

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. 

Local women in the Antigua’s Plaza
Local women in the Antigua’s Plaza

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?

Learn Spanish

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 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.

Speaking to locals is easy in Antigua
Speaking to locals is easy in Antigua

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 renowned 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.

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
The Cacao Process – From bean to bar

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. 

Grounds at the Tenedor del Cerro
Grounds at the Tenedor del Cerro

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 for local vendors. 

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.

The Street Market in Antigua
The Street Market in Antigua

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. 

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
Having Lunch at Cerro San Cristobal

Join A Walking Tour 

A great way to learn about this city’s layered history and see cultural landmarks is with a guided walking tour of old town Antigua. On this 2-hour tour, a local guide will bring you along the charming cobblestone streets to see historic monuments, cathedrals, and ruins that date back to Antigua’s former role as the capital of Guatemala. 

You’ll see the amazing Spanish Colonial architecture Antigua is famous for, including the iconic Arco de Santa Catalina, the 16th century Santo Domingo Monastery, and the beautiful La Merced Church. You’ll also see the city’s Central Park, home to the Fountain of the Sirens, the General Palace, and the Bakers’ Portal. Finally, the tour includes a stop at the Nim Pot Craft Market, where you can browse the colourful handicrafts that Antigua is famous for. 

If you would rather create your own itinerary, you can always do a self-guided free walking tour with a bit of research beforehand. While this is a good way to maximize your time and focus on your areas of interest, there is something to be said for having a local guide who knows everything about the city, its history, and little-known spots that are worth visiting.

things to do in antigua guatemala
Ruins in Antigua, Guatemala

Tour a Coffee Farm

Guatemala is renowned for producing some of the best coffee in the world, and this guided Coffee & Culture Tour is a great way to see the entire process from start to finish. This tour also includes several of Antigua’s cultural highlights, such as the San Francisco Church, La Merced, and Calle del Arco. 

Your local guide will pick you up from Antigua and start your full-day tour at Cerro de la Cruz, a fantastic viewpoint near the city. Then, you’ll see the sights in Old Town Antigua and wrap up the day with a tour of a local coffee plantation, complete with a tasting of freshly grown, processed, and brewed coffee.

Freshly roasted coffee beans in Antigua, Guatemala
Freshly roasted coffee beans in Antigua, Guatemala

Take A Day Trip To Pacaya National Park

If exploring museums and markets isn’t really your thing, don’t worry because there are so many exciting things to do around Antigua. Located about an hour’s drive from downtown Antigua, Pacaya National Park is home to the active Pacaya Volcano, a popular hiking destination with amazing views of the surrounding Pacific lowlands and nearby Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango volcanoes. 

There are lots of tour operators that handle all the logistics of a visit to the national park, complete with a local guide who is familiar with the area, safety precautions, and the activity of the volcano. While you won’t be able to visit the crater, you’ll hike to viewpoints where you can see the glowing lava flows from Pacaya Volcano. 

Pacaya National Park Volcano
Pacaya National Park Volcano

READ NEXT: Best Things to Do in Guatemala

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. 

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
A typical dwelling in Antigua

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

One great place to check out is Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, a unique arts and cultural museum hotel located in the heart of Antigua. This luxury hotel was built with the intent of preserving and showcasing the cultural heritage of Antigua, particularly the Convent of Santo Domingo, which was almost totally destroyed by the Santa Marta earthquake of 1773.

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo offers beautifully appointed rooms with modern amenities decorated with works from local artists. This is a spa-centred hotel, and guests have access to jacuzzis, wet and dry saunas, and spa treatments designed for wellness and restoration.

The onsite restaurant offers elevated international dishes with a Guatemalan flair, created with fresh, local ingredients. Hotel Casa Domingo owns the famous Tenedor del Cerro, the hilltop restaurant and farm that offers stunning views of the valley.

This is also the place where you catch the bus up to Tenedor del Cerro, as mentioned earlier. You don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to go to the restaurant. 

Earth Lodge

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 mountaintop 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.

This eco-resort arranges several outdoor activities in the natural beauty that surrounds Antigua. You can join a guided hike through a cloud forest, a full-day volcano trek, or a biking adventure through downtown Antigua. 

Yellow House Hostel

If a luxury eco-lodge or artsy boutique hotel isn’t in the budget, Yellow House Hostel is a wonderful choice. With comfortable accommodations that offer modern amenities like free wifi, shuttle services, and tour arrangement services, you really can’t go wrong with this hostel.

Both private and dorm-style rooms are available, along with shared bathrooms. There are even private double rooms with private bathrooms available, making this a great choice for traveling couples. 

The location can’t be beaten – you’ll be about a 5-minute walk from the centre of Antigua, very close to attractions like the Santa Catalina Arch, Central Park, and La Merced Church. While there is no restaurant onsite, you’ll be just a short walk away from several local eateries.

Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala
Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala

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 Cerveceria 14. This Antiqua brewing company is one of the most popular places in town for gorgeous views and tasty drinks. Situated about 10-minutes outside of town, this brewery is surrounded by a sprawling garden with outdoor seating. Enjoy a craft beer and pub fare with panoramic views of the Volcan de Fuego and the surrounding valley.

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.

Cafe Sol, Antigua, Guatemala
Cafe Sol, Antigua, Guatemala

Restaurants In Antigua

If you prefer a veggie-based menu, 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 traditional Guatemalan cuisine.

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. 

 Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
Shrimp Pizza served at Cerro San Cristobal

Join A Gastronomic Tour

Learn about the history of Mesoamerican food in Guatemala on a guided food tour through the city. This Gastronomic, Cultural, and Traditional Antigua Tour will start at the Antigua Market, where you’ll sample popular street food and learn the proper way to make traditional corn tortillas from locals. Then, you’ll take a guided tour of Central Park and enjoy local dishes on a terrace with views of the famous Santa Catalina Arch and La Merced Church. 

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.

Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua, Guatemala

 

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.

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