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Find out why Antigua is a must see in Guatemala
Imagine a small city with Spanish colonial architecture, surrounded by volcanoes, cobblestone streets, loads of restaurants to satisfy the most discerning of foodies plus great street food for the budget-conscious traveller.
Imagine a small city that can be walked from end to end in 30 minutes, one that is safe, with lots of activities from volcano climbing adventures to enjoying spa treatments, fun markets, and even chocolate-making lessons.
Imagine this city is less than an hour from the main airport, with welcoming and smiling local people who are tourist minded. Well your search is over, you don’t have to imagine it anymore, it exists, and you can visit this dreamy city.
It’s called Antigua, Guatemala a well-kept secret in Central America. And there’s a lot to see, do and explore, read on and find out for yourself why it is a must see in Guatemala.
Note: I’ve visited Antigua, Guatemala twice in the past years and have fallen in love with the place and the people, you’ll quickly understand why I think it’s so wonderful.
Best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala
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Authentic and Charming
Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1500s. As soon as you enter its perimeter, you’re welcomed by the well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture the city is known for. Adding to the charm is the cobblestone streets giving off a charm and flair as you might find in old European villages. In the same manner as its Spanish counterparts, the house facades shield your gaze from the inner courtyard, which most includes a lovely fountain and blooming gardens with lush foliage.
Weather in Antigua
Another wonderful benefit worth noting about this small city with only 35,000 inhabitants, is the fabulous weather in Antigua as it’s geographical situation is in the central highlands of Guatemala. This region amidst the volcanoes with its 1500 metre altitude offers the ideal climate, close to perfection. Days are sunny and very temperate with low humidity, nights are cooler, perfect for strolls around the city.
One of the great things to do in Antigua is watching the world go by at the Plaza Central
It has a big fountain with lots of trees providing shade with multiple restaurants, artisan boutiques and many vendors surrounding it where you can browse and purchase souvenirs.
Beautiful Cathedral de Santiago can be viewed from the Plaza Central
Strolling down the Avenida Norte is another thing to do in Antigua.
The iconic Arco de Santa Catalina as the major focal point of the avenue. Walking this beautiful street is especially beautiful at dusk or nighttime when the arch, which features golden-ochre paint warms up the whole place. Many vendors and restaurants line the avenue.
Surely an unexpected thing to do in Antigua is wine tasting
The cute wine shop of Tobaccos & Vinos is strategically situated beside the arch, therefore aim to get a table near the door so can do some people watching or see the many processions go by which are held on the weekends.
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Searching for the best volcanoes views is a fun thing to do in Antigua
One of the most epic ones in the city can be found at Cafe Sky. Head over for happy hour making sure to grab a seat on the rooftop terrasse for unbeatable views. You’ll see Volcano Agua and the San Francisco church in the distance, which frames just perfectly below the sky.
Things to do around Antigua / Tours & Excursions
The city is surrounded by many active volcanoes, but the Volcano Agua and Volcano Fuego are the closest and can actually be used as a cardinal reference point when navigating around the city. But don’t fret, they’re far enough so that you remain safe even when they are erupting. Which was the case, the last time I was here. The region offers many great hiking opportunities to some of these volcanoes. Adventurous souls should consider these options…
Acatenango Volcano Located an hour from Antigua Guatemala, the Acatenango volcano is almost 4000 metres high. It’s said that by hiking up it, you will get an amazing up-close view of the very active Fuego volcano and the surrounding landscape. You can book your excursion here.
Tikal Mayan Ruins, an iconic emblem of Guatemala are worth extending your stay and making a detour for.
Volcano eruptions are usual occurings
A fabulous thing to do in Antigua? Shop at the many markets
Antigua has a number of artefacts markets and artisan boutiques around the city, enough to satisfy the most avid shopper. One can spend countless hours perusing the flea bargains and street markets in search for perfectly woven local textiles or handcrafted souvenirs of all kinds.
If you have a chance, plan an excursion to the Chichicastenango artisan market which is 100 km out-of-town, is the largest and biggest outdoor market in the country. The route to it offers interesting vistas. Don’t forget to bring comfortable shoes and get ready to negotiate for anything and everything!
More things to do in Antigua: Visit its many churches
Antigua Guatemala, meaning Ancient Guatemala, has quite a number of colonial churches, most of which are in ruins, this is due to the many earthquakes the city has had to endure over the years. They all make for wonderful photo opportunities. One of the aspects I most appreciated about this city is its accessibility, everything is within easy reach on foot or accessible via an inexpensive tuk-tuk ride. You could also partake in a city tour which has the added bonus of having the narration and storyline of the site.
Here are my top recommendations
First constructed in the 17th century, this church was destroyed by earthquakes and rebuilt many times. We really enjoyed the venue and the site, it has incredible photo opportunities, a truly unique place. Entrance fee is Q40, on Calle Poniente at Calle de Recolectos
Casa Santa Domingo
This hotel/restaurant/museum situated on an archeological site is a gem to visit and explore. The grounds are just spectacular and the site offers 6 museums to visit. We particularly enjoyed the archaeology museum exhibits with ceramic and stone objects and catacomb finds. You can easily spend a full afternoon wandering about the gorgeous, well-manicured grounds.
Church of San Francisco
Situated on the Calle Oriente, these church ruins have a bronze statue of Friar Hermano Pedro, a 17th-century monk beatified and buried inside. It has a lovely facade and you can also glance at the beautiful garden. For a small fee you can visit the interior of this impressive and historic 300-year-old church.
Iglesia La Merced
In a soft yellow pastel shade, La Merced’s baroque-style architecture is still very well preserved and it absolutely worth a visit if not to solely to admire its glorious facade with stunning intricate details. Make sure to visit it on Saturdays where all the street food vendors congregate in its small plaza with loads of tasty local offerings. Grab some beers at the convenience store across the street and have a casual picnic while you’re there.
Best Restaurants in Antigua / Where to Eat
Ever mention how much I love to eat! Without being an over the top foody, I do appreciate different types of cuisine and often claim that the most important ingredient in my plate is the love, the undeniable integrity that went into making it as to shine through. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying 1$ for street food or a 100$ meal in a fancy restaurant, I just want to see some of that passion in my plate.
Antigua, Guatemala is literally filled with restaurants to please everyone’s taste buds. From International to local cuisine, whatever you want, you can find a restaurant in Antigua that will meet your need. Generally, the cost of groceries and provisions doesn’t justify eating-in while in Antigua so get ready to indulge.
A few tried and tested restaurants in Antigua
$-$$/Porque No Cafe You cannot miss the biggest small restaurant experience in all of Guatemala. It’s a place where locals, expats and tourists come to eat and meet. A must see and top thing to do in Antigua. Small menu but great quality and vibe. Come early, this tiny spot fills up fast!
$/Rincon Tipico A truly authentic and local experience with pipian soup, rice and beans, fried plantains, tortillas, and hands-down, the best grilled chicken in town. All around great value.
$$-$$$/La Antigua Trattoria Pizzeria da Beppe e Paolo Craving cheese platters and pizza. Look no more. It can be hard to find good Italian in this city but this unpretentious little trattoria on 5a. Avenida Sur will have you coming back for more.
$$-$$$/Fridas Really tasty nachos and great margaritas
$$/El Viejo Cafe – Restaurant & Bakery Absolutely the best croissants in town. Quaint decor with a lovely terrasse in the courtyard, a perfect place for breakfast and lunch with a wide assortment of French pastries.
$$-$$$/Hector’s Bistro A bit more expensive than most restaurants in town, but well worth it. Targeted at expats, right across La Merced Church, it has a limited number of tables, go early, especially on weekends.
Antigua Guatemala Hotels / Where to stay
Many travel bloggers offer lists of the best hostels in Antigua, so much so that the city could be easily mistaken for a primarily “backpacker” destination. But don’t be fooled, Antigua has a wide range of accommodations. We’re talking 5-star luxury resorts, posadas, modest hotels, homestay and a host of Airbnb locations as well. Everyone can find lodging to fit their travel budget and style.
Budget / Posada de San Carlos
I enjoyed a week-long stay at this Posada and appreciated its central location, the courtyard and particularly the rooftop terrace where you can take in spectacular volcano vistas while sipping on afternoon cocktails or playing cards. Rooms are modest, clean and the rates are extremely affordable.
Check out their lastest rates on booking.com here
Mid-Range / Ciudad Condal
This lovely 4-star hotel situated on Calle Poniente is slightly out of the main hub. The rooms have comfy beds and newly renovated bathrooms plus the hotel has a spa on the premise. A complimentary breakfast is served in the open dining room facing the courtyard which has a lovely fountain. The place is tranquil and cool during the day and the free WIFI is quite good, making it a great spot to catch up on work.
Find deals on booking.com I scored a 50% discount stay at this hotel.
Luxury /Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo
To stay at this luxurious 5-star hotel would be a dream. Set in a former convent and a short 10-minute walk from the city centre, it’s the idyllic setting. The place has an outdoor pool, a fantastic spa, a gym, restaurants and well worth visiting museums. You could seriously check in at this outstanding hotel and never want to leave.