17 Unforgettable Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala: A Travel Guide
Famous for its coffee and volcanoes, Antigua Guatemala is Guatemala’s most fascinating city. Beautifully preserved over hundreds of years, Antigua Guatemala or Antigua as it’s known for short, attracts many travellers from around the world. There are many things to do in Antigua Guatemala, from exploring all the historical churches and atmospheric streets to eating in some really great restaurants. Make sure not to miss it when in Guatemala.
No trip to Guatemala would really be complete without at least one day walking the cobbled narrow streets and admiring the centuries-old, colonial architecture. If that’s not enough, there’s also plenty of unique shopping opportunities, exquisite cafes serving some of the best coffee you’ll ever have and the chance to get close to a couple of very active volcanoes.
Keep reading for not only the top things to do in Antigua Guatemala but also a whole travel guide on this one-of-a-kind beautiful city.
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WHERE TO STAY
There are so many amazing properties in Antigua for all budgets. Here are just a few of my favourites where guests can not only sleep but also take advantage of their wellness-focused approach to living.
Quite easily the most famous hotel in Antigua, Hotel Casa Santo Domingo is a convent-turned-hotel that has still kept so many of its original features- so much so that it’s actually also a museum you can visit. The property is huge and has all the amenities you might need including a lovely pool area, restaurant, courtyard and spa. Stay in a room with vaulted ceilings and transport yourself back to colonial times while also being a part of history.
A gorgeous, colonial boutique hotel surrounding an inner courtyard, this splendid option offers an unbeatable location and service. Rooms are large and perfectly combine modern elements with medieval touches. Breakfast is served in the beautiful courtyard- there really couldn’t be a better start to the day.
Another exquisite hotel for your stay in Antigua is housed in a beautiful, colonial building with vaulted wooden ceilings and antique accents. They also have a gorgeous outdoor pool and spa offering Mayan Temascal, massage and more. The location is also superb for exploring the centre city, most of the good stuff is just a short walk away.
For a great hotel option with a yoga studio, you can’t miss this place. While you’re there, make the most of their gorgeous stone rooms and vaulted bathrooms, some of which have private spa baths and excellent breakfast and customer service. Just don’t forget to head up to the roof terrace in the mornings for the best views of Antigua’s three volcanoes. For somewhere unique, atmospheric and affordable don’t miss this place.
If you’re looking for affordable yet stylish don’t miss this upscale hostel. With private rooms available as well as dorms, this is the perfect place to enjoy Antigua while also meeting new people. Rooms beautifully combine the old and the new and the property is simple, comfortable and clean. What else would you need?
Located in the foothills above the city, Earth Lodge is the perfect place to come, relax and slow down. Equipped with rustic treehouses and stand-alone cabins, each with a phenomenal view, one of the best yoga studios in Guatemala and a restaurant surrounded by acres of avocado farm.
It’s the perfect place to end a trip in Guatemala, waking up early and admiring the view with a cup of coffee, taking the time for some yoga practice and spending the day with a book in a hammock. It’s one of the best places in Central America for a self-guided and self-organised retreat.
Check rates and availability here
WHERE TO EAT
Wachuma – A great but small vegan restaurant on the east side of town for buddha bowls, krauts and kombucha. Fermented foods are definitely the name of the game here and if your gut is missing some probiotics then head straight here. They also have raw toast with hummus, tofu and tempeh bowls and vegan yoghurt. Their drinks menu is incredible from both a wellness and taste standpoint with mushroom elixirs and superfood charged hot drinks.
Samsara– A lovely little Hindu themed vegetarian restaurant where most of the food on the menu is plant-based. The menu includes bowls and stir-fries, sandwiches, wraps and salads. They also have a great drinks menu of kombucha, healthy teas, elixirs and alkaline drinks that include Apple cider vinegar. They also use superfoods and CBD can also be added to drinks.
Amanecer Juice Bar– A small, healthy, hole-in-the-wall with a few tables great for grabbing fresh juices, smoothies and ginger shots while exploring. We came here daily for our dose of ginger shots and green juice. They also serve some basic foods like sandwiches and coffee.
Cafe Stela – A lovely little cafe with a lovely ambience selling a variety of coffees and breakfast items like granola and pancakes. It’s a great option for a healthy breakfast in Antigua or a quick sit down and coffee break.
La Bruja – One of the best and most popular plant-based restaurants in Antigua, La Bruja is set in the corner of a large courtyard that’s shared by many other restaurants. The courtyard is gorgeous and you can sit outside, by a fountain and enjoy some healthy plant-based salads, tacos, burgers and wraps. Make sure not to miss their tacos- they are delicious.
Rainbow Cafe– A nice cafe and bookstore that also works with and supports local NGOs. While not completely plant-based they do have many different healthy options like falafel plates, fruit plates, soups and varying lunch specials. It’s a great spot to grab a snack and coffee mid-morning while exploring.
Caoba Farms – We didn’t manage to come here but I really wish we did as I’ve heard so many wonderful things. Don’t make the same mistake. Caoba Farms is a working farm with a restaurant with a farm to table concept. Most of the food they serve they grow themselves in an organic and sustainable way. They serve mainly burgers, salads and pizzas as well as breakfast. It’s a lovely place to come for a few hours and support small-scale, local, organic farming efforts.
El Gran Café – Probably our favourite cafe in the whole city, I can safely say I’ve lost count of the times we came here. If you like boutique coffee shops with strong coffee this is one of the best. They use locally sourced coffee from different parts of the country and the menu is simple, from dip coffee to macchiato. The cafe is small with just a bench and a bar and it’s simple and beautifully decorated combining a range of materials and textures. If you’re a coffee lover do not miss this place.
12 Onzas – A newly opened cafe here in Antigua with a branch in Guatemala City, this cafe has all the vibes and is a great photo spot. With rustic-modern decor and an excellent selection of coffee, steer away from the cappuccino and instead try their specialities and coffee from different regions of Guatemala brewed in a Chemex or French press. We visited during quiet time and one of the baristas brewed our coffee at our table, sharing his knowledge about the brewing process and Guatemalan coffee.
Café La Parada – Located just around the corner from the Santa Catalina arch, this is a great option for a quick take out coffee. The decor is definitely not as cool as the above two but the coffee is top-notch.
Cafe Condesa – An Antigua institution, Cafe Condesa is more of a sit-down cafe than just a coffee pitstop place. Grab a table in the beautiful, colonial building order a bite and of course a coffee and let the place transport you to another time. While the coffee here is good, I would advise against eating here as personally I don’t think it’s worth the price and there aren’t many plant-based options. There is also a take-out booth right on the square if you just want to grab a coffee to go.
Antigua Brewing Company- Small little rooftop at this local brewery in the middle of the colonial heart of the city. Head straight to the roof and order a pint of local, craft beer and enjoy the resident DJ and the 360 views of the city around you. On a clear day, you can easily see all the volcanoes. If you’re into craft beer this is one of the best places in the city to indulge.
Tartines – A really atmospheric rooftop with a view of the Templo de San Jose Catedral ruins. Come here for an evening glass of wine and a bite to eat and watch the sun come down over the city.
Bella Vista Coffee – If you fancy taking in the city in the morning and you’re not quite ready for any alcoholic beverages then stop by Bella Vista Cafe for a coffee and some of the best-uninterrupted views of the city including all of Antigua’s volcanoes. The mornings are generally the best time to catch the sky at its clearest so come early.
The Best Things to do In Antigua Guatemala
Photograph Arco de Santa Catalina
Antigua Guatemala’s most iconic structure, this grand bright yellow structure can be seen from any Antigua viewpoint. Located just a block north of the Parque Central or Central Square, this arch is now the symbol of the city.
The arch was actually constructed in 1694 as part of the convent located on opposite sides of the road. The nuns lived in one building and taught in the school in the other. As the nun’s had taken vows of seclusion they needed to avoid all contact with the outside world. So that the nuns weren’t seen moving from one building into another, this arch was constructed to conceal them. The clock that we now see on the arch was added later.
The arch has survived many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and is still standing strong today. From this street, you can get one of the most iconic photos of Guatemala. Just make sure to come early to avoid crowds and on a day where Volcan de Agua is visible.
Explore Casa Santo Domingo
Now a luxury hotel and a museum, Casa Santa Domingo was once a thriving monastery and it’s certainly been through a lot over the years. From its history as one of the most important convents in the Americas until now Casa Santo Domingo is well worth a wander even if you’re not staying at this gorgeous property during your stay in Antigua.
What you can see today are the remains of the baroque building after the 1773 earthquake which have over time been preserved. Nowadays you can enter and discover the treasures of the time at the museum and explore what remains of this grand historic building. To get more of a sense of what it was like to live here make sure to book your stay here.
Take in Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
While this impressive structure might look extremely in tack from the outside, this is hardly the case when walking in. Located on the main Parque Central, the main cathedral is only a fraction of the size it once was. When walking in from the front you’ll be able to see a small church that’s still used today.
Head around the back however and you can explore the ruins to get an idea of how big this cathedral once was. Some of the brick walls have long since collapsed but some of the buttresses, walls and even domes are still standing. You can still see the small intricate details and paintings that still stand today.
Take a Walk to Cerro de la Cruz Viewpoint
One of the best ways to see any city is to view it from above and that’s exactly what you can do in Antigua. Cerro de la Cruz is a small hill just to the north of town which you can easily climb up and get a breathtaking view of the city. You can actually see it from the city, just look out for the large cross.
From here you have an amazing view of the whole city and Volcan de Agua, even though Volcan Fuego and Acatenango are a little hidden from view up here. You’ll be able to see the Santa Catalina Arch and all of Antigua Guatemala’s most significant buildings.
To get there just walk up 1a Avenida Norte until it begins to curve to the right. Take the stairs to your left to begin the ascent through the gorgeous park to the top until you get to the viewpoint.
Hike a volcano
There’s no lack of volcanoes to climb in Guatemala and it’s definitely something to consider doing, especially if you’re in the mood for adventure. Volcan Pacaya and Volcan Acatenango/Fuego are the two most popular volcano treks to consider and they are close to Antigua and easily accessed but you’ll need a guide or to join a tour to do it.
Pacaya Volcano is one of the most popular treks due to the spilling, red hot lava gushing out of it. In the past, you were able to trek right up to the lava and even toast marshmallows on it. At the time of writing the volcano has been closed however due to unpredictability so if you would like to hike this one it’s best to check with local tour operators. This tour seems to be the most popular and best-rated tour from Antigua.
Another option is the Acatenango trek to see Volcan Fuego. This is an overnight trek that takes you up through the tropical jungle to a special campsite on Acatenango. You’ll wake up early to see Fuego erupting before sunrise in all its glory. It does actually erupt every 10-15 mins but it’s just after sunset and before sunrise that it really looks fiery and fierce. For the best trek to Acatenango click here.
Explore Antigua’s Historic Church Ruins
Antigua Guatemala was an important centre of culture and religion in the 16th and 17th Centuries and there are many churches and cathedrals in the city. Unfortunately, the city is also extremely prone to natural disasters. In 1773 a large earthquake destroyed many of the buildings and the capital city was moved from Antigua to what is now Guatemala City.
During the years not all the churches were rebuilt and there a still a number of ruins ready to explore that shed some light on the cities history and architectural styles of the time.
The top must-see ruins are:
- El Carmen Church
- Church of Candelaria Ruins
- Santa Clara ruins
- Church of San Francisco Ruins
- Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
Visit Iglesia De La Merced
One of Antigua Guatemala’s best-preserved churches that is still functional today is Iglesia de La Merced. With a beautifully ornate, yellow facade this church is definitely one of the prettiest in the city. It’s worth seeing it from the outside and if you have time, go inside and into the adjacent convent for a wander where you can explore centuries-old cloisters and the main nave of the church.
Outside the church, you’ll find a park of the same name. This is a great square to come to, especially in the evenings for some local Guatemalan street food, sold by local sellers. If you speak Spanish they’ll explain what everything is and what you should try. The street food here is very popular with locals.
Explore Iglesia De San Francisco
One of the best surviving churches to visit is the Church of San Francisco. This is an example of some of the best surviving baroque architecture of Antigua. During colonial times Antigua was the centre of religion and culture which is why there are so many churches. You can enter the church of San Francisco for free and then make sure to check out the ruins behind it and the St. Francis sanctuary at the back which display some amazing healing stories from local people.
Discover Tanque De La Union
Right opposite the Santa Clara Ruins, you’ll find this very unique spot in Antigua Guatemala. In colonial times running water wasn’t available in people’s homes so this is the spot women used to come to do the laundry and catch up on the latest gossip.
The bright yellow, concrete structure sports many different separate pools for washing clothes. The smaller pools get fed from the main reservoir. While there’s not much laundry being done these days, it’s a great place to check out and sit nearby and people watch. The square gets many locals selling their wares and children playing together especially on weekends.
Visit Nim Po’t Centro de Textiles Tradicionales
This market, located right next to the old bus station is the best place to go to buy textiles in Antigua. With an array of blankets, throws, cushion covers, ponchos, jackets, hats, scarves and just about anything else you can weave, this is a gorgeous place to come to learn about traditional craftsmanship and weaving as well as stock up on some beautiful pieces for your home.
El Carmen Market
If you’re on the market for some souvenir shopping then El Carmen is one of the best places to buy generic and local souvenirs. The market is packed with both people and ware and sellers will direct you to their stall in no time to buy jewellery, leather goods, textiles and more. It’s probably not the best place to buy luxury or high-quality goods but for everyday items, gifts or little crafts it’s a nice place to browse.
Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales
Found on the southern block of Parque Central this grand baroque building was the colonial headquarters of the Spanish viceroy who governed the whole of Central America. For over 200 years this building was used as the seat of government and housed the royal court, the royal treasury, post office and stables. You can take a guided tour around the building and learn more about Antigua Guatemala’s colonial past as well as the many uses of the building.
Take a Spanish class
Guatemalans speak really good Spanish in terms of annunciation and pronunciation and Antigua is a really good place to learn the language, There are many different language schools to choose from in Antigua where you can base yourself for a couple of weeks or even longer and perfect your language skills. The best-rated schools in Antigua are Maximo Nivel and Antigueña Spanish Academy.
While it might not be as famous as nearby Costa Rica, Guatemala produces some pretty delicious coffee and some of my favourite cups I’ve ever had have been here. If you love coffee then there’s no way you’ll want to not seek out the best cup in the city. For the best coffee head straight to El Gran Cafe or 12 Onzas.
Take a trip to Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. You can take a day tour from Antigua but I highly recommend getting out and exploring the lake and some of its villages for a few days.
Each village is very different and I encourage you to visit as many as you can just avoid San Pablo as it’s very impoverished and can be a bit dangerous for tourists. My favourite villages were San Marcos and San Pedro. San Pedro has more of a party vibe and has many great cafes, restaurants and bars while San Marcos is more spiritual with lots of lovely boutiques, yoga barns and cafes. I also recommend visiting San Juan la Laguna and climbing to the viewpoint, Santa Cruz for a very local experience and Santa Catarina Palopo for textiles.
Grab a Bench and Relax in Parque Central
Antigua Guatemala’s main square or central plaza is known as the Parque Central. It acts as the cities focal point and is always alive with activity and is one of the best places to people-watch in the city. The square is small, lined with lovely green trees and shrubs and in the centre, you’ll find an 18th Century fountain which still works today. Around the park, you’ll find local artisans selling locally made souvenirs, food and even toys.
One of the best things to do here is just to grab a seat on the beach, people watch or even go for a walk checking out all the interesting buildings in the square’s perimeter. Here you’ll find the Antigua Guatemala Cathedral and its remains, the Santiago de los Caballeros Museum and the Libro Antiguo Museum. You’ll also find the ChocoMuseum here, a great place to come and learn about the making of chocolate and Cafe Condesa.
Take a Walking Tour
Much like other cities around the world, Antigua Guatemala doesn’t have a free walking tour but there are plenty of other, budget-friendly options online. It’s also pretty easy to do your own historical walking tour by pinning your favourite and the most popular places on a map before setting out and simply walking around. Antigua Guatemala is small enough that if you spend just two days here wandering around you’ll eventually see most sights.
Click here to find out more about the best walking tour in town.
The Best Places to Shop in Antigua Guatemala
The city has so many amazing places to shop and shopping really is one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala. I would highly recommend leaving some space in your suitcase when arriving to have space for all the amazing textiles and jewellery you can buy here. Here are some of my favourite stores I found on my visit.
Algodones Maya– Located just opposite Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, this local store sells just about anything that can be weaved from blankets to clothes and table runners. The patterns and designs are beautiful and they work with some of the best artisans in the country and help the community by giving women jobs.
Wakami – A lovely concept store in a beautiful, cold colonial house. Come here for bags, bracelets and clothes.
Xibalba Studio – An amazing collection of furniture, homewares like fabrics and glassware and in the back, jewellery. Even if you don’t plan to buy this little studio is a great place to just wander in and look around. It’s very unique.
Cafe Condesa – At the entrance to Cafe Condesa you’ll find a lovely array of boutique stores selling spiritual trinkets, jewellery, fabrics and bags. A great place to check out once you’ve had your cafe fix.
More things to do in Antigua Guatemala:
Are you ready to visit Antigua Guatemala? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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