antigua guatemala

11 Best Things to do in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site in Guatemala, famous for its Spanish Baroque-infrastructure, ruins, cobblestoned streets and volcanoes. Antigua was the highlight of my time in Guatemala and was one of my favourite places throughout my time in Central America. With an abundance of things to do, great nightlife and an easy-to-navigate city, Antigua makes for the perfect destination in Guatemala. I’ve compiled a list of my favourite things to do here in the hopes it’ll inspire you to go and visit this incredible gem.

Here are some of the best things to do in Antigua:

  • Hike Volcano Acatenango
  • Roast marshmallows on Volcano Pacaya
  • Traditional Guatemalan cooking class
  • Have a Spanish lesson
  • Free walking tour of Antigua
  • Visit the markets
  • Scenic views from Cerro de la Cruz
  • Walk under the iconic Santa Catalina Arch
  • The chocolate museum: ChocoMuseo
  • Enjoy the bars, restaurants and nightlife
  • Treat yourself to some RnR – spas, hairdressers, salons…

Related Post: Best Places to Visit in Guatemala

1. Overnight Volcano Acatenango Hike

Acatenango is a stratovolcano located near the city of Antigua, that has slowly become a must-do for those visiting Guatemala. This overnight hike isn’t for the faint hearted, but reaching the top is an incredible achievement and will give you once-in-a-lifetime views of Volcano Fuego. The hike will take you through different terrains and scenery. Climbing and camping on an active volcano was truly an unforgettable experience and is still one of the best things I’ve ever done.


I’ve written a detailed post on my experience hiking Volcano Acatenango; with tips on what to expect, what you need and how to make the hike more bearable. It is a challenging hike, but absolute worth the effort! Don’t let any reviews put you off – it’s a challenging hike at points but it’s absolutely worth it. You can go at your own pace and everyone makes it up in their own time. There are a number of tour groups that you can hike Acatenango with, many providing all the clothing and camping gear required to do this trip.

Our group was large and consisted of families, couples, friends and solo backpackers. Making it perfect for any type of traveller and a great way to make new friends.

It’s recommended to climb Acatenango towards the end of your stay in Antigua, to give you time to acclimatise to the altitude. Visiting nearby places, like Lake Atitlan or Xela, beforehand will help too. It’s advised against hiking Volcano Acatenango shortly after arriving from a beach/scuba diving trip. A few people from our hostel, who had arrived straight from Belize/Belizean islands, had to wait a few days due to altitude acclimatisation.

We hiked with Wicho & Charlie, who were absolutely fantastic! However, there are many different tours to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for, the gear you need to rent and your budget.

2. Roast Marshmallows on Pacaya Volcano

If you want a volcano experience, without the cost and physical effort of hiking Volcano Acatenango, consider Pacaya Volcano instead. Located near Antigua, Pacaya Volcano is smaller and easier to hike than Acatenango. It’s approximately an hour drive away and the main hikes take 2-3 hours to complete, making it an easy day trip from Antigua. The key attraction on Pacaya Volcano is the roasting marshmallows over lava. Roasting marshmallows over lava on an active volcano was definitely a ‘pinch-me’ moment in life. We chose a half-day tour, which I’d say is ideal for anyone wanting to have a taste of Guatemala’s many volcanos, without the cost or effort of climbing Volcano Acatenango.

Read my detailed blog post on our experience climbing Pacaya Volcano. There are several different tour options to choose from, including sunrise tours, sunset, added lunch and thermal spas etc. Walk around Antigua to gauge your options and the different pricing available. Pacaya was arguably one of the best things to do in Antigua and I’d highly recommend it!


3. Take a Traditional Guatemalan Cooking Class

Antigua is home to numerous cooking schools who make fresh, authentic Guatemalan meals. We went with the lovely La Tortilla school. We were able to visit the local market to buy fresh ingredients, before going back to start cooking. At the end, we sat around the table to enjoy our efforts, whilst hearing about everything Antigua has to offer. It’s also a great way to meet a nice mix of other travellers!

There are many cooking schools available, all offering different packages, so make sure to ask around. I’d recommend choosing one that includes buying ingredients from a local market. This gave us a more in-depth look into local life in Antigua, whilst broadening our understanding of how the Mayans influenced cuisine and cooking in Guatemala.

Related Post: Volcano Telica – Craters, Beers and Sunsets

4. Have a Spanish lesson

Take advantage of the many Spanish schools Antigua has to offer. Considerably cheaper than neighbouring countries, this is a great place to brush up on useful phrases for travelling or perfecting intricate gramma. You’ll be spoilt for choice with private one-on-one lessons, group classes and home-stays.

Finding a school that provide just 1-2 hour classes, as opposed to minimum 10-20 hour weekly classes, proved to be difficult. But I came across, Modern World Language School, who provided 2 hour lessons. I went twice and they were fantastic! I met many people who based themselves in Antigua for several weeks, to months at a time, just to focus on their Spanish. Many language schools are dotted around the city for you to choose from.

Typically, you have 4 hour classes in the morning (private or group), before spending the afternoon working on any homework or enjoying Antigua. You can also join Spanish school with a homestay included. These are more expensive, as meals are often included too, but it means you’ll likely improve on your Spanish even quicker.

5. Antigua Free Walking Tours

The best way to see new place, and uncover what it has to offer, is through an Antigua walking tour. Whether that’s done through an organised private tour, a free walking group or a self-guided walk, this is an absolute must to explore Antigua.

pacaya volcan

My sister and I found numerous tours on TripAdvisor and through our hostel, all ranging from £15-75 and lasting between 3-8 hours. These included tours of Antigua, food tours and excursions to nearby ranches and the infamous volcanoes nearby (Pacaya and Acatenango).

We joined the daily free walking tour organised by Guru Walk. Like most free walking tours around the world, it’s free to join but a tip is expected/appreciated. The tour operates at 3pm daily, lasts approximately 2 hours and is available in both English and Spanish. I highly recommend this as you can really learn about the history of Antigua and get some great local tips on restaurants, bars and things to do.

Or consider doing a self-guided tour of the city yourself. Although you miss out on local knowledge and have to organise it yourself, this gives you the freedom to go at your own pace and see the bits you want to see. I highly rate using GPS my city for pre-planned self guided tours; with maps included and key landmarks/attractions highlighted on each route. Their 6 main self guided tours:

6. Visit the Markets of Antigua

There are several markets worth visiting in Antigua. The Central Market is the largest, and was definitely my favourite. The front section is filled with souvenirs and freshly cut and packaged fruit, aimed at tourists. However, once you walk past this and further into the market, you get a real taste of Guatemalan life. The atmosphere here is buzzing and every corner is bustling with all sorts – it’s hard not to get lost in it all! Weekends are the best time to go, as the market is joined by vendors from neighbouring villages! Prices are reasonable, but you’ll find they’re inflated for tourists – particularly at the front of the market.

Other markets worth checking out include the Artisans Market, Antigua’s Municipal Market and Nim Po’t. These offer everything from fresh foods and local delicacies, to fabrics, clothes and souvenirs.

We found The Culture Trip’s post on Antigua Markets helpful when we were there.

7. Take in the scenic views from Cerro de la Cruz

Cerro de la Cruz is an elevated spot a short walk north of Antigua’s old town. The 333 steps will give you unobstructed, expansive views of Volcan de Agua and Antigua itself. Alternatively, if walking up hundreds of steps in the heat isn’t your cup of tea, ride a tuk-tuk to the top and walk down. Be sure to visit at sunrise or sunset too, for great photos and to avoid the heat of the day. The Antigua Tourist Police offer free walking tours up between 10am and 3pm, which I’d recommend taking advantage of. If you’re doing this solo, be mindful that muggings are often reported here – particularly during dusk. Our hostel warned us that the area can be bit dodgy and to be careful. I wouldn’t take any valuables here, just small change and essentials. There are some vendors at the top if you’d like some refreshments. Otherwise bring a picnic and enjoy some lunch with incredible views and backdrops of the city and volcanos in the distance. Cerro de la Cruz, or Hills of the Cross, also has a few nature trails to enjoy.

8. Walk under the iconic Santa Catalina Arch

The Santa Catalina Arch is one of Antigua’s most recognisable landmarks and will likely be a place you see regularly during your time in Antigua. Dating back to the 1600s, this iconic archway was originally built to allow nuns to cross the street without being seen. Nowadays the archway, and added clock tower, is a symbol of Antigua and represents the rich colonial heritage of this city. With Volcan de Agua looming in the distance, this makes for the perfect shot! The Santa Catalina Arch is often a key stop on walking tours, in which case you’ll get to hear about the Arch’s history.

9. Visit the ChocoMuseum

Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate! Thanks to the Mayans, who believed chocolate was the food of the Gods…they weren’t wrong. Chocomuseo lies in the heart of Antigua and is worth a visit if you’re in the city. We had a tasty hot chocolate in their cafe, before exploring their free small museum. This details the history of chocolate and the process of production. Workshops at Chocomuseo are also available everyday at 11:00, 13:30 and 16:00, for all ages. These include a truffle workshop, a mini chocolate workshop and ‘bean to bar’, where you make your own chocolate from cacao beans. There are several shops here too, giving you the opportunity to buy local jewellery and clothes, along with lots of high quality chocolate.

10. Grab a Beer at a Hidden Bar in Antigua

Antigua comes alive at night with the many bars, restaurants and speakeasies to discover. One of my favourite parts of Antigua was the number of bars hidden down side streets or inconspicuous buildings that house lively rooftop bars! A few places that we enjoyed going to during a week there was ‘Cafe no Se’ and the rooftop at Lava. I loved the mix of locals, expats and tourists. A few bars that were recommended to us, but we didn’t have time to try, included Tabacos y Vinos, Monoloco Antigua, Lucky Rabbit and Las Vibras de la Casbah. There are surprisingly a few Irish bars/pubs there too which attracted a fun crowd.

Another place worth checking out – particularly UK residents who have been away from home for a while – is The Londoner! They have proper pints and roast lunch…Yorkshire puddings included!! After 5 months on the road, this was a very welcome surprise.

11. Treat yourself to some RnR

Antigua is home to a wide array of salons, spas and beauty bars. After backpacking for 5 months, I treated myself to a haircut and a 30 minute massage. Many places have group offers for nails, facials and massages. I found it easy to book an appointment, and many places had walk-in slots available. These typically aren’t ‘backpacker prices’ but after 5 months of hostels and street food, I was able to justify a larger spend. If you find yourself with a free morning or afternoon, treat yourself to a spa package that will allow you to enjoy some amenities and have a treatment.

Related Post: My 21 days in Nicaragua

Some Common FAQs of Antigua Guatemala:

Is Antigua Guatemala Safe?

For the most part, I felt very safe during my time in Antigua Guatemala! I would say to be wary around Parque Central though. Despite the large police presence around here, we did get harassed by scammers a few times. Like any tourist place, be mindful of your belongings and err on the side of caution in typical tourist areas. These would include Parque Central, Cerro de la Cruz and Santa Catalina Arch.

How Far is Antigua from Guatemala City?

Antigua is 25 miles away from Guatemala City. However, the curved roads and traffic can make this journey longer. The best way to get between Antigua and Guatemala City is by taxi or Uber – taking approximately 1 hour to drive between the two. There are a number of shuttle buses and local buses (‘chicken buses’) to choose from too.

How Many Days to Spend in Antigua Guatemala?

How long you choose to spend in Antigua Guatemala will depend on what you’re planning to do here. We stayed in Antigua for 7 nights and felt like it was the perfect amount of time. We had the time to do several volcanos hikes (including the overnight Acatenango Volcano & Pacaya), walking tours, museums, spanish classes, cooking classes, fun nights out and a few chilled spa afternoons. We LOVED Antigua and I was genuinely sad to have to leave it.

After our amazing stay in Antigua, my sister flew back to London and I started the long journey from Antigua to Leon, Nicaragua. I managed to do this journey by bus, without any overnight stops. It was long but worth getting it over with quickly.

Let me know your favourite part of Antigua!

Happy travels x