Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its Spanish Baroque-infrastructure and ruins. Antigua was the highlight of my time in Guatemala and was one of my favourite places 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.
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: My 2-week Guatemala Itinerary
1. Overnight hike up Volcano Acatenango
Acatenango is not for the faint hearted, but reaching the top is an incredible achievement and will give you once-in-a-lifetime views of Fuego. Climbing and camping on an active volcano was truly an unforgettable experience.
I’ve written a detailed post on my experience climbing Acatenango; with tips on making the climb more bearable and what to expect. It is a challenging hike, but absolute worth it the effort! Don’t let any reviews put you off. Although it’s hard, everyone makes it up in their own time and you. can take as many breaks as required.
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 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.
Related Post: Volcano Acatenango: Surviving the Overnight Volcano Stay
2. Roast Marshmallows at the top of Pacaya Volcano
Roasting marshmallows over lava, on an active volcano, was a definite pinch-me moment. This half-day tour is an ideal trip for anyone wanting to have a taste of Guatemala’s many volcanos, without the cost or effort of climbing 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!
Related Post: Volcano Pacaya
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/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. Free Walking Tours of Antigua
The best way to see new place, and uncover what it has to offer, is through a 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.
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:
- Introduction Walk of Antigua
- Museums of Antigua
- Antigua Nightlife
- The Ancient Ruins of Antigua
- Shopping Walking Tour
- Parque Central Walking Tour
6. Visit the markets
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. A 10-minute walk up the stairs will give you unobstructed, expansive views of Volcan de Agua and Antigua itself. Alternatively, 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.
There are several vendors at the top, if you need some refreshments. I would be careful about taking any valuables here! We were warned by our hostel that the area can be a bit dodgy and a few people we met had things stolen here. Be sure to just take small change and essentials.
8. Walk under the iconic Santa Catalina Arch
Dating back to the 1600s, this iconic archway is one of Antigua’s most recognisable landmarks. With Volcan de Agua looming in the distance, this makes for the perfect shot! The Santa Catalina Arch is often an attraction stop on walking tours, in which case you’ll get to hear about the Arch’s history.
Originally, the Arch was built to connect the Santa Catalina convent to a school. This allowed nuns to pass from one building to the other without having to go out onto the street. The clock was later added in the 1830s.
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 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. Adult tickets cost Q180, with children tickets costing Q120.
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 one of the many hidden bars
Antigua comes alive at night, with the many discrete bars on offer. Our favourite during our time 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.
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!!
11. Treat yourself to some RnR
Surprisingly, Antigua has 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.
Related Post: My 21 days in Nicaragua
A few things to keep in mind when visiting Antigua
Antigua is largely paved with cobblestones. Although this adds to the city’s charm and uniqueness, it does mean it’s less accessible for wheelchairs.
The other small negative from my time in Antigua was having to be very wary around Parque Central. Although police were always around, we did get harassed by scammers a few times. Like any tourist place, be mindful of your belongings.
After an amazing seven days in Antigua, I had to say goodbye to my sister and start the long, PAINFUL journey to Leon, Nicaragua. I managed to travel from Antigua to Leon by bus, without any overnight stops!
Let me know your favourite part of Antigua!
Happy travels x