What to do in Antigua Guatemala? Antigua is one of the most beautiful cities in Guatemala. The city, located at the foot of the 3750 m high Agua volcano, is a large open-air museum. There are colonial buildings, where a new world opens behind every door, cute narrow streets with colorful houses, ruins of collapsed churches and fantastic views of the surrounding volcanoes. You can stroll around for days, visit museums, shop in fancy boutique stores and eat in great restaurants and cute lunchrooms. And the surrounding area is also worth exploring, with coffee plantations, viewpoints and organic farms. Besides that, Antigua is your starting-point for incredible hikes to active volcanoes such as the Pacaya and the Acatenango. This is a list with the best things to do in the beautiful city and surroundings of Antigua Guatemala.
Welcome to Antigua
Antigua was founded by the Spaniards in 1543 and is the former capital of Guatemala, hence the name Antigua Guatemala. Because the city was destroyed by earthquakes several times, the capital was moved to the current Guatemala City in 1776. Today Antigua, with around 50,000 inhabitants, is one of the most visited places in Guatemala.
The center is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and consists of several streets and squares, including colonial houses, churches and monasteries. Many buildings, destroyed by earthquakes, are left behind as ruins, but in a beautiful preserved way, with lots of greenery and flowers. From the center you have a beautiful view of the volcanoes. You often see smoke and at times even the orange and red lava flowing!
What to do in Antigua Guatemala | 20 things to do
I visit Antigua Guatemala almost on a yearly base and love to find new places all the time. Discover some of my favorite things to do in Antigua Guatemala in this Passport the World cityguide, with highlights but also tips for cultural activities, boutique stores, organic farms and volcano hikes.
Explore the colonial center
Antigua in Guatemala is easy to explore by foot, as all the main things to do, are within walking distance. You can stroll through the colonial center for hours and enjoy the lovely vibe. The center point of the city, is the plaza with the cathedral. From here several streets, which are built up in a chessboard pattern, lead towards different directions.
5a Av Norte is the main street with the famous Santa Catalina arch. At the end of this main street, you will find the church of La Merced, with a square where the locals gather on weekends. Tanque La Union, in the South East is another square, surrounded by the former Santa Clara monastery and the Iglesia San Pedro. During colonial times, this used to be the place for local people to wash their clothes in the fountain. Nowadays you can sit in the park and feel like a local. The bus station can be found in the west of the city. There is a local market with clothing, household items, vegetables and fruit. And many buses that transport you to the surrounding villages!
Visit the ruins of the cathedral of Antigua
The cathedral of Antigua looks like a typical Latin American cathedral. But what makes this cathedral unique from all others is that you can visit its ruins. The cathedral was built in the 16th century, destroyed several times by earthquakes and rebuilt. But after the earthquake at the end of the 18th century, the capital was moved to Guatemala City and the cathedral was left in a collapsed state. The ruins are great to visit and one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala. A lot of people just visit the main cathedral at the plaza (the new one, built in front), as the ruins are not visible from the main square. Make sure you use the entrance at the right side, if you want to visit the ruins.
Hike to the viewpoint, one of the top things to do in Antigua Guatemala
You can see this place already from the city center: the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. At the top you have a great view of Antigua and the Agua volcano. In the morning it is clear and the view is the best. If you go straight on Avenida 1, you will get to a path with stairs, guiding you all the way up, within 15 minutes. The path is guarded between 7 am and 6 pm so make sure you are on the path only between these times. Once you’ve made it to the top: Go for a walk, find a spot and enjoy the view! It is one of the best things to do if you want to have an oustanding view of Antigua Guatemala.
Stroll through the ruins
The earthquakes have left their mark on the streets of Antigua. This can be seen in the many ruins of the city. Most of them are still in the original collapsed shape, others are transformed into a new church, hotel, or museum. The surrounding greenery and flowers, make it a perfect place to walk around and take pictures. Of course you won’t be able to visit all of the ruins during your stay. I therefore recommend to enter a few and observe the others from the outside, as you’ll pass them probably anyway. If you want to know what to do in Antigua Guatemala in terms of ruins and history, these are my recommendations.
Iglesia de San Francisco
Iglesia de San Francisco is one of the most famous ruins in Antigua. Behind the new cathedral, you can walk around the former monastery, through gardens and flowers. It’s a great place to take pictures and you’ll find many local families visiting on weekends. There is also a small museum, explaining more about the history.
Santo Domingo | Colegio de San Jerónimo | Convento de la Recolección
The former Santo Domingo monastery is now a 5 star hotel with a great spa and garden. At the very end of the garden you will find the remains of the former church and the monastery. The ruins of Colegio de San Jerónimo and the Convento de la Recolección are also worth visiting. It is quiet and lovely to walk through.
El Carmen, a church where you’ll find a local market, Iglesia y Convento de Santa Clara, located at the Tanque la Union, el Convento de Capuchinas, Iglesia de la Candelaria, Convento de Santa Teresa y La Compañia de Jesus are ruins that you can easily observe from the outside and take pictures.
Take a picture at the Santa Catalina arch
El Arco de Santa Catalina, a yellow facade that spans Calle del Arco, is perhaps Antigua’s most famous structure. This arch used to connect the monastery to the school on the other side of the street, so that the nuns did not have to cross the street. Today it is one of the most photographed spots in the city because of the view of the Agua volcano. Of course you have to take a picture, but it is also nice to observe the local people. Lots of photo shoots take place with newly married couples and girls celebrating their quinceañero, (their 15th birthday) in incredible dresses (comparable to an American Sweet 16).
Head to the busstation and take pictures of Guatemala’s famous buses
Guatemala is known for is typical buses (called chickenbuses). Are you looking for a cool photo spot? Head to the local bus station, at the central market. There is always something going on here, but the colored buses in particular are nice to observe and capture.
Make your own jewelry of jade
I love jewelry, especially when it is handmade. In Antigua you can go on a workshop and make your own jewelry from jade. Jade has always played an important role in pre-Columbian civilizations, and you can find the stones all over Guatemala. Xibalba is a boutique store, offering these workshops. You will learn about the stone, the culture that goes with it and of course how to use it in jewelry. You start by selecting your stone and will be creating your design with a local designer afterwards. When your design is ready, you will start cutting, shaping and polishing your unique piece of jewelry.
Learn how to dance the salsa
Do you want to dance salsa? New Sensation Salsa is your place to be. Your teacher, Nancy Gudiel, is one of the nicest and best teachers of Antigua. Both as a beginner and advanced, it is best to book a private lesson. One-on-one lessons, mean that you can take major steps in a short amount of time. In café Las Palmas you can practice your new moves during their weekly salsa parties.
Visit Caoba farms | best things to do in Antigua Guatemala on weekends
Caoba Farms is an organic farm, located at the outskirts of Antigua. You can go for amazing vegetarian lunches and stroll around the farms, while you wait for your food. There is also a butterfly garden and organic shop, selling fresh vegetables and herbs. A farmers market takes place almost every weekend, wich is a cool gathering of local and international people.
Enjoy a gastronomic experience at Quiltro
Guatemala is not internationally known for its culinary delights. Yet there is one amazing restaurant in Antigua, offering a true gastronomic experience. Quiltro is one of the first fine dining restaurants in Antigua presenting a 8, 10 or 12 course tasting menu. Chef Rodrigo Salvo, originally from Chile and former alumni at Noma in Denmark developed his own style, where modern cooking techniques meet ancestral processes. Each course comes with a story about Guatemala and only local ingredients are used. It is one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala, if you love a high-end food experience.
What to do around Antigua Guatemala?
The area of Antigua Guatemala is also worth exploring, with many things to do, including the possibiliity to climb active volcanoes and visit local villages. Try to include at least one volcano hike during your visit. Depending on your physical condition and motivation, there are different options. These are my tips for what to do around Antigua Guatemala.
Go for a multi-day hike to the Acatenango volcano
One of the most exciting trips in Antigua is a two-day hike to the Acatenango volcano. This volcano (13,044ft / 3,976m) is joined with the Fuego (12,342ft / 3,763m), an active volcano erupting every 20 minutes! The hike will not only give you the opportunity to hike through 4 different micro climates in one day, but also make you watch an erupting volcano just in front of you and experience incredible views.
The first day you hike from the village of La Soledad, in about 6 hours to the 3500 meters high base camp of the Acatenango volcano, where you spend the night in a tent. From here, you can literally see the red lava spouting from the active Fuego volcano. It’s pretty unbelievable! The next morning you’ll leave around 4 AM to the top of the volcano. And here you have a breathtaking 360degree view of Guatemala, which extends to the coast, Mexico and El Salvador and the peaks of the surrounding volcanoes! The hike is not easy and it is the altitude in particular that makes this tour challenging. But it is so worth it.
This tour is one of the unique things to do in Antigua. Want to know more about this impressive hike, how to prepare and what to bring? Read everything you want to know about hiking the Acatenango volcano in the next article.
Hike to the top of the volcano Pacaya
Another option is a hike to the Pacaya volcano, wich can be done in one morning or afternoon. In about 1.5 hours you walk up a solid steep road with solidified lava. The walk is doable for anyone with a normal physical condition. The Pacaya volcano is 100% active and there is a good chance that you will experience eruptions and even see the hot red lava flowing. Depending on the activity, safety rules apply and you can only walk until a certain altitude. Make sure you are well informed in advance and leave early in the morning. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes. It can be quite cold in the morning. Solid shoes are recommended, you will sink a few meters back in the sand at some places.
Support the locals and go on a cultural tour
When on the road, I always keep an eye on ways to support local projects. One of the projects I love in Guatemala is Niños de Guatemala. A foundation offering high quality education to over 500 children from low-income families in Guatemala, in different schools around Antigua. This foundation is supported by Niños de Guatemala tours, where 100% of the profit goes to the projects.
Niños de Guatemala tour offers a variety of cultural tours. I experienced a worry doll tour, organized by one of the mothers of the Niños de Guatemala schools, Doña Luisa. Worry dolls are traditional little dolls that you put under your pillow when you go to bed and they take away your worries. You travel by local chicken bus to San Lorenzo el Cubo and visit the house of Doñ Luisa. While working on the dolls, you get to talk to the family about their life and small worry dolls business, wich goes back generations.
It is also possible to visit one of the schools and learn about the project. By visiting the schools and meeting the local people, you are not only learning about other cultures, but you also know where the investments goes. It is for sure one of the best cultural things to do in Antigua Guatemala and a great way to support. Curious about these cultural activities? Take a look at the website of Niños de Guatemala.
Spend a day and night in Hobbitenango
In the mountains of Antigua Guatemala, you’ll find Hobittenango, a fantasy-filled attraction village where people spend the weekend to enjoy the surroundings and views. It is nice to go for a day and mingle with the locals. There are hammocks, restaurants, live performances and famous picture spots such as the hobbit hand. Just keep in mind that it can be extremely crowded with families on weekends, while you’ll find a more younger hipster type of audience during the week.
If you have the time, spend the night in one of the hobbit houses. There are three cute houses, with a pretty interior completely in hobbit style. You’ll have a private butler and a separate guest area. The views are just amazing, during the day and night, and it’s nice to have the entire area for yourself, once the daily visitors are gone.
Semana Santa in Antigua Guatemala – Easter holidays
Semana Santa, between Palm Sunday and Easter, is one of the most important weeks and holidays in Guatemala. And nowhere it is celebrated more than in Antigua. The holy week commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and is celebrated by countless church services and many processions with incredible floats that require up to 100 people to carry them. Streets are transformed into alfombras (carpets) that line the direction for the procession. These carpets are decorated with vegetables, flowers, fruits, pine needles and sawdust and take hours to create. People spend days to prepare these designs. Semana Santa is just impressive and one of the best things to do when you are in Antigua around this time!
Due to the pandemic, processions have been cancelled in 2020 and 2021. But Antigua will celebrate in 2021 anyway, with cultural and gastronomic activities, including a alfombra festival with more than 15 decorated carpets around the city. Semana Santa 2022 will take place between April 10 and April 17. If you are planning to attend this fascinating event, make sure to book your hotel in Antigua advance as hotels sell out months before.
Shops in Antigua Guatemala | 7 things to do
What to do in Antigua Guatemala if you want to go shopping? Antigua is bursting with fancy shops and boutiques. If you are looking for unique items, head to Stela 9 or Wakami, with items from local designers such as handbags, jewelry and clothing. Both are my favorite shops in Antigua Guatemala.
Artisanal shops in Antigua Guatemala
- Are you looking for rugs, hammocks and other high quality products for your home? Then be sure to have a look at Hilosophy and La Casa del Algodon
- La Tienda de Doña Gavi offers local and natural products including soaps, shampoos, candles, herbs, tea, and chocolate.
Nim Po’t is a shopping paradise. Especially when you are interested in local art and weaving. The store is divided into different regions of Guatemala, where each region presents its own (handicraft) work with characteristic colors and patterns. You will find handmade huipiles (ponchos), rugs, masks, bags and so much more. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is wonderful to just have a look.
If you like tea as much as I do, make sure to check out Pachamama blends. You can create your own tea, based on your taste and current mood. There are herbs, fruits, cocoa, ginger, black, green and white tea. You can also buy delicious chocolate made from cocoa beans, growing around Lake Atitlan.
Where to stay in Antigua?
Antigua has so many places to stay, including a lot of gorgeous boutique hotels. But if you’re looking for something special, check out Good Hotel Antigua. It is not only a nice and stylish place to stay, but you are also supporting an important project. 100% of the profit goes to Niños de Guatemala, a foundation offering high quality education to over 500 children from low-income families in Guatemala. With one overnight stay, you help one child going to school for 7 days. You can also book interesting cultural tours here, such as a worry doll workshop.
In addition to the stylish rooms, the hotel has a courtyard with seating areas. There is also an adjacent restaurant where you can hang around in the lounge areas or open your laptop and do some work.
Where to eat in Antigua Guatemala?
Antigua has so many nice places. You could have breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different place, every single day. These are my favorite restaurants and luchrooms in Antigua.
Lunch and breakfast
- Luna de Miel has the most delicious crepes! Make sure you find a place on the roof terrace to enjoy views of the smoking volcano!
- Doña Luisa Xicotencatl is an all-time-favorite place for many people. It’s a nice place for breakfast and lunch where you can sit in the lovely garden. All products are super fresh: From rolls, juices to banana and carrot cakes.
- At Artista de Cafe you can settle down for a cup of coffee or tea. It’s the perfect place to work on your laptop!
- Union cafe is a great place for lunch or breakfast. You can sit in the lovely courtyard and enjoy the many cool pieces of art around you.
- Once Once, is the first vegan and plant based restaurant in Antigua. Dishes are inspired by the Asian, Italian, Mexican and Guatemalan kitchen. Everything is superfresh and surprising. Don’t forget to try the home made tea selection.
- For fresh rolls, head to El Viejo Cafe, a real French bakery. You can sit in the lovely garden and enjoy breakfast, lunch and cakes.
- If you like meat, head to Casa Escobar. You’ll find amazing stakes and if you don’t eat meat, try the fish.
- Angie Angie cafe arte has a romantic courtyard where you can enjoy delicious wood-fired pizzas. They also serve pastas and salads. Make sure to check out their weekly events with live music.
- For a gastronomic experience, make sure you reserve a table at Quiltro. Quiltro is one of the first fine dining restaurants in Antigua, presenting a 8, 10 or 12 course tasting menu.
- Posada de Don Rodrigo is a colonial building, including a hotel, restaurant and courtyard. Every evening you can attend a typical Guatemalan music performance, where several men perform on the Guatemalan xylophones and dancers show traditional dances. Of course this performance is mainly for tourists, but it is a nice way to getting a glimpse of the local dance and music.
How to get to Antigua?
From the airport in Guatemala City, it will take you between 1 and 2 hours to get to Antigua, depending on the time of the day and traffic. I would recommend to book your transportation in advance ( due to safety matters in Guatemala, and especially when it’s your first time) or book an uber. (costs about 15 euros). Curious to read more about itineraries in Guatemala? I wrote a Guatemala 2 weeks itinerary, 3 weeks itinerary, one for a week in Guatemala and a Guatemala 10 days itinerary.
Want to know more, after reading what to do in Antigua Guatemala?
Did you like this cityguide about what to do and see in Antigua Guatemala? Do you want to read more about this amazing country? In this article you’ll find the 20 best things to do in Guatemala, including off the beaten path destinations, best time to travel, travel itineraries and information about safety in Guatemala. Have a look in the Guatemala archive for a cityguide for Antigua and travel guides about Lake Atitlan, Lanquin, the famous market of Chichicastenango, the Acatenango volcano hike, a boat trip on the Rio Dulce to Caribbean Livingston and a Guatemala hotel guide. In this article I’m taking you to the Maya ruins of Tikal and Quiriguá, a smaller and less visited Maya site with beautiful Maya stelae.