21 unforgettable ways to spend your time in Antigua Guatemala
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Ahhhh Antigua, the place I planned to stay 1 week and ended up staying 5. I never felt like I was running out of things to do in Antigua Guatemala, and the colours and sounds of every cobbled street made for a truly exciting time spent there.
As the first colonial city to be established in Guatemala, and once the country’s capital (a title rescinded due to so many bad earthquakes in the area), Antigua bursts at the seams with both Mayan and colonial history. It’s one of my favourite places in Central America, and I can guarantee I’ll be heading back there one day.
To help you with your trip, I’ve compiled the below list of what I consider to be the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala. As always, if you’ve been before and have something to add that my other readers could do with hearing about, please add it in the comments section!
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Back in the day, the Catedral San José stood tall in stony beauty, but earthquakes in the 18th and 19th centuries brought much of it to the ground. There are rebuilt sections of the cathedral plus catacombs to explore, but the ruins are what really bring people in.
You can still see the general structure of the roof though, so with a little imagination its definitely one of the more awe-inspiring things to do in Antigua Guatemala.
Entry costs 20 Quetzales (though access to the new rebuilt part of the cathedral is free), but lots of people recommend paying extra for a guided tour so you can learn more about the history of Catedral San José.
2. Dance under the archway at dawn
The Santa Catalina Arch is perhaps the most famous landmark in Guatemala, but if you want to see it at its most iconic, you’ll want to avoid the crowds, parked cars and market stalls that surround it during the day.
Waking up with the birds and skipping down to the archway at dawn is one of the most influencer-esque things to do in Antigua Guatemala, but I assure you it’s worth it to see yellow beauty in its full glory.
Going on Antigua’s walking tour will fill you in on lots of historical deets around this arch and other wonders of the city.
3. Have a sweet time at the chocolate museum
Centuries ago, cacao beans were a legitimate currency for the various tribes and eventually the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas who came to dominate Latin America.
Along the way, some clever sausage realised they could process these beans into something truly delish – though in Central America it was originally made into a drink rather than a food – and let’s be honest our waistlines have never been the same since.
At the chocolate museum, you can learn all about the history and process of chocolate-making in Antigua Guatemala, and even give it a try yourself with one of their bean-to-bar chocolate workshops.
4. Cook with the locals
Not quite satisfied with just eating Guatemalan food? Try your hand at cooking it, too! This Guatemalan cooking class will have you whipping up local delicacies in no time!
With a Mayan base and strong Spanish influence, the food in this region is bound to be an adventure for your tastebuds.
5. Get a godly view from Cerro de la Cruz
Get your walking shoes on and head up Cerro de la Cruz – not only because it provides a stunning view of the city but also because I all love free things to do in Antigua Guatemala! Getting there requires a steep walk up 1a Avenida Norte to the very edge of the city, then taking the steps of the trail on your left when things get foresty.
At the top, you’ll find a cross that looms over Antigua to protect it, and plenty of space around the hill to sit down and chill for a while.
It’s advised to go in groups in order to lower your chances of being caught up in petty crime.
6. Learn Spanish at a language school
The slower pace of locals’ Spanish, plus cheap education costs are reasons that this country is a hotspot for language learning.
And when you add this to the buzz of the city and inexpensive cost of living, one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala is to settle down for a few weeks and commit to learning Spanish at a school here.
7. Hire a car to explore neighbouring towns
By far one of my favourite days in all 5 weeks in Antigua Guatemala was spent driving around the countryside and towns that surround it. The towns are not exactly what you’d call beautiful, but they’re a way to see real life in this country away from the relatively preened tourist centre of Antigua.
While you have a car, I also highly recommend my next activity on the list of things to do in Antigua Guatemala…
8. Get lost in the world of Hobbitenango
This Hobbit-themed eco-lodge is an unforgettable day trip from Antigua Guatemala, and if you like it enough you can stay the night. Based on Tolkien’s magical world of Hobbiton (note that ‘tenango’ means ‘walled place’ so is used as a suffix for lots of Guatemalan town names), this wonderful park is set high up in the hills, and offers hobbit-holes, a bar with themed cocktails and hot drinks, a restaurant and games like archery and a giant swing.
It’s a fairly bizarre thing to do in Guatemala when you think about it, but a fun day trip all the same.
Entry costs 50 Quetzales for adults and 30 for children aged 4-10.
To get to Hobbitenango, you can either drive yourself there in 20 minutes with a rental 4×4 car (a non-4×4 won’t make the steep, dusty roads) or take Hobbitenango’s shuttle, which goes every 2 hours from the Hobbitenango office in the centre of the city to the eco-lodge and back (8am to 4pm).
Note: during covid and its aftermath, Hobbitenango are not offering this shuttle bus service, but can still arrange transportation for yo if you Whatsapp +502-3090-8812.
9. Watch lava eruptions from Acatenango Volcano
You’ve got to be prepared for a sprinkle of exhaustion for this one, but once you find yourself reaching the summit of Acatenango at dawn to sit and watch lava spew from Volcán de Fuego next to you – the same volcano that caused crazy destruction across local towns only a few years ago – you’ll see why you put yourself through it all.
This is usually a 2-night excursion (which you can book ahead of time here!) as you stay in a local cabin/hostel the first night and then set off super early the next day so you can hike up to the base for a few hours of sleep before continuing to the summit for incredible views at sunrise.
10. Roast marshmallows on Pacaya Volcano
This is a much more chilled way of seeing volcanoes from Antigua Guatemala. Volcan Pacaya is an hour or so drive out of the city, and while the hike up it can feel steep at times, it’s a hell of a lot easier than trekking up Acatenango Volcano. I would highly recommend that you do this hike with a guide.
After 45-60 mins of walking, the forest opens up to a black, ashy landscape high above the clouds. As you get closer to Pacaya Volcano, you’ll notice red-hot patches where the lava flows closer to the surface of the ground. It’s so hot, in fact, that you can roast marshmallows on sticks just by holding them near the floor.
You can also pay a little extra to walk further up and peer into the volcano’s crater.
Pacaya Volcano is active, but doesn’t erupt very often. When we were there, lava started trickling out the top and sparks flying, which our guide said wasn’t common and quickly ushered us back down the trail. A couple of days later, it erupted properly, causing a fair bit of damage to local villages.
11. Roam the ancient city of Iximche
About an hour out of the city lie pre-Columbian Mayan ruins that are best explored with the help of a guided tour (there aren’t any on-site so I recommend pre-booking a space on a tour with a knowledgable guide). If going independently, entry will cost you 50 Quetzales.
The 6 plazas with the ruins of altars, pyramids and houses make this one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala for ancient history-seekers.
12. Fill your boots with artisanal souvenirs
For both the skill level and the price level, Guatemala is one of the best places in Central America to buy artisanal souvenirs.
Right next to the Santa Catalina Arch, you’ll find one of the biggest souvenir shops in the country, Nim Po’t, which houses some of Antigua Guatemala’s best handmade artisanal souvenirs, clothes and trinkets.
Aside from this, you’ll find a number of stalls and street vendors dotted around Antigua, so you’re never too far away from a quality bargain to take home.
13. Restock at the markets
If you don’t fancy touristy souvenir markets, you can still get lost in an absolute behemoth of a local market out west at 3a Calle Poniente with Alameda de Santa Lucia.
This is where Antiguans come to barter for everything from their straight-from-the-farm food, to their clothes and kids toys. It’s a maze with lots of tight little paths through the stalls, so either take a guided market tour or do your best to try to remember which way you came!
14. Fill up on tostadas
Perhaps the thing I did most during my time in Antigua was to pop down to the market stalls on Parque La Merced. Their tostadas (flat, roasted corn tortillas which toppings like guacamole and black beans) are to dieeeee for, and only around 10 Quetzales. The perfect mid-afternoon snack!
15. Brunch at Y Tu Piña También
An ode to the Mexican film ‘Y Tu Mamá También’, this rustic corner of 6A Calle Oriente and 1A Avenida Sur is an idyllic place to order a healthy breakfast or brunch. The food and smoothies here are fresh, wholesome and tasty as hell. And not only is this a great spot for bites, but they also host live music regularly.
We found Y Tu Piña También to be a really easy-going place to strike up conversation with the next table, if you’re looking to meet new people.
16. Chill in some coffee shops
Coffee is one of Guatemala’s biggest agricultural outputs, so you can rest assured that they know what to do with it.
Luckily, there are plenty of coffee shops in the city to experience the wonders of Guatemalan coffee, here’s a list of the best cafés in Antigua.
17. Hang out in the secret bar at Café No Sé
This bar is legendary in the city, and an absolute must of things to do in Antigua Guatemala. With a 2-shot minimum order of mezcal and a secret tiny door that leads you into another dingy bar room, Café No Sé is teeming with an iconic buzz.
It’s rumoured to have been started by an expat who used to run cheap mezcal over the Mexican border, so the name Café No Sé (‘I don’t know café’) came about when trying to deny knowledge during the investigations by police.
18. Sip in style at a craft beer brewery
This city is pretty up-to-date with the craft beer scene and has several microbreweries in the city, so there are always things to do in Antigua Guatemala for session-craving beer-enthusiasts.
My favourite is the creatively-named Antigua Brewing Company, which gives you a swanky feel sat amongst its brewing vats on the inside, but also has an excellent rooftop terrace above. Grabbing a beer here at sunset is diviiiiiine, and you can get dinner here too.
19. Win the beer pong tournament at Bigfoot
Every week, Bigfoot, one of the largest and most lively hostels in Antigua, hosts a beer pong tournament not just for their guests, but for anyone in town who wants to have a go at winning a $100 cash prize. They often also have runner-up prizes for second and third place like a free bar tab or massage vouchers, so it gets pretty competitive.
You’ll find a mix of foreign tourists, expats and locals here all taking it veryyyyy seriously, and if you don’t want to play you’re still invited to watch and join the parties at neighbouring bars afterwards.
20. Drink hip in El Barrio
If you’re up for a few drinks while in Guatemala, I very much recommend El Barrio, which is sort of like a small multi-level forecourt for lots of interesting and quirky bars.
Choices include the Whiskey Den, Lava Bar and a sportsbar if you want to watch European or North American matches during the day.
21. Go back in time at Convento Santa Clara
Finishing this list of things to do in Antigua Guatemala with a real beauty! The Santa Clara Convent was built in the 18th century, and though now featuring some ruins – again due to those dastardly earthquakes – it’s a gorgeous place to see stunning architecture and glorious gardens. Entry costs 40 Quetzales.
Aaaaand that’s that for my list of best things to do in Antigua Guatemala! Fingers crossed this helps you make the most of your stay, and you fall in love with this city as much as I did!
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