Antigua in Guatemala is one of the most popular destinations in Central America. The city is filled with colorful historic buildings, charming cobblestone streets and, above all, breathtaking views of the surrounding volcanoes. One of those volcanoes, you may even be lucky enough to see erupt from the city. Whether you’re looking for adventure, culture or relaxation, there are plenty of fun things to do and see in and around Antigua. It’s the perfect destination to start your trip through Guatemala.
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What to do in Antigua?
1. Visit the local market
For a glimpse into daily local life in Antigua, walking around the Mercado Central is a fun activity. The market sells clothing, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and meat and much more. From the outside, the market may not look that big, but wait until you walk through the narrow streets in the covered area. Getting lost here is very easy!
If you have a hostel with a shared kitchen and are looking for a place to pick up groceries, the Mercado Central is perfect for scoring fresh and cheap produce. But also the adjacent supermarket La Bodegona a good one with more options.
2. Chill in Parque Central
The center of Antigua includes the bustling Parque Central with a large church. Buy a coffee or hot chocolate at one of the cafes and relax on one of the benches overlooking the fountain. It’s always crowded and therefore an ideal place for people-watching.
3. Cerro de la cruz
Viewpoint Cerro de la cruz is located on a hill in the north of Antigua. The viewpoint gets its name from the stone cross that was placed there in 1930. After a short half-hour walk from Parque Central, you can enjoy a beautiful view of the city center.
4. El tenedor viewpoint
Another place for a nice view is at El Tenedor. This restaurant is on a hill at the east end of town and is easiest to reach by car or a cab. It’s a rather imposing entrance with a sculpture garden and a small museum. From the terrace you have a fantastic view of the Agua volcano, Acatenango and even the erupting Fuego volcano.
Prices at the restaurant are on the high side for Guatemala, but a beer is well worth the view.
5. Hike the Acatenango vulkaan
One of the coolest activities from Antigua is hiking the 3,976-high Acatenango volcano where you can see the adjacent active Fuego volcano erupting closer. I found it a truly fantastic but also intense experience. Though you forget all aches and pains at the sight of the ash and lava shooting up from the nearby Fuego volcano.
This two-day hike is definitely not for everyone and a little training and acclimatization beforehand is recommended. Antigua is located at an altitude of 1,545 meters, making it a good place to acclimate for a few nights before starting the hike directly.
6. Visit a coffee farm
Did you know that Guatemala ranks eighth among countries with the largest coffee production? The climate is well suited for growing coffee beans and in Antigua you can see that process up close.
There are several coffee farms near Antigua among which the most famous are Filadelfia Coffee Resort and Finca La Azotea. Both coffee farms offer tours where you experience the process from plant to ground coffee.
I spent an entire afternoon at the Azotea Coffee farm and it was a great experience. After asking around, we were given a private tour in Spanish (there are also English-speaking guides). The coffee farm has extensive grounds with a lush garden filled with different types of trees and plants, and of course a coffee factory. It was wonderful to walk through the garden and smell the aroma of fresh coffee beans while learning more about the coffee production process.
7. Local lunch at Rincón Antigüeño
The city is packed with good restaurants and cafes. You’ll also find some European and even Asian influences. But especially if you are new to traveling around Guatemala, it’s highly recommended that you also try the traditional cuisine at Rincón Antigüeño.
This is where you come for a typical, quick and cheap lunch. Local fresh tortillas are prepared at the entrance and as you walk further you will find a large courtyard with tables. It’s somewhat like a cafeteria.
The restaurant is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., so you can also go there for a hearty breakfast!
8. Antigua Brewery
For a nice beer and a bite to eat, the Antigua Brewery is definitely recommended. At this cozy bar you can sample about six locally brewed beers. Besides drinks and delicious tacos and empanadas, it’s also a fun place to meet other travelers.
There is plenty of seating inside, but the biggest recommendation is to head upstairs to the rooftop. Here you have a great view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. With clear weather you can see the Fuego volcano exploding from this rooftop, and at night you can even see the lava being shot into the sky!
My favorite hostels in Antigua
Antigua is packed with nice hostels, as well as fancy hotels and guesthouses. The city is not very big and everything is within walking distance of each other. So it doesn’t really matter for the location which part of town you stay in.
One of my favorite spots is Yes Please Hostel in the west end of Antigua. They have a bunch of affordable dorms as well as private rooms. After a day of sightseeing in the city, the large, green garden with a refreshing pool is a perfect place to relax. In addition, the Ruwa Jay Bar, in the hostel’s garden, is open to all and has a cozy atmosphere to enjoy a drink or two.
The popular Maya Papaya hostel also has a pleasant atmosphere and also organizes fun parties on certain nights. Sometimes these parties are also organized at the sister Hostel Selina.
How many days in Antigua?
There is plenty to do and see in Antigua and if you have enough time you could easily spend a week here. The surroundings are truly unique and breathtaking, with stunning views of the surrounding volcanoes. To fully experience the authentic atmosphere of this old colonial city, I recommend staying there for at least 3 nights. This will give you enough time to absorb the culture and explore all the highlights.
How safe is Antigua?
In general, Guatemala doesn’t have a very safe reputation. Fair is fair, there are places you should absolutely avoid, especially in Guatemala City. Antigua, on the other hand, is a much safer destination in Guatemala. It’s visited by lots of tourists every year and the locals there are very open and friendly. I did not feel unsafe anywhere in Antigua!
How to get to Antigua?
Chances are you will start your trip in Guatemala City. Antigua is only about a 1.5-hour drive from the capital so you can easily travel on after arriving at the airport.
For example, an airport shuttle bus goes for 120Q per person. This is a small shared van that takes you to the center of Antigua in about 1.5 hours. You buy tickets in the lobby right after baggage claim. If they don’t fill up the van, you will probably be assigned a cab for the same price per person.
You can also take a private cab directly. These are outside the arrivals hall and normally cost about 300Q. Bargaining is worth a try!
It is recommended that you withdraw money in Antigua rather than using the ATMs at the airport because they charge a much higher conversion rate.