Most backpackers and travelers skip Guatemala City and head straight to the colonial city of Antigua. With its cobblestone streets, colorful and often decaying buildings, leafy plazas, and surrounding volcanos, how can you not spend a few days in Antigua? Whether you only spend 48 hours or several months, there are tons of things to do in Antigua, Guatemala.
Located in the foothills of the central highlands of Guatemala, Antigua was once the bustling capital of Guatemala for over 230 years from 1543 until 1773. Life hasn’t always been easy for Antigua. It has been destroyed many times over by fire, floods, and earthquakes leading to the government to move the capital to its current city, Guatemala City. Antigua might not be the political capital of Guatemala, but it still is very much the cultural capital.
Antigua is a city for everyone. Adventurers, history buffs, art lovers, and even the foodies will love Antigua. From volcano trekking to chocolate tasting to village visits, you’ll have no problem finding something to do in Antigua.
8 Awesome Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala
Architectural Walking Tour
Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its architecture. Designed in the Italian Renaissance style typical of 16th-century Latin America, Antigua is built in the North-south and east-west street grid style. While numerous fires and earthquakes destroyed much of the original city over the years, the remaining buildings date back to as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.
Antigua is quite small so grab a map from your hostel or hotel and hit the streets. Alternatively, you could book a cultural walking tour with Elizabeth Bell. If you much prefer the do-it-yourself approach, just wander around the streets and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this colonial city. Keep your eyes out for key buildings like the Capitan General Palace, Cathedral of Saint James, and La Merced Church.
Best For: History buffs, art lovers
The city of Antigua is surrounded by three large volcanoes, Acatenango, Volcan de Fuego, and Volcan de Agua. You can’t miss them as they are looming in the distance. Fuego, appropriately named “Fire,” is almost always erupting just a tiny bit. For obvious reasons, you can’t hike Fuego, but Acatenango is a challenging yet rewarding two-day trek. Personally, I have not done the hike yet, but you can get an idea of what to expect from Claire’s Footsteps.
If you don’t have the extra days or prefer something a little easier, Pacaya Volcano lies about 20 miles from Antigua and stands only at 8,373 feet compared to the 12,000+ feet of the other three volcanos. It’s a relatively easy half-day hike. And, if you can’t take another step, you can opt to do it by horseback. I recommend going at sunset as you’ll be rewarded by stunning colors as the sun sets behind the clouds. You can read more about my experience with the hike and roasting marshmallows in the lava to find out if it’s the right volcano trek for you.
Best For: Adventurers
Who doesn’t love chocolate? If you don’t, we’re not friends. While Brussels might be the epicenter of world-class chocolate, Antigua is not far behind. Plus, the Chocolate Museum is much close to the source. Guatemala is considered by some to be the birthplace of chocolate because the Mayans worshiped the cacao tree. They even called chocolate the “foods of the gods.” I like these guys!
Guatemala is home to over 9,100 cacao farms and produces over 10,000 tons of chocolate annually. Take that Willy Wonker! If you’re a chocolate lover like me, you don’t want to miss the chocolate museum. The museum is free to enter, and you can learn all about how chocolate is made. You can also sign up for one of their workshops or cacao farm tours. If you only do one thing, make sure you buy some chocolate!
Best For: Foodies, Anyone
Location: ChocoMuseo, 4ta Calle Oriente #14
Cerro de la Cruz
Just outside of the main city, you’ll find a narrow nature trail that leads to one of the best panoramic views of the city of Antigua. Cerro de la Cruz, or the Hill of the Cross, is about a 20-30 minute hike just north of the city center. It’s known for petty crime so go during the day and weekends are best because there are a ton of families around. I found it quite safe, just watch your belongings. The views are incredible.
Best For: Anyone
Location: Walk to the end of 1st Avenue North and look for the entrance to the park
Arrin Cuan serves traditional Guatemalan food and a perfect place to sample foods from different regions of Guatemala. The portions are generous, and the food is delightful. I enjoyed the Caldo de Gallina, which contained strips of fresh chicken, full carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables. I highly recommend their fruit smoothies as well.
Best For: Foodies
Location: Casa #2 Callejon Concepcion
People watching is one of my favorite past times, especially while traveling. It’s a great way to observe the locals in their daily lives and kill a few hours of time. Parque Central in the heart of Antigua is a favorite spot for locals and tourists. It’s surrounded by shops and restaurants that mostly cater to the tourists, but you’ll see a few locals around. Usually street vendors. To one side you have the cathedral, and to the other, you have the government building.
Best For: History Buffs, Art Lovers, Anyone
Location: Between Poniente and 5a Calle Oriente
Arco de Santa Catarina
No visit to Antigua is complete without getting a photo in front of the famous Arco de Santa Catarina. The arch was built during the 17th-century to connect the Santa Catalina convent to the school so the cloistered nuns didn’t have to cross the street out in the open where they could be seen. The clock tower was added sometime in the 1830s. The street is closed to traffic on the weekends making it an excellent time to snap a photo without a car driving through, but you’ll still find plenty parked on the side of the street.
Best For: History Buffs, Art Lovers, Backpackers, Anyone
Location: 5 Avenida Norte
Village Day Trip
There are tons of different day trips you can do by chicken bus to nearby villages. Ninos de Guatemala offer up some great village tours that will take you by chicken buses to carpentry workshops, chicken bus restoration factory, and even a coffin shop. All profits from the tours go to the primary schools that the organization runs.
If you’re a coffee addict, then you will certainly love a coffee tour to a nearby coffee plantation. Coffee has been growing around Antigua for centuries. One of the oldest and most popular tour destinations is Filadelfia Coffee Resort, which has been growing coffee for over 130 years. After a visit to discover how coffee is made from the bean to the cup, you can sit back and enjoy a relaxing Cup of Joe.
Best For: History Buffs, Art Lovers, Foodies, Adventurers
Antigua is a great place to spend either a few days or few months. Not only is the city extremely affordable for everyone, but it is also relatively safe and full of culture. Not to mention, it is a great hub for transportation to other parts of Guatemala.
There are hundreds of things to do in Antigua, Guatemala and I’d love to hear your opinions of what people should do in this charming colonial city.