The beautiful colonial town of Antigua is renowned for its Spanish colonial buildings, many of them restored following a 1773 earthquake that ended Antigua’s 200-year reign as Guatemala’s colonial capital.
According to UNESCO, Antigua is a World Heritage Centre, and for good reason, it is a picturesque cobbled town surrounded by volcanoes and filled with old monuments, boutiques and cafes.
How to get there?
This obviously depends on where you are coming from.
Coming into Guatemala via air? You’ll most probably land at La Aurora, the international airport located in Guatemala City.
Antigua is located about 40km from Guatemala City. On a quiet day the journey can take as little as 45min, while on heavy traffic days it can take 2 hours or more. Fortunately there are plenty of ambulant sellers on the road so you don’t need to pack snacks in case traffic is slow, just make sure you have a few Quetzales at hand to try the plantain chips or mango ice cream.
From the airport you can get a taxi directly to Antigua but I’m not sure how much they charge. I have been charged 150Q by an Uber driver who is now a friend so if you want her number just message me.
To pay a little less you can share the journey with other people traveling to Antigua, but you may have to gather them yourself as I’ve had to in the past. If the airport is busy the chances of gathering enough people for a van is high but if you arrive late this may not be so easy.
If you are coming via land there are shuttles going from Belize, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras, but beware as the journeys can be Very long. I recommend doing the journey in 2 or 3 times by spending a night somewhere along the way.
Once in Antigua
Where to stay?
There are many options for all budgets. If you are backpacking and don’t mind sharing a dormitory there are lots of good and very affordable hostels. Maya Papaya is a good place to stay but you can check Hostel World to take a look at all options.
If you would rather rent a room or an entire property: AirB&B is the place to look.
If you want to treat yourself to a nice hotel, I can’t recommend anything as I’ve mostly stayed at friends’, hostels and AirB&Bs, but I have seen many fancy hotels around town so I’m sure you’ll find something on Booking.
In terms of location the town is relatively small so you can get a tuc tuc from one side of town and be on the other side within 30min max but if you want to walk everywhere pick a place that is in the town centre.
What to do?
- Visit Finca el Pilar
This Finca is only a short tuctuc away, on the edges of town and it is a great little haven worth a visit if you have time for a hike. The entrance is for the pools is only 15Q (more or less) I think but for hiking it is about 60Q per person but definitely worth it as the paths are beautiful and well kept. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys walking in nature.
– bring a towel and bathing suit to enjoy the pool in case the sun comes out.
- Climb a Volcano
As mentioned in the introduction, Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes and climbing them seems to be one of the most popular tourist activities. I climbed volcano Acatenango 4 years ago and I would highly recommend it! Seeing volcano Fuego erupt when we climbed up to the top for sunrise was an unforgettable experience.
Important things to consider: Antigua is at 1,601m of altitude and Acatenango is 3,976m ‘tall’ so it is quite the hike and it is COLD at the top. If you decide to do the full hike, you will stay overnight at a base camp, so either pack good shoes and warm clothes or rent them from the travel agencies that organise these trips. Another option is to buy whatever you need from the numerous second hand shops that are around town – these are known as Pacas in case you need to ask.
Very important: Do not attempt this climb without a local guide. There are groups going every day so you just need to find a travel agency to book your trip.
More information on volcano climbing available on my blog article Why we climb volcanoes.
Please note you can also hike up volcano Pacaya, but I have not done this myself so I recommend inquiring at a travel agency to find out more.
Ok so you’ve climbed a volcano now what?
Fortunately Antigua has lots to offer for those who may not feel up for the volcano climbing.
Antigua has many monuments and even some ruins. I’d say the best way to see them is to wander around during day time and see what you find 🙂
- The Parque Central or Plaza Mayor is the main plaza and is where musicians and many street vendors gather. I highly recommend going over to see if you are in luck and find a band playing ‘marimba’.
- The Arco de Santa Catalina is one of the most iconic monuments in Antigua, so even though there isn’t much to it in my opinion, you’ll probably want to visit so you can take a selfie in front of it haha!
Antigua has some of my favourite markets in Guatemala: The Mercado El Carmen is best if you are looking for textiles, but if you are looking for food, spices and pretty much anything, then the ‘main market’ known as Mercado Central or Mercado de Artesanias is your best bet.
If you are looking for a natural place to hang out, have tea or lunch, I love La Azotea and Caoba Farms, a beautiful ‘City Farm’. Please note that these two places are pricier than the local options but their natural decor make the visit worthwhile in my opinion.
As preciously mentioned the town is relatively small so you can walk to most places but if you want to save time and would like a fun ride tuc tucs are my favourite mode of transport. The fares vary between 5 and 15Q within town; please note prices are per person.
Where to eat?
If you are looking for a very local experience, head to the Iglesia de la Merced and buy food from the street vendors. The only thing is they sometimes serve food in plastic plates so bringing your own container is a good idea.
EL Rincon Tipico is a good Guatemalan restaurant option.
Wachuma is my all time favourite veggie restaurant for lunch. They have delicious and affordable fresh food.
Toko Baru is also a great option – get the Kofta and the sweet potato fries if you go 🙂
Artista café is also Guatemalan owned and a perfect spot to have a coffee and access good WiFi in case you need to work online.
You probably didn’t come to Guatemala to eat mexican food but just in case you have a craving El Zocalo is good and well priced central option.
For breakfast Cafe Union and Rainbow Cafe are comfortable and have good smoothies and hot drinks. La Azotea and Caoba farms already mentioned in things to do are my favourite breakfast and lunch spots.
For dinner Samsara is my favourite vegetarian place – the veggie taco starter with mushrooms is BOMB!
Once:Once is also a very good veggie option and the ‘cauliflower wings’ are a delicious guilty pleasure but prices are almost US prices I think.
Antigua is one of the safest cities in all of Guatemala but precautions should still be exercised. Keep your belongings close to you at all times and avoid walking around alone at night.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
Love to all