What to do in Antigua, Guatemala

5 must-do activities to do in Antigua

Antigua. The name means “ancient,” and in fact it was the ancient capital of Guatemala, which is now Guatemala City. It is a colonial town, all colorful, with low houses, churches, small squares, and stalls selling mangoes and tacos on every corner. Even the food is all colorful. Many expats live in Antigua; in fact, it is really equipped with all the useful services that expats can need: co-working, yoga, pilates and salsa studios, cafeterias where they can work during the day, Spanish schools and great restaurants.

I lived there for three weeks in Antigua and created my own routine. That’s how I like to travel, spending a lot of time in places and pretending a little bit to live there. I used to spend my days between working a few hours in Selina’s co-working space or in one of the many coffee shops in the historic city center, some salsa and Spanish classes, a stroll through the fruit, vegetable and craft market, and then for dinner and after dinner there are plenty of options.

There are restaurants offering local and international cuisine, the influence of neighboring Mexico is felt. In addition, there are many places to dance salsa and bachata even for beginners.

Antigua is therefore an ideal place to stay more than one night if your trip allows you to do so. And also the starting place to explore Guatemala and all the information to explore this beautiful state you can find in another article.

Photo by Robin Canfield on Unsplash

1) Antigua: visit the historic center.

As a first activity I recommend you take a nice walk in the historic center, this is an ideal option if you are short on time, for example you already know you will only spend one day in Antigua. But it’s also an ideal option if your stay will be a long one, because as you stroll through the historic center, you’ll have a chance to breathe in that sense of slowness and peace that you get in a colonial town where you walk on an ancient cobblestone. A bit annoying in the long run, I must say, so it is not the place for biking, although there are several bike tours.

Photo by Arturo Rivera on Unsplash

I recommend that you create your own itinerary, as downtown is quite contained, and take a nice walking tour. Or you can join a Free Walking Tour of the city, which are guided tours, often with a history expert. They last two to three hours and are on a free offer. This is a great option to visit the city and learn about its history and not only in Antigua, but in many other cities around the world.

El Parque Central

Get lost in Parque Central, which is the city’s main square where you can laze around for a few hours. You can, in fact, buy mangoes already peeled and seasoned with salt, lemon, chili and pepita (which is a pumpkin seed powder) and eat them as you stroll around, have a coffee at one of the many cafes in the square, attend a musical performance and shop at the stalls.

Usually Friday afternoon is the day when you can buy handicrafts, traditional clothes, soaps, natural body creams, incense and some snacks. On the square, overlooks San Francisco Church, which is the oldest building in the city and worth a visit.

Photo by Christopher Garcia on Unsplash

The Arch of Santa Catalina

A landmark of the city, this historic arch was built in the 1600s and allowed cloistered nuns to pass from one side to the other. Everybody but everybody, they take the picture with the bow and the volcano of Acatenango in the background, which can be seen some days and some days less depending on the weather. Sometimes you will also be able to see smoke because the nearby Fuego volcano is still active and it is definitely a worthwhile overnight excursion departing from Antigua.

Photo by Jeison Higuita on Unsplash

2) Take a trip to the market

The Antigua market is a giant indoor complex. This is the ideal place to buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, flowers, and groceries. The only downside is that it is indoors and is objectively rather labyrinthine and somewhat dark. So if you don’t want to delve in, you’ll also find plenty of outdoor stands and a market for clothes and handicrafts in a beautiful colonial courtyard.

Antigua, the colorful city

Antigua, with that six-thousand-foot-plus volcano that sometimes can be seen and sometimes seems to have been erased from the city’s design. Antigua, the city all colorful. Where even the clothes, they are colorful. And surprisingly, they all wear them. It has not gone out of fashion, the tradition. Read the full article on Substack, it’s in Italian and in English.

Subscribe to my newsletter!

At the market you can also have a snack or lunch and buy second-hand clothes, if you have patience, at really low prices. In Central and South America, they get all the clothes that we, from other parts of the world no longer want. These clothes are sorted and those in good condition resold for a few dollars. They are bought in stock so in fact they are all piled up and it takes a long time to be able to make targeted purchases. You could find all the equipment to make the trek up to the Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes, for example.

Photo by Manuel Asturias, SJ on Unsplash

3) Drink coffee

Among other things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, is to taste good coffee produced in Central America. This sounds like a trivial indication, but it is not. You will find that Antigua has lots of coffee shops, some historic, some contemporary, and even the Starbucks of Antigua is worth a visit because it is located inside a colonial building with a beautiful interior courtyard. Choose one of the cafes on the square, or wander into the small side streets to discover rooftops, interior courtyards, and beautiful cafes where you can work or read.

Photo by Jakub Dziubak on Unsplash

I also recommend that you visit the Chocomuseum and perhaps attend a Chocolate Workshop. You will be able to understand how cocoa is created and prepared, along with tasting various types of cocoa. It is a very interesting activity and there are also very authentic offerings and you can find an interesting address on my mini-guide to Antigua.

In Antigua coffee and chocolate are truly a must and you will try them in all forms. It is the ideal place to stock up on coffee, tea, chocolate and even unusual combinations of these naturally flavored beverages. For example, if you have room in your suitcase, you can buy coconut drinking chocolate, cardamom coffee and the like. Again, you will find an interesting address in my mini-guide.

What to do in Antigua Guatemala

Mini-guide to Antigua in Guatemala

Stroll through the historic center, admire the Acatenango Volcano from the Santa Catalina Arch, drink typical Guatemalan coffee, practice yoga, attend a chocolate-making workshop, shop for spices and textiles, learn to dance salsa, and dine at one of Antigua’s many restaurants.

Buy your mini-guide here

4) Take a walk to Cerro de La Cruz.

If you are still wondering what to do in Antigua, Guatemala, here is another attraction in the colonial town. In less than an hour you can get to a hill from which you can admire the whole city and see volcanoes. It’s a very nice walk, through the city and then you’ll have to walk uphill to enjoy the scenery.

Many people go there at sunset, although I don’t recommend going down before it gets dark. Antigua is a very quiet city and you really won’t have any problems: you can walk around at three o’clock at night after a night of salsa and bachata at a club without any problems. But Cerro de La Cruz is located outside the historic center and in a less illuminated part, so I recommend going there during the day.

Photo by Paolo Margari on Unsplash

5) Go out to dinner

The food culture in Antigua is very rich and you can eat dishes from cuisines from all over the world. As for Guatemalan cuisine, I see it as good for breakfast: eggs, black beans, avocado, fried bananas. Consider that black beans(frijoles), prepared especially in the refritos version, will be found everywhere and are a great protein side dish. It is basically a cream of beans. You will also definitely be able to eat tacos and tortillas, corn-based flatbreads that you can stuff with meat, vegetables, guacamole, and onions, typical of both Guatemala and Mexico, and taste tamales, which are corn-based rolls stuffed with meat and vegetables, often accompanied by a red sauce.

There is no shortage of restaurants for great pizza, sushi, Mexican cuisine, and fusion and international cuisine. The culinary scene in Antigua is excellent and often those living in Guatemala City spend the weekend between Antigua and Lake Atitlán. There are very nice places inside colonial houses with large patios with fountains and plants to dine.

I then recommend that you also choose a bar where you can dance salsa and bachata. There is a busy schedule and almost every night you can attend a free class and then practice during a Social, that’s what they call dancing nights. A chance to meet people from all over the world and have fun. I know you are ashamed, but I assure you that it is suitable even for beginners.

Photo by Carlos Davila Cepeda on Unsplash

In this article, I have recommended local activities for you to do, partly because as I wrote at the beginning, in my opinion Antigua is an ideal place to stay for a few days or a few weeks. Consider that there are also many Spanish schools if you want to learn the language, and classes are held every morning.

Cosa fare ad Antigua in Guatemala

Travel insurance

Do you need travel insurance for Guatemala? I recommend Heymondo, it is comprehensive, has service in Italian, and offers you coverage on health, luggage, electronics, and even flights if you are forced to cancel your trip. By clicking on this link you are entitled to 10% discount on the purchase of a policy, for anywhere in the world.

Find out how much it costs!

If you want to use Antigua as a base for your excursions, you could trek to Acatenango Volcano, where you sleep one night in the refuge and go to Lake Atitlán. There, too, I recommend that you sleep at least one night so that you can tour the lake, discovering the various villages, some of which are very typical and quaint. From Panajachel, daily shuttles depart for Semuc Champey and Tikal , which are other must-see destinations in Guatemala. So maybe you don’t want to go back to Antigua and you can continue your journey directly from the lake.

From Antigua and Panajachel shuttles leave every Thursday and Sunday for Chichicastenango, where there is a huge market of handicrafts, clothes, textiles, food, and in short, as in all self-respecting large markets, everything is sold. I have not been there, because I am not a fan of such crowded destinations, however, I have been told it is beautiful. All this is to say that you certainly won’t be bored in Guatemala.

Photo Credits: Unsplash

If you enjoy my travel articles, you can buy me a drink, which will show appreciation for my travel writing and make me super happy!