Why visit Antigua Guatemala? The jewel in Guatemala’s colonial crown, Antigua manages to combine indigenous Mayan culture with colourful architecture, magnificent crumbling churches, fiery volcanoes and a steady stream of tourists & expats in one gloriously beautiful package. However, with so much on offer it can be hard to know what to do in Antigua Guatemala, so I’ve picked out the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala for you. I’ve also included sections on where to stay in Antigua, the best restaurants and nightlife in Antigua Guatemala, and after spending a couple of months living here I think I covered everything!
About Antigua Guatemala
Antigua Guatemala is a beautiful city. It was once the capital of Guatemala, before several earthquakes rocked the city in the 1700s, destroying buildings and leaving ruined churches. The capital was moved to Guatemala City, which allowed Antigua to retain its charm as a small colonial town. Despite the large tourist and expat population here there is still a strong indigenous culture in Antigua, and although many of the indigenous Maya live in the surrounding villages where it is cheaper to live, you often see the women in their beautiful huipiles (blouses) and long skirts, usually carrying something on their heads.
Antigua is one of the most expensive places in Guatemala, but luckily prices in Guatemala are still low compared to many of its Central American neighbours. If you eat and drink in the touristy gringo places, your costs will shoot up, but there are more than enough local bars and restaurants to keep your budget going for as long as you need it.
Antigua Guatemala Safety
How safe is Antigua Guatemala? Pretty darn safe. This is always a relative question of course, but in my three months in Antigua I didn’t have any problems walking around the town by myself, even at night. Antigua is a friendly city, full of locals, expats and travellers, which creates a fun environment to spend some time. However, still do be careful at night, especially if you are alone, and take the same precautions you would anywhere with your valuables. There have been reports of robberies on chicken buses, and occasions of muggings from people on motorbikes driving past, but these are rare.
When to visit Antigua Guatemala
There is no bad time to visit Antigua. In the rainy season, the afternoons are usually wet, but the mornings are dry (although often cloudy), and when the sun does shine it gets pretty warm. There are huge celebrations for religious festivals around Easter, and it seems like every weekend there is a parade or fireworks for something! Due to the altitude in Antigua Guatemala, (1533m above sea level), Antigua is a lot cooler than Flores, Rio Dulce and the beach towns, so is a pleasant change from the oppressive tropical heat in the summer.
What to do in Antigua Guatemala
Top Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala:
Explore Antigua on Foot
An easy uphill walk from town, Cerro de la Cruz has awesome views of the city, with Agua volcano looming behind. In town, go to the most famous street in Antigua with the yellow clock tower archway. If you can, an early morning visit after a night of rain gives the perfect photo opportunity with reflections in the puddles of the archway and the Agua volcano behind it. The ruined churches in Antigua are quite beautiful, you can pay a small fee to go inside or just admire from the outside. Don’t miss the main square either, where locals and tourists alike gather to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. On the weekends you can catch a live marimba performance (a kind of xylophone), and the fountain in the centre deserves a second look to confirm that the female statues are indeed spraying water out of their breasts.
Check out these tours of Antigua Guatemala from GetYourGuide:
Hiking Volcanoes in Antigua Guatemala
Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes. Towering over the city is the huge Agua volcano, a sleeping giant which in rainy season is often hidden behind grey clouds. Fuego is a live volcano, almost constantly spewing smoke, ash, and lava.
A popular hike from Antigua is the Acatenango Volcano, next to Fuego, which, on clear days, gives you a unique view of Fuego from a safe distance! The Acatenango tour includes hiking up the volcano during the day, camping overnight on the volcano, and hiking to the summit for sunrise in the morning, before walking back down. This is a challenging hike, but well worth it if you can handle it. Consider paying for a guide to carry your backpack and try to choose the day carefully in the rainy season to try to make sure that heavy rain and a cloudy summit don’t spoil your chances of a good view.
If this sounds like too much, Pacaya volcano is an easier hike, taking just a couple of hours to the summit where you walk on the lava flows from the 2015 eruption, and toast marshmallows on the hot rocks. It is also possible to hike Fuego, although most people choose Acatenango or Pacaya due to the frequent eruptions on Fuego!
You can book your volcano tours with your hostel in Antigua, or check out these options with GetYourGuide:
Visit a Macadamia Farm
Valhalla Experimental Station is in nearby San Miguel Dueñas, a short bus ride from Antigua. They offer tours of their macadamia farm, and tastings of the nuts and chocolate, and their macadamia pancakes are legendary. There is a café here where you can choose other breakfast items and sandwiches too.
Visit an Organic Farm
Caoba Farms is an organic farm about 15 minutes’ walk from town, where you can see where most of Antigua’s salads come from. On Thursday nights they have live music, and the food from the restaurant there is delicious. On Saturdays, they also host a farmers’ market with more live music, activities for kids, and delicious food and drink. You can even volunteer for an afternoon here in exchange for some fresh vegetables.
Learn About Chocolate at the Chocomuseo
This chocolate museum is great for families, you can go and learn about the process of making chocolate, taste some free samples, and take chocolate making classes for a tasty way to spend an afternoon!
Take a Cooking Class
I took a cooking class at La Tortilla cooking school in Antigua, and loved it! We made a traditional Guatemalan dish called pepian, kind of a chicken stew with a thick tasty sauce made with pumpkin seeds, rice and salad, and delicious fried plantain balls filled with chocolate sauce. Read more about my experience with La Tortilla.
Take a Weaving Class
There are a lot of women’s cooperatives where local women work together to produce beautiful woven clothes, bags and accessories. Simply watch them work, or sign up for a traditional backstrap weaving class to make something of your own to take home.
Here are some more ideas of things to do in Antigua Guatemala with GetYourGuide:
Spanish Schools in Antigua Guatemala
There are several language schools in Antigua offering Spanish classes, and the international vibe makes Antigua a popular place to learn Spanish, although you will need some discipline to only speak Spanish and not slip back into English when you meet other foreigners. If you don’t want to sign up for a school, most hostels will be able to recommend a teacher for one on one classes, or if you do commit to taking lessons in a Spanish school in Antigua, they will usually find you accommodation with a family who also provide meals.
When choosing a Spanish school in Antigua Guatemala, try to get recommendations from previous students, and ask for references from the school. Make sure you know exactly what is on offer, how many hours per day or week is included, if the teaching is one-on-one or in groups, what accommodation is included, if there are other foreigners staying at the accommodation too, and what meals are included.
According to the Lonely Planet for Central America, some reputable schools include:
Volunteering in Antigua Guatemala
There are also a lot of volunteering opportunities available around the city too. Spanish schools will often help you to find suitable volunteer placements, even if you aren’t studying Spanish in Antigua, or you can arrange placements through Entremundos or Idealist who have free listings to browse through. I volunteered at a hostel, simply asking the owners if they needed help for a couple of weeks, and you can also try sites like Workaway and Worldpackers for similar placements.
Where to stay in Antigua Guatemala
Hotel prices in Antigua vary massively, as there are plenty of well-off tourists who visit Antigua, as well as locals who aim more for mid-range hotels. However, the backpacker market is exceptionally well catered for too, with every other street housing at least one budget hostel. Antigua is generally very safe, but the streets can empty at night which makes hostels a little further away from the centre feel more risky. Noise and vibrations from passing chicken buses can be an issue along the main road of 7a Calle Poniente, although with ear plugs you will usually be fine!
If you’re backpacking Guatemala and want to save some cash, then Couchsurfing is a good option for Antigua, and a great opportunity to meet some local people. Camping is also possible in a couple of places, including Hostel Antigueño (see below), and overlanders can park up and stay for free at the Tourist Police Station, although there aren’t any proper washroom facilities there.
The Best Hostels in Antigua Guatemala
Use sites such as Hostelworld to find your hostel accommodation in Antigua, here are few of our recommendations for the best places to stay in Antigua Guatemala:
Best Hostel For Families & Camping in Antigua Guatemala: Hostal Antigueño
Hostel Antigueño is a bit further out of town, but still easy walking distance to the main square. Dorms and private rooms are arranged around a large garden and patio area with space for motorbikes and camping, and for the kids to play. There is also parking for overlanders outside, as well as a ping pong table and free breakfast. Book now.
Best All-Round Hostel in Antigua Guatemala: Somos Hostel
Somos Hostel has it all. A roof terrace, spacious dorm rooms with privacy curtains, your own light & plug, a kitchen area to make your own food, and super friendly staff, this is an excellent hostel in Antigua! As an extra bonus they have a discount card which gives you money off or freebies at several places around town from food and drink to yoga classes. Book now.
Best Hostel in Antigua Guatemala with Private Rooms: Matiox
Want the best of both worlds, to stay in a private room in a hostel? Matiox Hostel has a private room available as well as dorm rooms, for around $30 per night, so you can get a bit of peace and quiet when you need it. The hostel also has an onsite bar, hot-tub, kitchen and plenty of hammocks for chilling. Book now.
Stay in a Hobbit Hole
If you fancy something completely different, a trip to Hobbitenango is a must. It is a pain to get to but this hobbit style village high in the mountains has incredible views of the volcanoes, and you can even spend the night in your own hobbit hole. It isn’t cheap though, so if an overnight is out of your budget, it is still worth the trip for those views, and you can have lunch or dinner there. Try the Troll Burger, it is insanely good.
Airbnbs & Homestays in Antigua Guatemala
If you are studying Spanish here then most schools will help you find accommodation, usually with a local family so you can practise your new language skills. AirBnB is also an excellent choice, with some families offering homestay style accommodation in a room in their home and with most meals included in the price. There are also plenty of ‘normal’ Airbnb rooms and apartments available. Check the options on Airbnb. If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get $30 credit to use on your first trip!
Food & Drink in Antigua Guatemala
As Antigua is a tourist and expat hub, there are restaurants to suit every taste, including British, French, Mexican, and pretty much any cuisine you can think off – including plenty of vegetarian options. These places catering to tourists tend to also have tourist prices though, so if you are backpacking Guatemala on a tight budget, stick to the local spots or pick up some tasty street food. However, Antigua has a huge variety of cuisine on offer, so if you do fancy something different from the standard rice/chicken stew/scrambled eggs & refried beans you have no shortage of international restaurants to choose from. Bear in mind that a lot of the restaurants automatically include a 10% service charge on the bill.
The Best Local Restaurants in Antigua
Street Food is common in the squares and plazas around Antigua, and it is super cheap as well as tasty. In front of Iglesia La Merced on 1a Calle Poniente you will find lots of stands selling Guatemalan snacks and sandwiches at rock bottom prices. Around the market and bus station there are a lot of cheap stalls selling local food too.
La Canche Tienda y Comedor
Across the street from the church is a little shop with a restaurant hidden inside. Easily missed but worth seeking out, the ladies here serve up delicious soups, and classic Guatemalan dishes like pepian for 20-30 quetzales, including a drink, tortillas, and a chunk of avocado. For hygiene sticklers it may not be the best – there is a live parrot in the kitchen area – but it still tastes really good!
This large restaurant specializes in barbecued chicken, which you can see roasting on spits. Definitely no-frills, the waiters serve up plates of chicken and meat with side salad and potatoes with a drink for 30 quetzales. This is a popular place for tourists & locals alike, but on a hot day it is like an oven inside.
This casual part-time restaurant is set up on weekends and some evenings outside Tonita’s home on 1a Calle Oriente, near the junction with 2a Avenida Norte. It is definitely no frills, but serves tasty, authentic Guatemalan dishes for next to nothing.
The Best International Restaurants in Antigua
The best falafel wrap I have ever eaten. Seriously. Great value Middle Eastern & Asian inspired dishes with plenty of vegetarian options. The lentil kofta and falafel are delicious, and the portions are huge – so much so that I ordered a half portion the second time, which I never do! The curries were also amazing, come on the weekend to try the fish curry. No WiFi, so read the newspaper instead!
Taqueria Doña Lupita
Yummy Mexican tacos and quesadillas made fresh in front of you. The staff are super friendly, and speak some English too.
Y Tu Piña También
I like this place for brunch. The McFuckin McMuffin was 2-4-1 both times I went, which was great as you really do need 2 of them. The service was quick, eggs and bacon well cooked, and the peppery fried potatoes I had as a side were tasty too. Prices are a little high for the portion size, but a nice treat, & great hangover food.
Mama Jojo’s / Randy’s
This tiny place only has 9 seats, so sit around the bar to watch Jojo cooking up a storm for breakfast. Choose from a compact menu including shakshuka, a breakfast burrito & BLT or build your own breakfast. Tea or coffee is included in the price. Open 7 days a week from 6.30am to 11.30am, and from 12pm Randy takes over with seriously amazing hotdogs made with his homemade sausages.
Santa Rosa Burger Club
On the north side of town, this small place on the corner of 3a Avenida Norte and 1a Calle Poniente serves up delicious burgers stuffed with your choice of toppings, served with fries. Cheap and tasty, these are the best burgers in Antigua, hands down.
Hidden away in a courtyard, this colourful cafe & bar is decorated with local art. Even the tables each have their own painting design. The menu includes sandwiches, empanadas and pastas, as well as steak and veggie options like lentil stew. Each day of the week has a special when something from the menu is discounted for that day. They also have a good selection of craft beers, wine and even cider too.
Great for a romantic dinner, this surprisingly large restaurant has a spacious courtyard where they light a fire on cool evenings. It’s not the cheapest meal, with mains start from around 95 Q for a pasta dish, but most nights they have 2-4-1s on a dish from the menu & a drink offer. Sundays are the best with their 241 pizzas, which draws quite a crowd, so go early to beat the rush as everyone seems to go there for a pizza in Antigua! Mondays are also 241 on empanadas.
This small restaurant opposite La Merced Cathedral is renowned for its French specialities like beef bourguignon and grilled duck breast, and was recommended by my hostel for a nice evening meal.
The Brownie Hole
If you are a fan of chocolate brownies (and who isn’t?!) you need to stop by the Brownie Hole for one of their ‘best brownies in the universe’. I’m not sure it was THE best brownie, but it was damn good.
Nightlife in Antigua Guatemala
Pretty much every bar in town has live music in the evenings. That is one of the things I loved about Antigua, there was so much going on and it was great fun to catch the local musicians doing their thing.
Rainbow Café has live music most nights, as well as NGO talks every Tuesday. The happy hour is cheap, and the food menu has a lot of veggie options too.
The Snug is a tiny Irish bar, with the adjoining Travel Menu pub next door. Friendly staff, good food, regular quiz nights and live music make these two great places to drink the night away.
Café No Sé is the coolest bar in town; a speakeasy that began after the owners smuggled illegal mezcal over the border from Mexico. It’s dark, with red lighting, and is almost too cool with a ‘hidden’ room behind a refrigerator door that you have to duck to walk through. The beers are on the pricey side, and the cocktails probably cost more than your dinner, but it is wildly popular with backpackers and expats. Live music plays every night until around 1am.
Lucky Rabbit is popular with a young backpacker crowd, with dance and house music pumping out till 1am. Come here on Saturday night to continue the party at the infamous all-night rave at an abandoned swimming pool.
For a more Guatemalan feel, head to La Sala to party with locals enjoying Latin music, and live bands on Friday nights.
There are plenty more clubs and bars in Antigua Guatemala to choose from, other popular places include Reilly’s on 6a Calle Poniente, Monoloco on 5 Avenida Sur, and bars like Vudu and the Whisky Den inside El Barrio on 4 Avenida sur, between 3a and 4a Calle Oriente.
Transport in Antigua Guatemala
Antigua is a small city, and you can easily walk from one side to the other no problem. If you have big bags to carry you can hail a taxi or one of the many tuk tuks which whizz around the cobbled streets. Within the city centre, a tuk tuk shouldn’t cost more than 10 Quetzales, although taxi drivers will usually try to charge you significantly more. If you do take a tuk tuk, hold on tight, as the cobbles will rattle your teeth and threaten to toss you out of the tuk tuk if you’re not careful!
To get to Antigua from Guatemala City there are regular shuttles which run regularly from the airport directly to Antigua, just ask your hostel to book this for you. There are chicken buses too of course, but unfortunately hold-ups and robberies on buses are not uncommon, as rival gangs compete for control. In the hostels where I stayed they didn’t recommend travelling by chicken bus, although this is obviously a more ‘authentic’ way to travel, and cheaper. Its up to you if you want to take the risk.
For onward travel to Semuc Champey, Flores (for Tikal), Lake Atitlan, Rio Dulce and longer distance to Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador & beyond, shuttles can be good value, although remarkably uncomfortable on long journeys. The shuttles are like mini-buses which cram in as many passengers as they can, meaning it gets very cosy. There are no headrests, and windy roads usually mean you won’t get much sleep if you take an overnight journey. That said, the relatively low cost and convenience of an almost door to door service usually make them the best option for getting around the country.
*A word of warning if you are booking a shuttle to Flores or Semuc Champey – do not book your onward journey until you get to Flores or Semuc, the hostels there will arrange it for you. There have been numerous reports of scammers who sell non-existent onward tickets.*
Where to Go Next
From Antigua Guatemala, travellers usually head to Lake Atitlan or up to Semuc Champey and Flores to visit Tikal, depending on their onward travel plans. From Flores I went to the lake, then came back for a few days before setting off to Copan Ruinas in Honduras.
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Have you been to Antigua Guatemala? Do you agree with my suggestions for what to do in Antigua Guatemala? I’d love to hear your comments below.
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