The best things to do in Antigua Guatemala include bucket-list experiences like climbing volcanoes and roaming the UNESCO World Heritage-listed colonial city. The colorful city is without one of the most popular and beautiful places to visit in Guatemala. It has a relaxed atmosphere, colorful buildings, great restaurants and a beautiful natural environment with volcanoes. Antigua Guatemala conquered a place in our hearts during our two-month trip around Central America and we ended up staying much longer than intended. We explored the best things to do in Antigua and we share them with you in this blog, including practical tips for transport and the best places to stay.
How to get to Antigua in Guatemala?
Antigua – or actually Antigua Guatemala – is located in the southwest of Guatemala. The capital Guatemala City is not far away and therefore the main international airport of the country is also close to Antigua. For that reason, Antigua is often the first destination for travelers in Guatemala to visit. They usually travel straight to Antigua from the airport, though we can recommend spending a day or two in Guatemala City as well. The next destination after Antigua that makes the most sense on any Guatemala itinerary would be the popular Lake Atitlan, known for its deep blue lake surrounded by majestic volcanoes and charming villages.
From the airport and from other destinations in Guatemala, you can easily get to Antigua with buses, minivans and taxis. Though most travelers use buses, minivans or taxis, we loved using the Uber app. You can use the app in almost every area of Guatemala to find an affordable, private ride to your destination. From two and especially three people, an Uber is usually cheaper than a spot in a minivan. Our Uber ride from Guatemala City to Antiqua cost us 155 quetzal. The Uber ride from Antigua to Panajachel, the largest city on Lake Atitlan, was 370 quetzal. If you don’t have an Uber account yet, we recommend you to sign up with this Uber link for a discount on your first ride.
Where to stay in Antigua
As one of Guatemala’s most popular destinations, Antigua is packed with beautiful hotels and hostels. It has both low-budget options and stunning luxury hotels, and both modern trendy hostels and authentic historical places to stay. When looking for where to stay in Antigua, you can choose a hotel in town or a unique place to stay in the hills around it. Or how about spending the night on a volcano?
We couldn’t choose and ended up doing all three. We stayed in a beautiful lodge overlooking Antigua and its volcanoes, after which we spend some days in town and camped on two active volcanoes. You might not have enough travel time in your itinerary to spend a week in Antigua, but if you do have the time: go for all three options as we did!
The best hostels and hotels in Antigua:
#1 Earth Lodge (outside Antigua) for a beautiful hotel with huts and tree houses built against the hills around Antigua. The view over the city and the surrounding volcanoes is phenomenal. The gardens, the vegetarian restaurant, the yoga classes, the hikes from Earth Lodge, the hammocks and the sauna will make your time here unforgettable.
#2 Selina Antigua for one of the trendiest hotels in town. There are both dormitory rooms and spacious private en-suite rooms, as Selina combines a hostel atmosphere with hotel comfort. The stylish hotel also has a lovely outdoor swimming pool and yoga classes are given on the roof terrace.
#3 Maya Papaya for Antigua’s most popular hostel. Both dormitories and private rooms are available. The hostel has a prime location in the center, a modern interior, a lovely courtyard and hospitable staff.
#4 Good Hotel Antigua for a modern hotel in an authentic mansion with a minimalist design. All rooms are located around the inner garden and have the same white, clean design. The hotel receives only extremely positive reviews and very high review ratings.
#5 Ojala Hotel for a unique place to stay in Antigua with a one-of-a-kind interior style that combines modern and historical elements. Ojala is both a hostel and a hotel with comfortable private rooms and great dormitories. The beautiful courtyard and prime location make this a perfect choice for Antigua.
#6 Casa Santo Domingo for one of Antigua’s most unique hotels. In addition to being a beautiful luxury hotel, Santo Domingo is also a spa and archaeological museum, housed in an old convent with historical exhibits. The hotel has a swimming pool and beautiful gardens.
The 8 best things to do in Antigua
#1 Must-do: the Acatenango volcano hike
The Acatenango Volcano near Antigua is one of Guatemala’s most adventurous attractions. The hike to the top of the volcano should be on everyone’s bucket list and offers an unforgettable experience for your Guatemala trip.
Read more: climbing the Acatenango Volcano.
It is not only the impressive view from the top or the unique experience of camping on a volcano, but also the amazing hike to the top. In about five hours you will climb with your guide from the base of the volcano through four ecosystems to the base camp. Every hour of hiking offers a completely different environment with different views from the Acatenango volcano. You then spend the night at the base camp, where you sleep in tents. All tents have a view of the active and erupting Fuego, which is especially a unique sight at night when you can see the red lava and red ash clouds coming out of the volcano. After waking up early in the morning (or middle of the night), you climb to the top of the Acatenango. There awaits one of the most spectacular sunrises you’ll ever see!
The two-day Acatenango hike is one of the most extraordinary things to do in Guatemala. The combination between the tough hike, the beautiful views, the magical sunset, the adventurous overnight stay and the special volcano make this an unforgettable experience.
#2 The Pacaya volcano lava streams
In addition to the Acatenango, you have two volcanoes around Antigua, of which the Pacaya volcano is also active. It is definitely recommended to (also) visit the Pacaya. Of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala, the Pacaya is the only one that you can safely climb close to the crater.
Read more: climbing the Pacaya volcano.
You can visit the Pacaya on a day trip and that is most often done and offered by tour organizations. However, we found the option of an overnight tour through Ox Expeditions, where you can camp on the active volcano! We think the night hike in the dark was one of the most spectacular things we’ve ever done. The huge lava flows from the top down, the lava splashes from the crater and the thick clouds of smoke. Wow! When it was a bit foggy, it certainly didn’t spoil the fun. The fog turned red because of the light and the color of the lava, which created a magical atmosphere.
Tip: the Pacaya volcano hikes are not organized every day. The Acatenango is visited almost daily by many different tour organisations, but that is unfortunately different for the Pacaya. Camping trips to the Pacaya sometimes only take place twice a month. So check this carefully during your travel preparations, so that you can adjust your travel plans accordingly.
Acatenango or Pacaya volcano?
We’ve often been asked if we’d recommend the Acatenango or the Pacaya, if you only have time for either one. That is a difficult choice and we ourselves are happy to have visited both. The Acatenango hike is a lot harder because the climb up takes much longer and altitude sickness can play a role. The hike is also a lot more beautiful, along different ecosystems and the camping spot with a view of the Fuego is phenomenal. To us, the Acatenango is the must-do in Antigua and we would prefer it to the Pacaya.
If your condition does not allow such a tough hike, it is good to know that the Pacaya is a lot easier to climb. Visiting the Pacaya volcano is not so much about the hike, but more about getting close to the natural forces of a volcano. You feel the heat, you see the lava and you hear the eruptions.
#3 The pastel-colores streets of the colonial town
The colonial town of Antigua is one of the most beautiful sights in Guatemala. The old town, listed as UNESCO World Heritage, is characterized by low-rise buildings, pastel-colored facades, cozy squares, ancient monastery ruins and small cobblestoned streets. Because of the earthquakes in the past, hardly any building is more than two stories high, creating a charming small-town atmosphere like no other tourist destination in Guatemala has.
One of the best things to do in Antigua is simply walking through the colorful streets, eating an ice cream in one of the lively squares and enjoying the picture-perfect views. Do not miss the lively central square (Parque Central or Plaza Mayor) with the beautiful Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, the famous Santa Catalina Arch and the richly decorated, yellow Iglesia de la Merced. Even Antigua’s McDonald’s is located in a beautiful colonial building. Make sure to visit it and marvel at the beautiful courtyard garden that you wouldn’t expect at this well-known fast food chain.
How about the best view of Antigua Guatemala? Walk to the Cerro de La Cruz viewpoint on the north side of the city. Looking from above, you can clearly see how Antigua is built up in a straight grid, like many cities in South and Central America. The climb to the viewpoint is not particularly hard and does not take very long, but does give you the best view of Antigua and the surrounding volcanoes.
#4 The famous Arco de Santa Catalina
The Arco de Santa Catalina is one of Antigua’s most distinctive landmarks. The arch is on 5 Avenida Norte, one of the central streets of the old town. It is a beautiful structure in general, but especially picture-perfect is how the Agua volcano is seen directly behind the arch, creating one of the most characteristic pictures of Antigua!
The arch was originally built to connect a nunnery with a school, so that the nuns could cross the street unseen. The well-known arch was severely damaged by earthquakes and was eventually rebuilt during restorations and renovations into the much-photographed arch that now stands in the heart of Antigua.
#5 The old Antigua ruins
Antigua has been damaged by many, many earthquakes in the past, creating ancient ruins scattered throughout the old town. Especially the 1773 earthquake largely destroyed the town and Antigua was even partially abandoned. The ruins of the 1773 earthquake have never been completely cleaned up and are now among the best places to visit in Antigua. As once one of the wealthiest and most developed cities in Guatemala, Antigua used to be the capital of the country and was filled with dozens of magnificent churches and other monumental buildings. The now impressive ruins of those buildings can now be visited.
- The cathedral. Part of the cathedral is still standing on the central square, but the old ruins are hidden behind them. Head to the street on the right of the cathedral for the entrance where you buy your ticket. Concerts are regularly organized under the old vaults.
- Convento Capuchinas. This old monastery consists of gothic vaults, a courtyard with a fountain and photogenic crossbows.
- Iglesia y Convento Santa Clara is one of the larger ruins in Antigua. Quite a bit of this church and monastery is still standing. It is mainly the monastery with its courtyard with a fountain and gardens that are special to see.
- Convento de Nuestra Senora de La Merced. The yellow church next to this old monastery is still in use, but the monastery is a ruin that you can visit for a fee.
- Iglesia y Convento of Santo Domingo. This monastery was once one of the richest monasteries in the city. Today it is a beautiful luxury hotel, where the ancient ruins are intertwined with the hotel facilities. You can also visit the place without staying at the hotel. Make sure not to miss the crypt. The adjacent museums with archaeological antiquities can also be visited freely.
- San Augustin. Only the facade of this church is still standing. Walk past the building in the evening, when the facade is beautifully lit.
#6 Souvenir shopping at the local market or art gallery
One of the more authentic attractions of Antigua is the market. The local market in the west of the city is largely covered. It is a bustle of local people in narrow lanes between the hundreds of stalls. Getting lost here is a must-do to fully experience the chaos of a typical Central American market. The market doesn’t attract many tourists and you will mainly see locals and authentic stalls at the market, despite Antigua’s popularity with travelers.
If you’re looking for a less chaotic place to shop or if you’re just looking for souvenirs, the huge store next to La Antigua Galería de Arte is the place to be. Make a stop at the art gallery as well to take a look at at modern art works and enjoy the exhibitions.
#7 The trendy hotspots of Antigua
Of all cities in Guatemala, Antigua probably has the most restaurants and bars. The old town is packed with great places for breakfast, drinks, coffee, eat cakes, lunch and dinner. Be sure to allow enough time in your travel planning to discover the culinary Antigua, as it is full of hip hotspots and great restaurants.
A selection of our favorites in Antigua:
- Luna de Miel for the best crepes, sweet and savory. Choose a spot on the roof terrace.
- Fridas for Mexican food in a colorful interior with the famous artist of the same name all over the wall.
- Fat Cat Coffee House for top quality coffee.
- Rincón Típoco for local and cheap food between the locals.
- Antigua Brewing Cafe for locally brewed and international beer in a cozy pub. There is regular live music in the evenings. The audience mainly consists of expats.
- Bella Vista Coffee in front of a roof terrace with a view of the volcanoes.
- Artista Cafe for coffee, breakfast and cake. There are mainly expats with their laptops, as the wifi is much better than in other places.
- Samsara for vegetarian and vegan food.
- Rustik for the best burgers ever.
- Cactus Taco Spot for fantastic tacos that make you come back a second time.
#8 Staying at the Earth Lodge tree houses
The impressive volcanoes were the main reason we stayed in Antigua much longer than expected. We climbed and camped at two volcanoes and we also stayed at Earth Lodge in the mountains with a splendid volcano view.
Read more: staying at Earth Lodge in Antigua.
Earth Lodge is one of the most stunning places to stay in Guatemala. It is located in the mountains north of Antigua, offering views of the city and its surrounding volcanoes. The Earth Lodge restaurant serves delicious vegetarian food, you can make lovely hikes in the area, the morning yoga is a great way to start the day and guests stay in unique (tree) huts. Earth Lodge was one of our first places to stay during our Guatemala trip, so we actually started with one of the highlights of our two-month trip around Central America.