Tips for Antigua, The Best City of Guatemala!

The charming city of Antigua is the perfect place to immerse yourself in Guatemalan culture. This former capital city is located at an altitude of 1,545 meters (5069 feet) in the central highlands of Guatemala, allowing you to enjoy delightful spring-like weather year-round. In 1773, Antigua was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake, but fortunately, the ruins of the most beautiful colonial buildings have been preserved. As you wander through the cobblestone streets, you’ll come across many old buildings with beautifully carved wooden doors and wrought-iron balconies adorned with colorful flowers. Antigua is not only a feast for the eyes, but it’s also home to numerous excellent restaurants, and the natural beauty surrounding the city is stunning. Below, you’ll find my top tips for Antigua!

How to Get to Antigua

Most people travel to Antigua from Guatemala City, El Paredon, or Lake Atitlan. Read below for how to travel from these destinations to Antigua.

From Guatemala City to Antigua

Guatemala City is not a pleasant city, so it’s wise to travel directly to Antigua. Reserve your transportation in advance so you don’t have to go to the bus station with all your belongings, especially in the evening, which may not always be safe. Book a shuttle or taxi from the airport or the city to Antigua. The total journey to Antigua takes about 1.5 hours.

From El Paredon to Antigua

This bus is the best option to travel from El Paredon to Antigua, as it will get you to Antigua in about 3 hours. The bus departs once a day, and it’s a good idea to reserve your spot in advance. The local chicken bus is much cheaper but requires three transfers and stops frequently, resulting in a 6-hour journey. If you choose this option, the route is as follows: El Paredon > Puerto San Jose > Escuintla > Antigua.

From Lake Atitlan to Antigua

It depends on which village you’re staying in at Lake Atitlan. Buses depart from the village of Panajachel, so if you’re staying in another village, you’ll need to take a boat to Panajachel first. From there, you can catch the bus, which takes about 2.5 to 3 hours. Check the current departure times here and reserve a seat on the bus in advance.

What to Do in Antigua?

Antigua is a fantastic city to spend some time in as there is so much to see and do. Below are the top 10 things to do in Antigua.

Explore the Colonial Center of Antigua

Strolling through the old streets of Antigua is a delight. The colorful facades are hand-painted in cheerful colors, and everywhere you’ll find squares, churches, and monasteries. The following 6 points are all located in Antigua’s colonial center and can be easily combined during a city walk.

Visit Antigua’s Best Markets

Antigua is bursting with great markets, and the following three stand out.

Nim Po’t – This market offers textiles and handicrafts from various regions of Guatemala. These items are handmade by local artisans and are considered an important part of Guatemalan tradition and culture throughout history. Here, you’ll find colorful textiles, ceramics, woodwork, leather goods, and traditional Guatemalan clothing. It’s a great market for shopping for unique gifts and souvenirs.

Mercado de Artesanías – At this colorful market, you can buy many souvenirs and everyday items. Prices are lower than at Nim Po’t, but the quality and the chaos of the stalls reflect that. This market is mainly aimed at travelers.

Mercado Central de Antigua – This local market is adjacent to Mercado de Artesanías and is Antigua’s main market. As you wander through the maze of streets, you’ll get an authentic glimpse into the daily life of the local population. You’ll find a variety of items at this market, divided into different sections. From fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and spices to electronics, household products, and eateries.

Tip: Do you love vintage shopping? Behind Mercado Central de Antigua, you’ll find a large hall with second-hand clothing. There are tables filled with clothing for Q10 per item. It may take some searching to find the gems in the haystack, but you can snag something nice for just a few dollars.

Visit Parque Central and Antigua Guatemala Cathedral

In the middle of the colonial center, you’ll find the picturesque central square called Parque Central. It’s a bustling meeting place where both locals and travelers come to relax, socialize, and enjoy the lively atmosphere. On the square stands the beautiful Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, also known as Catedral de San José. It’s a sight to behold from the outside, but the ruins inside are just as beautiful to behold.

Admire Iglesia de la Merced

As you stroll through Antigua’s colonial center, you’ll surely notice Iglesia de la Merced. This church, built in the extravagant Spanish Baroque style, was constructed in the mid-18th century and is a striking example of craftsmanship with its yellow and white colors. When you enter from the side, you’ll find a beautiful courtyard with a massive fountain in the center. The “Fountain of los Pescados” has a diameter of twenty-seven meters (89 feet) and is one of the largest fountains from the colonial period in Latin America. The fountain is shaped like a water lily, which in the symbolism of the ancient Maya peoples is associated with creation. According to the stories, there was a god who created a water lily from which the rest of the gods originated.

Tip: Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to Easter and is celebrated grandly in Guatemala. The celebrations in Antigua are perhaps the most remarkable, as the city’s streets are adorned with carpets made of real flowers, and there are extravagant floats and grand processions. It’s a unique experience to witness this week in Antigua. Just be aware that it can get extremely crowded, prices go up, and you need to book your accommodation well in advance.

Enjoy the View at Rooftop Antigua

If you’ve worked up an appetite exploring the colonial center, make a pitstop at Rooftop Antigua. In this restaurant, you can enjoy a delicious breakfast or lunch while overlooking Antigua and the Agua volcano. They serve tasty breakfasts, well-filled sandwiches, sweets, and great coffee.

Walk under the Arco de Santa Catalina

When you Google photos of Antigua, the first thing you’ll see is the famous yellow arch with the volcano in the background. The Arco de Santa Catalina was built in the 17th century to connect two parts of a convent. This allowed nuns to move freely between these buildings without stepping into the outside world. In the meantime, this arch has become the icon of Antigua and is a highly photographed spot. For the best shot, get up early when it’s quiet, and you’ll have beautiful morning light. With a bit of luck, it may have just rained, and you can, like me, take a photo with a perfect reflection in the water.

Visit the Convento Santa Clara Ruins

Throughout Antigua, you’ll find both large and small ruins of buildings partially collapsed by earthquakes. From dilapidated buildings on street corners to large churches beautifully restored. One of the most beautiful ruins I found is Convento Santa Clara. This well-preserved complex dates back to the 17th century and was once a convent where nuns lived in seclusion from the rest of the world. It’s a picturesque place with architectural beauty, religious history, and beautiful gardens.

Climb the Acatenango Volcano

One of the coolest things to do in Antigua is to climb the Acatenango Volcano. This two-day hike is literally and figuratively the highlight of many travelers during a trip to Guatemala. During this unique experience, you challenge yourself to climb to an altitude of 3,976 meters (13044 feet), where you can witness one of the most beautiful sunrises in all of Central America. As a bonus, from the top of Acatenango, you also have a view of Fuego, one of the most active volcanoes on this continent. This volcano spews rocks and lava into the air multiple times a day, and you can witness this spectacle up close here. Check out my tips for climbing Acatenango where you’ll find everything you need to know about this must-do activity in Guatemala.

Walk to the Hill of the Cross Viewpoint

After exploring the streets of Antigua, it’s fun to head up a bit higher and view the city from a different perspective. From the city center, you can walk to the Hill of the Cross viewpoint in about half an hour. At the top, you’ll find a large cross, which gave this hill its name. From here, you have a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. You might spot Parque Central or Arco de Santa Catalina, or recognize other places you’ve already visited. There’s a nicely landscaped park with benches, and usually, there are some simple food stalls, making it a nice place to relax and enjoy the beautiful Antigua.

See Lava Boil in the Pacaya Volcano

There are several volcanoes around Antigua, and one of them is Pacaya. It’s just an hour’s drive from Antigua, and during the half-day tour, you can get up close to this active volcano, including bubbling lava. Pacaya Volcano is 2,252 meters (7388 feet) high, and you can hike to the top in just two hours. If you book the afternoon tour, you’ll also have a chance to witness a stunning sunset with a view of the Acatenango volcano. When it’s dark, you can also see the lava flowing from this volcano.

Best Restaurants in Antigua

Finding good eateries in Antigua is not difficult. The city is full of restaurants and coffee shops offering a mix of traditional and international cuisine. Stroll through the streets and don’t be misled by narrow doors. Sometimes, there’s a beautiful courtyard or terrace behind them where you can enjoy a delightful meal. I’ve compiled the best tips for you.

El Bowl – This is a small place where you can create your own healthy bowl or choose from other delicious healthy dishes on the menu.
Café Boheme – Cozy restaurant with delicious breakfasts, salads, smoothies, and sandwiches.
Samsara – A vegetarian restaurant where you can enjoy healthy breakfast and lunch options. They have unique dishes on the menu, including quinoa shawarma, sweet potato tortilla, and a kimchi bowl.
Rincón Antigüeño – This is a typical Guatemalan restaurant that is very popular among locals. Not suitable for vegetarians.
Toko Baru – A fun place serving Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. It’s also quite affordable!
Rainbow Cafe – Here you can enjoy delicious food and a great atmosphere. In the evening, there is often live music, and a fire is lit.
Once Once – This is a vegan restaurant with a fantastic interior. They offer delicious dishes such as sushi, dumplings, falafel, and a protein burrito. Check the opening hours in advance, as they may vary.
Unión Café – A cozy coffee shop where you can find coffee and healthy dishes on the menu.
El Viejo Cafe – Here you can dine and enjoy a beautiful garden setting. They offer good sandwiches that are also easy to take away.
Restaurante Mulan – Delicious Chinese food at a friendly price.

Our Favorite Places to Stay in Antigua

Ojala is one of the nicest places to stay in Antigua. This beautiful colonial building has a relaxed atmosphere and is a great place to meet other travelers. It’s decorated very nicely with lots of cozy corners, hammocks, and seating areas. They offer both double rooms and dormitories. Here, you’ll experience an oasis of peace in the middle of the city. It’s just a two-block walk to Parque Central, so the location is perfect. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, Yellow House is recommended. The atmosphere here is incredibly pleasant, thanks to all the colors, cheerful staff, and numerous plants. In the morning, you’ll get a delicious breakfast included in the price. If you have a wider budget, Cacao Boutique Hotel is a treat to stay in. This small-scale hotel feels very cozy and personal. You can certainly get some inspiration for your own interior because it’s beautifully decorated!