Tucked amongst large volcanoes in Guatemala lies the city of Antigua, a town that seems to jump out of a story book. Multi colored buildings, centuries old architecture, and rich indigenous culture combine to create one of the most picturesque areas of the country, which was dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. There’s so many things to do in Antigua that will make you want to put it on your travel list every year. In this article I will share with you my opinion on what to do in Antigua Guatemala based on my own experiences!
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Fun Things To Do In Antigua In Guatemala
Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross)
A short drive from the center of Antigua stands a hill with full views of the city and magnificent Volcán de Agua (Water Volcano), one of the most beautiful volcanoes in Guatemala. Visitors have the choice to either hike or drive to the top of the hill to enjoy the landscape below. The hike is short, you only need to walk up 333 stone steps to the top. The Antigua tourist police also offer free guided walks at 10am and 3pm, which they recommend you take advantage of if you are traveling alone because muggings are not unheard of in this area.
If you choose to drive, you are able to rent a local driver to take you and your party from the city center to the top of the hill. It’s typically reasonably priced and makes the journey go by a lot faster. This is what my group of friends and I did during our visit, and it was so helpful because along the way the driver was explaining to us the history of the town of Antigua as well as the history behind the Hill of the Cross as well. A highlight of this town being more touristy than other parts of the country, is that most of the tour guides and shop owners speak English, so if you don’t speak Spanish you should still be able to find people who are able to show you around the town and help you when needed.
El Parque Central de Antigua Guatemala (Antigua Guatemala Central Park)
One thing I absolutely adore about towns in Latin America, and Antigua is no exception, is the abundance of parks that are located in their center and are surrounded by restaurants and shops. Sitting in this park is one of my favorite things to do in Antigua because there is so much to see from here. You’re able to cool down from the heat of the day on a bench underneath a giant shady tree while watching tourists and locals walk in and out of stores, play with their dogs, and meet up with friends. It’s in areas like these where you are truly able to feel as though you’re a part of the community of the town, even for a little while, and the feeling of joy that accompanies that is indescribable.
Mercado Municipal de Artesanías (Municipal Market of Artisans)
Your friends and family will not be disappointed if you return to them with gifts from the Municipal Market of Artisans. This outdoor mall is composed of lots of merchant stalls with vendors selling everything from their paintings, to handwoven baskets, crocheted tops and hats, beautiful tapestries and precious jewelry. All of the sales people are so lovely and enjoy chatting with the visitors while they are browsing.
I bought a handful of sterling silver rings with gorgeous stones on them that I am continuously complimented on (and it’s pretty fun to be able to tell people where I bought them!) While a lot of the stalls only accept cash, some have card readers so make sure to ask before you agree to purchase anything (“tarjeta está bien?” o “acepta tarjeta?” work to do so). Right outside of the market there are typically street vendors that sell food like hot dogs for very cheap, and they are delicious! Munching on one of those while walking up and down the rows of stalls filled with all kinds of beautiful artist creations was a definite highlight of my trip.
Mercado de Artesanías El Carmen (Market of El Carmen Artisans)
You didn’t think there would be just one place to buy souvenirs from Antigua, did you? Along with the Municipal Market of Artisans is the Market of El Carmen Artisans. This is for sure one of the things to do in Antigua that you should experience, whether you are shopping to buy or not. The entire market is accessible through one entrance that leads you into a dimly lit labyrinth of stalls where vibrant cloths, chairs, bags, dresses, hats and rugs hang from the ceiling. Thankfully there are arrows on the ground that help visitors navigate around, otherwise I’m sure you would get lost in there for hours!
Stepping into this market feels like walking in on a well kept secret. The prices here are a little lower than in the Central Market of Antigua, and the buyers are always willing to haggle. However if you don’t speak Spanish, I’m not sure how much you will be able to talk them down. Regardless, it’s always nice to support local businesses and there are some really unique and beautiful pieces available here. My friends bought coin purses and dolls here that were testaments to the Mayan culture that is still very much prevalent in the town.
Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Mercy)
This famous church, close to the popular Arco de Santa Catalina (Santa Catalina Arch), was built in 1767, and although it has suffered through many devastating earthquakes since then and has had to be rebuilt in many areas, some parts of it are still from the original construction. The church itself has free entry and you are able to access the roof with a small fee. I recommend doing this because from the top you are able to have a spectacular view of the nearby ruins, where you are able to have a glimpse into Antigua’s past. The plaza outside of the church is popular as it is the starting place for the yearly parades and processions during Semana Santa (Holy Week). Additionally, during the weekend the plaza is the location of a food market where visitors are able to sample local cuisine and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, then this is the spot for you! Up in the hills of Antigua sits a life sized replica of a hobbit town. While I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit this one of a kind destination, I have many friends that have, and they can’t say enough good things about it. The amusement park is equipped with hobbit houses to walk around, gardens to peruse, bars and restaurants to visit, and lots of photo opportunities. There is even a community stage where musical guests will perform for the town’s visitors.
Interestingly enough, while none of the movies were filmed in Guatemala, the city has done a magnificent job of creating a world much like the one in the films. This is a perfect way to escape reality for a day and step right into the wonderful world of hobbits while having gorgeous views of the Antigua countryside down below. If you are wanting different things to do in Antigua, this should be at the top of your list.
Truth be told, while there are of course a plethora of noteworthy things to do in Antigua and spots to hit while touring this lovely town, I had the most fun when I was just aimlessly wandering the streets with my friends. There is something so calming about walking along cobble-stoned avenues, trying to navigate the tiny sidewalks and passing by buildings so old they’re hard to comprehend. A fun game that my friends and I played while we were here is whenever we would come to an intersection, we would alternate saying either “right, left or straight” and that is the direction we would all walk in. This way we were taken down back alleys and past houses, gardens and schools we would have probably otherwise missed.
Many gates line the side roads and if you peer through them, you are able to see into brightly colored courtyards that serve as a common area between houses, apartments and hotels. Many of these courtyards have trees, vines, and flowers that grow inside as well as seating areas.
We also came across many hidden shops with gorgeous woodwork, ancient looking mirrors, and trinkets and furniture. Each new avenue and business we explored allowed us to engage in meaningful conversations with the shopkeepers who, like I mentioned before, are typically happy to talk and get to know you. Additionally, walking around you are able to see many different groups of indigenous men, women and children in their traditional attire. Guatemala has the second highest percentage of indigenous peoples in Latin America (43.8%) and they belong to the Mayan peoples. When you walk around the town of Antigua the presence of their Mayan roots is prevalent in art work, clothing and food. It is truly incredible to see such long standing customs alive today.
Whether you choose to go for a day, a couple nights, or a couple weeks, there are many things to do in Antigua that will keep you and your group entertained for the duration of your stay. I highly recommend adding this city in Guatemala to the top of your travel bucket list and experiencing a whole new way of living.
Antigua is a town in Guatemala, about an hour and a half away from Guatemala City. Many people ask where is Antigua Island or they will ask about the beaches of Antigua, however in those instances they are referring to Antigua and Barbuda, which is a country in the Caribbean. So while they share the same name, they are in completely different places!
Yes, very much so. Antigua is very small and many tourists frequent it every year. The locals of Antigua are kind and welcoming, they are proud of their city and culture, and they typically keep to themselves. I walked all around Antigua with my friend who is also a woman and we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable. Of course, with any unfamiliar place you should be aware of your surroundings, but I personally felt very secure during my visit.
Every business or restaurant I went into only took the Guatemalan Quetzal. Additionally, I didn’t go into an establishment that accepted cards, only cash. So make sure you convert your country’s currency into Quetzales before you visit, and make sure you have enough to eat, and purchase any souvenirs or tours that look appealing to you.
No. There are of course bars and restaurants that offer alcoholic beverages but this small town is not known for its party scene. Most tourists will visit for the day, or they will choose to stay a night or two in one of the boutique hotels but if you are looking for a party scene in Guatemala, I suggest going into Guatemala City. However, what I will say is that in convenience stores here they sell Quetzaltecas, which is their famous brand of Aguardiente, a type of distilled spirit. They come in small 125ml bottles and have delicious flavors like Mora (blackberry), Rosa de Jamaica (Jamaican rose), and Tamarindo (tamarind).
While there is no specific food the city is known for, the local population eats lots of rice, beans, tortillas, corn and meat.