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I love Antigua but my enamoration stretches beyond city limits. Each time I return to the city, I’ve explored new corners of the area — there are a dozen surrounding communities that feel a world apart despite being exceptionally close. And, oddly enough, most of them are rarely explored by travelers. Apparently if a travel agency doesn’t sell a package somewhere, very few people even think to ask.
However, the arrival of Uber has made these communities exceptionally easy to visit. You no longer have to be comfortable riding chicken buses or explaining to taxi drivers where you want to go in order to build your own day trip from Antigua. Instead, you can just hail a rideshare and be on your merry way to discover somewhere new.
The hardest part will be choosing which adventure you most want to do. Unless of course you’re like me and just keep going back. I’m sure there are even more towns to explore beyond what I’ve listed but these ones are great places to start.
- Top 3 Best Antigua Day Trips
- Lesser-Known Day Trips from Antigua, Guatemala
- Antigua Day Trips that are Better With a Tour
- The Day Trips from Antigua I Don’t Recommend
- Organizing Your Time in Antigua
Top 3 Best Antigua Day Trips
There’s a good chance one or more of the destinations I’m writing about will call out to you but if you really can’t make up your mind, these three spots are my favorites.
El Hato, Guatemala
Distance from Antigua: 20 minute taxi from Parque Central (or take a bus from the stop by Cerro de la Cruz)
Cost: In addition to your transportation, expect to pay an entry charge at any of the parks you visit + US $10-20 for a meal.
El Hato has changed exponentially since my first visit in 2014 when the Earth Lodge was really the only selling point for tourists. Beyond that, it was a quiet town in this hills outside of Antigua, perhaps great for local life but not for carving out precious vacation time. Now, El Hato is an eco-destination with tons of greenery, beautiful views, and a temperature 5-10 degrees cooler than town.
Go for half a day, or even just a meal. You’ll find several developed viewpoints to choose from, most with restaurants or snackbars, and a handful with Instagram props for your photo opportunity. My favorite is El Hato Verde (pictured) though it’s by far the most expensive. Bring a book or a group of friends, depending on the experience you’re looking for and enjoy the literal change of scenery from Antigua.
Hobbitenango is a must-see for LOTR fans (and has some fun sightDOING activities as well; check their Instagram for possible fireworks and events). Other spots include Altamira and Los Celajes and I’ve heard the deep dish pizza with a view at Antigua Boreal is good, too. The original spot, Earth Lodge, is more fabulous than it was before with a great yoga studio and select spa treatments in addition to its infamous farm-to-table meals.
Distance from Antigua: 10 minute taxi from Parque Central (or about a 40-minute boring walk)
Cost: 20 Q entry (US $2.50); optional activities range from 35-175Q
Okay, the town itself doesn’t stand out, but Jocotenango is a great place to visit a coffee plantation. The two main farms, Finca Filadelphia and Finca La Azotea, are frequented by group tours from Antigua but going on your own is better so you can spend as much time as you want. Of the two, Azotea is my preference since there’s so much going on.
As expected, you can tour the coffee farm at Azotea but you can also rent bikes to ride around the grounds, make your own chocolate, join a short horseback ride (the horses look well cared for), or attend fitness classes. You can also go to one of their on-site restaurants (I can’t vouch for any) or get a drink from the beer garden (recommended).
If you’re not comfortable going here on your own, no problem: you can book a tour in a few clicks.
Distance from Antigua: About 1hr 15 min in a tour shuttle
Cost: $20-25 depending on the exact tour you choose
If you’re going to Guatemala, seeing an active volcano is a must and Pacaya is the most easily accessible of the bunch. This does require a relatively steep hike up to the top but the whole thing is about 3.5 miles round-trip so it should be achievable by any motivated, semi-fit travelers.
You will see volcanic activity while you’re there but the exact type depends on the whims of Mother Nature. You can probably expect steam vents that are hot enough to roast marshmallows (and melt the soles of your shoes, if you’re not careful) but actual lava is dependent on current conditions.
Half-day tours leave from town every day and in my opinion, that’s the best way to do it unless you’re trying to do it in combination with either Guatemala City or the thermal springs at Santa Teresita. If it’s rainy season, go in the morning for a better chance of clear views.
Lesser-Known Day Trips from Antigua, Guatemala
These destinations are a little off-the-beaten-path but exceptionally close and easy to reach. If you’re looking for insight into “real life”, choose one of these Antigua day trips.
San Lorenzo el Cubo
Distance from Antigua: 15 minute taxi from Parque Central; buses leave from the stop by the market
Cost: $35 for a half-day tour
Years ago, I went to a worry doll workshop offered by Niños de Guatemala, an NGO that works to provide a quality education to local children. It’s a fun little craft made better by the cultural exchange with a friendly family.
Also in San Lorenzo el Cubo is a state-of-the-art coworking office with fabulous views from the terrace.
Distance from Antigua: 20 minute taxi from Parque Central; buses leave frequently from the stop by the market
Cost: $35 for a half-day tour
Ciudad Vieja is a working-class town where the volcanoes tower right over you. Another Niños de Guatemala tour takes you to tour a local school, a chicken bus repair shop, and a coffin shop where you’ll learn more about local death traditions. Although I’ve been to Ciudad Vieja, I haven’t been on this particular tour but I imagine it’s great.
Cerveceria 14, a brewery, is also in Ciudad Vieja (just outside town, heading toward San Miguel Dueñas). I don’t love their beer but they have live music most days — check their Facebook for listings.
San Miguel Dueñas
Distance from Antigua: 25 minutes from Antigua by taxi; buses leave from the stop by the market
Cost: 65Q for pancakes; 100Q+ for spa treatments
The main draw to this little town is the Valhalla Macadamia Farm right outside town. Plan a meal (or dessert — their macadamia pancakes definitely stress the cake) and perhaps a massage with macadamia oil. Afterwards, stop by the actual town center. It’s small but has some lovely colonial architecture and is worth the short detour.
San Miguel Escobar
Distance from Antigua: 10 minutes by taxi or bus
Cost: $35 for a 3-hour tour
Another nonprofit organization, De la Gente does an incredible job blending agrotourism with cultural exchange. They offer tours in San Miguel Escobar, a farming community, with tours to learn more about coffee or making peanut butter. They also have a cooking class focused on making pepian, a traditional dish with a delightfully nutty sauce thanks to some sesame seeds.
Antigua Day Trips that are Better With a Tour
Distance from Antigua: 1+ hour by taxi (traffic can be horrendous, though). Don’t take the bus on this route.
Cost: $35-50 depending on the exact tour you choose
Since you’ll likely be flying in and out of Guatemala City, you might want to grab a hotel there instead of backtracking as a day trip from Antigua, but nevertheless it’s a great side trip nearby. There’s a lot to see here, from the Metropolitan Cathedral to the National Palace, museums, and more.
Parts of Guatemala City are very, very safe and others should be avoided at all costs. Having a local who can show you around will give you one less thing to worry about.
Santa Catarina Barahona
Distance from Antigua: 35 minutes by taxi
There are no major attractions or tourist businesses in Santa Catarina Barahona and you’d never end up there unless you tried. Make an effort, though, and you can set up a great cultural experience through Small Change 4 Big Change. These aren’t tours; they are intentional, customized visits with locals who are willing to teach you weaving, cooking, Spanish or other skills.
The Day Trips from Antigua I Don’t Recommend
I’m not saying these places aren’t worth visiting, but in my opinion they’re too far for day trips.
Distance from Antigua: 2.5 hours by car or tourist shuttle; 3ish by bus
Most people think they can day trip to Chichicastenango since their only goal is some shopping for handicrafts. However, the market is much better first thing in the morning before all the busloads arrive plus there’s more to do than just shop.
Distance from Antigua: 2.5++ hours by car or tourist shuttle (depending on the exact town you’re traveling to)
There are simply too many communities on the shores of Lago de Atitlán to try and visit in a single day. You really need a few days in the region to do it justice: pick 2-3 towns to explore, try hiking or kayaking (this area is all about the outdoor setting), and if you can afford it, reserve a few nights at one of the new, beautiful hotels.
Monterrico and the Pacific Coast
Distance from Antigua: 2.5+ hours by car or tourist shuttle
Heading to the beach for the day sounds like a good idea, but Monterrico is another destination that doesn’t work well as a day trip from Antigua. drive trip is long, you’ll only be there midday when the sand is too hot to walk on, and you’ll miss out on sunset. Spend the night or don’t go at all (frankly, I think this destination is low priority unless you have time to spare).
Distance from Antigua: Impossibly far.
I cannot believe Tikal exists as a sellable daytrip: you need a 1 hour taxi to the Guatemala City airport, followed by 1 hour flight, followed by a 1 hour 15 minute drive to the archaeological site. Technically it’s doable if you travel from about 4am-10pm but it’ll be better if you spend the night (or two).
Organizing Your Time in Antigua
You can’t see it all in a single trip (trust me, I’ve tried) but with a few days, you can see the best of Antigua proper as well as a side trip or two. This is one part of the world where the more you see, the more you’ll hear about and the more you’ll want to come back. Even after spending several weeks collectively, I still have things on my to-do list. Maybe next time I’ll finally be able to tell you about Iximche!