Out of everywhere in the world, I feel the most warm and fuzzy in Antigua. It’s cute, it’s charming, it’s cheap, and it’s comfortable. What more could you want?
Antigua, Guatemala is a great destination to visit year-round, but is busiest in early spring when Semana Santa (Holy Week, leading up to Easter) draws thousands of locals and international tourists. While most visitors spend just 2-3 days in this compact city, I’ve spent more than three weeks there collectively playing tourist and studying Spanish. Since I was fortunate enough to explore the city thoroughly, here’s what I recommend as the best of the city.
>>>>> Read More: The Heart and Soul of Guatemala Guatemala is a country that is simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting, read more about my experience volunteering there.
Plan a Trip to Antigua Guatemala
The Best Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala
Hike a Volcano: As an outdoor lover, the main draw to Antigua was being close to so many hiking opportunities. If you’re looking for a challenge, the overnight on Acatenango should not be missed. The hike itself is strenuous, but the views of erupting Fuego in the distance make it worthwhile. On the other hand, Pacaya is a half day hike that anyone and everyone can do. If you have mobility issues, ask about horseback riding because the landscape is other-worldly.
Read More: Hiking Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala My personal account of the Acatenango hike and seeing an active volcano from the top.
Get a Massage: After my hike, I was sore as can be, but thankfully spa services are affordable in Guatemala! Antigua has a number of spas throughout the city; my pick is Rejuvenece, where most hour-long treatments are about $20. Packages are also available for an even better deal!
Spanish School: Guatemala is a top place to learn Spanish because the dialect has less of an accent and slang compared to other countries’ variations. Most schools teach in weekly increments; I attended classes at Ixchel Spanish School and Spanish Academy Sevilla; both were good, but I preferred Sevilla.
Visit the Art Gallery at Panza Verde: I discovered Panza Verde on accident, since it was where YogAntigua holds morning yoga classes. However, it’s worth a visit even if you’re not a yogi: the art collection there features works by Guatemalan artists in rotating exhibits. The restaurant is also great!
Cook a Meal: The best way to learn about a region’s food is by preparing it yourself. Learn about all the ingredients that make up Guatemalan meals by attending a class at Frijol Feliz. The class ends with more food than you could possibly eat, but save room for dessert anyway because it was the best part!
Learn About Chocolate: If you want to skip right to dessert, head to the Chocomuseo. Their signature “Beans to Bar” class does a great job describing cacao’s history, harvesting, and other uses. The workshop itself is a chance to try different preparations of chocolate and make your own to take home.
Semana Santa: If you are lucky enough to be visiting Guatemala between Palm Sunday and Easter, the processions are not to be missed. Walk the streets to enjoy the colorful alfombras and stay afterward for the musical processions. If of interest, the masses and religious events are also very worthwhile.
Go Shopping at Nim Pot: There are a number of markets throughout Guatemala selling handicrafts like textiles, jewelry, and ceramics, but the negotiating process can be overwhelming. Nim Pot is set up like a typical store with set costs and price tags. Even if you don’t buy from here, it’s a great way to get a feel for what things should cost when you shop elsewhere.
Walk the Town: Since Antigua is compact, you can really walk everywhere. There’s a lot to see, including gorgeous churches, ruins from the earthquake of 1773, and colonial architecture. Unfortunately, the walking tours I tried weren’t great, so I’d advise picking up a book and guiding yourself.
Relax: The weather in Antigua is pretty mild year-round due to its elevation, but there are still some very nice days. If it’s warm and sunny, head to the Porta Hotel and buy a day pass to their gorgeous pool. While you’re there, take advantage of a nice wine list and friendly bartenders.
The Best Hotels in Antigua Guatemala
Taanah Guesthouse: A few blocks from the main square, Taanah Guesthouse was a delightful place to stay with plenty of hot water and strong wi-fi. The owners, Evelyn and Fernando, are friendly and helpful and provide a fantastic breakfast in the morning…all for a mere $30/night. If you’re new to Airbnb, you can even receive $20 off your first stay when you join through my link.
El Hostal: The aptly named El Hostal was the perfect place for me to stay while traveling solo. It’s a cutely decorated hostel with a great courtyard. Guests are social, but not partiers, and I got a good night’s sleep on the comfortable beds. Breakfast in the morning was great! Book through Hostelworld in advance; dorms do fill up.
Casa Santa Domingo: One of the great things about Guatemala is that you get a lot for your money. Casa Santa Domingo is a true five-star hotel with gorgeous grounds, museums on-site, and restaurants that will make a special occasion shine. This would be where I went for a honeymoon, no doubt about it.
The Best Restaurants in Antigua Guatemala
La Merced Square: While not a restaurant exactly, the street food at La Merced on weekends was my favorite place to eat. You can get delicious meals for about $2 here, ranging from freshly grilled meats to fried plantains to simple pizza covered in hot sauce. If you see a long line of locals at a particular stand, I guarantee that’s where you want to eat.
Porque No: Out of all of Antigua, Porque No is probably my favorite restaurant. Expect a wait for a table because the place is tiny. Climb the ladder to eat upstairs and order the lomito en salsa de vino if you want a treat.
Fernando’s Kaffee: I didn’t often go out for breakfast since it was included at my hotels and/or homestay, but Fernando’s is the place to go. Their juices are phenomenal and the breakfast plates are hearty enough to fill you up until dinner.
Casa Santo Tomas: This new gastropub has really high-quality food at reasonable prices (expect to pay about $10/entree). The service was the best I’ve had in Antigua and it felt like the type of place I’d go to for a special occasion at home. Reservations are suggested!
Samsara: I went to Samsara for their great selection of teas, but this vegetarian-friendly restaurant is also a great choice for light meals or the very odd but very filling kale and peanut butter smoothie. Hey, don’t knock it til you try it.
Earth Lodge: On Sunday afternoons, you need to head out of town and to Earth Lodge, past Cerro de la Cruz and in the village of El Hato. Sundays are great for live music, cornhole, darts, hiking, and of course…a great meal at their Sunday barbecue. If you stay for dinner (or overnight), you’ll be served a vegetarian family-style meal featuring their own organically grown produce, herbs, and spices.
Cafe No Se: Cafe No Se is a complete dive bar, but one where everyone speaks English yet is happy to practice Spanish with you if you prefer. I don’t drink hard liquor, but I’ve heard the mezcal is the thing to order here.
Guate Java: I’ve removed my old favorite coffee/wi-fi spot and am so happy that Guate Java opened up! Their beans are sourced directly from the farmers to ensure a high-quality product at a fair wage and the baristas are very knowledgeable and friendly. Strong wi-fi! (Just stay away from the chai; it’s a powder).
Cafe Sky: In my opinion, the food at Cafe Sky is pretty average, but that’s more than made up for by the view from their rooftop. Head all the way to the top of their spiral staircase and order one of the fresh fruit smoothies. As long as you leave a tip, the waiters will let you stay up there as long as you want.
The Bottom Line
Antigua is one of the most popular places to visit in Central America, and a city I highly recommend. The city is relatively close to a major international airport (an hour or less from Guatemala City), has a lot of history from colonial times starting in the 16th century, and offers a great assortment of things to do. Whether you’re visiting briefly or planning an extended stay, you can’t go wrong with Antigua.
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Have you visited Antigua? What else would you recommend?
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