Antigua feels like a sweet Saturday morning. There’s a feeling of stillness and serenity that comes from the town being encompassed by mountains on all sides. Yet, the colorful buildings and the cobblestones streets invite you to explore all the town has to offer. Read below for recommendations on the top things to see and do during your visit to Antigua, Guatemala!
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Santa Catalina Arch
Perhaps the most famous site in Antigua, the Santa Catalina arch is a historic icon of the city. Its butter-yellow walls overlook the two convents, Convent of Santa Catalina and Convent of the Virgin. The arch dates back to the colonial period of the late 1600’s and has stood the test of time. The arch is the heart of the town, as peddlers and passerby alike stop to admire the clocktower and take photos.
Cerro de la Cruz Overlook
No need to go too far to get the best view of the city. Consider walking up to the nearby Cerro de la Cruz overlook for great photos. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the city center. Hike up steps to the first landing for a scenic vista of the city below and the volcanoes in the distance. If you have some time, stop by the cafe on the other side of the cross – it’s a perfect hideaway to have a cafecito.
Although there are nice views at sunrise and sunset, exercise caution – there are reports of robberies on unsuspecting tourists that are try cling alone to the peak.
As the name implies, the Parque Central is a quaint park situated in the middle of the town’s square. Take a break and take in the beautiful colonial architecture of the nearby municipal buildings and neighboring cafes.
You can also take an impromptu art walk throughout the park, which has statues, fountains and even a photo gallery installations that promotes Guatemala’s highlights. Stop for a quick cafe at Cafe Condensa, which opens up to a direct view of the entire park. Or, consider coming in the late afternoon to purchase a few tourist trinkets from the local sellers.
Stretch your legs by taking a walking tour. These tours are ideal for each budget, since they are customizable. There are tons of options and guides from Antigua that can accommodate anything you’d like to see. Take advantage of the history tour, or even the Antigua By Night Tour for a varied experience. Some tours even include walks through the nearby villages (transportation is included). Either way, it’s a great way to support the local guides while sneaking in a little exercise!
Hike Volcán Pacaya and Volcán Acatenango:
I had no idea prior to arriving just how many volcanoes existed in the country. Guatemala has 32 volcanoes – while you can’t get too close to ALL of them, there are a few right outside of Antigua that you can explore. Fair warning though, these routes are NOT for the faint of heart! Read here for my experience hiking Volcán Acatenango!
There is no shortage of companies that can take you to the mountaintops, but I highly recommend Wicho & Charlie’s. They are a tiny bit pricier than their counterparts, but they are an excellent expedition company that offers top-notch services and experiences. In addition, they use a portion of the expedition fees to sustain local community schools and projects. Traveling with this company is a win-win!
Take a Cooking Class
Learn to make delicious Guatemalan Cuisine from a local chef! After describing the dishes that you’ll make, the chef will walk you through step-by-step in preparing a four course meal.
Pepian, Guatemala’s national dish, is a savory and stick-to-your-bones chicken stew. In addition to learning that recipe, Chef Sonia also taught us how to make tortillas, atole (a corn soup with sweet and savory toppings) and radish salad. However, my personal favorite was making a dessert known as Rellenitas. These rich and sweet plantains are stuffed with a chocolate and black bean mixture, then fried.
Though Antigua offers numerous cooking schools in town, I recommend La Tortilla Cooking School. With great new friends, unlimited wine and a wonderful homemade meal, their cooking classes definitely take the cake as a fun activity. Prices are $50 USD per person for a three hour class.
Chocolate and Coffee Tasting
Perhaps I’m biased, but some of the best things to do in Antigua are to go chocolate and coffee tasting. Guatemala’s mountainous and tropical climate is ideal for these crops and the products are top-notch.
Stop in at Ek Chuah Chocolateria for chocolate tastings and great drinks. While their shop boasts a great selection of homemade chocolate products, they also offer chocolate making classes (about $15 USD) and a miniature chocolate museum display in the back. Stop and chat with Vincenzo, the owner. He smiles easily and is more than happy to teach you all about their family-owned business!
If chocolate isn’t your thing, then you’re out of options. Just kidding!
There are plenty of day-trips that offer tours of organic and locally owned coffee farms just outside Antigua. Try a coffee farm tour and tasting and De la Gente Coffee. For about $30 USD, you can take a tour of the property and learn all about their growing and production process. At the end, you’ll have a treat of a coffee tasting with beans grown onsite. You’ll be buzzing back to Antigua after that!
Play at Hobbitenango
Who knew that middle earth can be found a half-hour outside Antigua? Visit Hobbitenango, a hillside theme park and resort inspired by the Hobbit series. There you’ll find sweeping views of Antigua below and the volcanoes beyond it. On a clear night, you’ll even be able to see the lava flow from Volcán Fuego!
Aside from the scenery, enjoy a meal at their Lord of the Rings inspired restaurants. The food here is exceptionally good, and offers both Latin and Western fare. They also have an impressive bar menu, with custom themed drinks to match the aesthetic.
When you’re ready for adventure, head up to the swing or mini-golf! Or, hike around the property to take in the views. There is no shortage of swoon-worthy photo opportunities, pictured shamelessly below. As you make your way back down the mountain, check out the artisanal farmer’s market for souvenirs, snacks and gifts.
If you can, I recommend staying the night to fully take in the resort. I’m not a huge Lord of the Rings fan, but the property alone is beautiful and serene. Rent one of the Hobbit Cottages for on the property. In addition to them being incredibly on-theme, they are extremely comfortable and cozy.