32 Fun Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala

by | Jun 24, 2022 | Guatemala, Travel

One of the top 3 destinations in Central America is Antigua, Guatemala. With its three volcanoes, charming colonial buildings, and cobblestoned streets, it is probably the most beautiful city in Central America. Plus, there are so many things to do in Antigua that you could literally spend a week in this charming and historical city and never get bored.

In this jam-packed guide to Antigua, I’m going to share with you 32 of the latest and greatest things to do in the city for those who love culture, history, food, art, nature, and a bit of adventure. You’ll also find loads of practical info on where to stay and eat, how to get around, and where to find safe ATMs.

For more info on traveling in Antigua and Guatemala, visit my Guatemala Travel Guide.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Bookshop.org Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website’s Disclosure for more info.

Layout of Antigua

Antigua is a great city for travelers because its small size (population: 59,000) means that you can walk from one end of the city to another in a couple of hours.

map of Antigua

In the above map, the historic center is the orange-colored part on the map. This is where you’ll find most of the beautiful colonial buildings, monuments, and ruins.

You can also see in the above map that Avenues called Avenidas, run north and south, while streets, or Calles, go east and west.

Almost all of the streets are covered in large stones. They’re beautiful to look at but terrible to walk on and a nightmare to drive on.

ruins of a church
the ruins of Convento la Recoleccion

Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala, but it was abandoned by the government and most of the citizens after the devastating earthquake of 1773. Many of the remaining buildings just stood there. The churches and convents continued falling apart but no one bothered to bulldoze them. Today the ruins of many of these religious structures are still in the city and you can easily visit them.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the government started restoring Antigua to what it was like in centuries past. Today you have a small city that looks on the surface as if you’ve stepped back in time to the eighteenth century when Antigua was still the capital of Guatemala.

Volcano Agua
Volcano Agua

Surrounding the city are 3 volcanoes: Agua, El Fuego, and Acatenango. You can climb El Fuego and Acatenango, but Agua is unsafe due to crime. There have been cases of hikers getting robbed by bandits.

Lava running down El Fuego at night
Volcano El Fuego

Only El Fuego is active. You can see the volcano spewing smoke during the day and lava running down it at night. Stay in a hotel or hostel with a rooftop terrace for the night spectacle of El Fuego. I have a guide on a list of hotels and hostels with good views of the volcanoes.

North of the city is a range of mountains that is fun to explore on your own or on a tour.

South and West of the city are several villages that you can also visit on day trips or on a tour. There are 2 tours to take to do this: the ATV Villages Tour and the Street Food Tour.

TRAVEL TIP: Want to travel more deeply and really understand the people and culture of Antigua and Guatemala? Check out this list of books on Guatemala and this list of books on the Maya.

Things to do in the Historic Center of Antigua

1. Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is the central park or square in the historic center of Antigua. It’s the perfect place to get a feel for the city and watch the comings and goings of the people: the vendors selling souvenirs, the tour guides offering their tours, kids blowing bubbles, families and friends hanging out on the benches, and tourists and locals snapping photos of themselves in front of the fountain.

mermaid fountain in Plaza Mayor in Antigua Guatemala
Mermaid fountain in Plaza Mayor

At the center of the park is a beautiful water fountain adorned with mermaid sculptures. The fountain was originally placed off to the side in order to make room for bullfights, horse races, and other activities. It was moved in 1738 to the park’s center.

The park is surrounded by some of the city’s grandest buildings: a church, the Palace of the Captains General, the City Hall Palace, and loads of shops, restaurants, travel agencies, and cafes.

2. Real Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales

  • COST: Free
  • OPEN: 9:00 – 4:00 pm (Th & F); 10:00 am – 4:00 pm (Sa & Su) closed on M, T, & W
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The grandest building on the square is the Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the Captains General). Before the capital moved to Guatemala City, this was where Guatemala was governed.

Palacio de los Capitanes
Palacio de los Capitanes

Completed in 1764, the building used to include courtrooms, the treasury, council chambers, stables for horses, a jail, a torture room, and other rooms that carried out services for keeping the palace going like kitchens and laundry rooms.

When the capital moved in 1773, the governor-general stripped the building of its architectural decorations. He even tried to take the stone columns with him to Guatemala City, but fortunately, they were too heavy.

Restoration of the palace began in the 1980s.

Today the building houses government offices and a history museum. To find out more about the museum, jump to the section on Museums.

There are two flags on top of the building. The blue one is Guatemala’s and the green one is for Antigua.

3. City Hall Palace (Palacio del Ayuntamiento)

Across from the Palacio de los Capitanes is the beautiful and historic Palacio del Ayuntamiento (City Hall). In the colonial era, this was where you’d find the police, prisoners, and council chambers. Today it houses city government offices.

City Hall and a street full of cars in Antigua
City Hall

According to Lonely Planet, you can enter and get a nice photo from the balcony on the second floor. I tried to do this, but I was not allowed inside. Perhaps it was due to COVID restrictions.

4. Cathedral San Jose

The other grand building facing the park is the Cathedral of San Jose. The church was built where the entrance to the old Cathedral of Santiago was located and which now lies in ruin (see the section on ruins for more info on the old Cathedral).

Cathedral of San Jose
Cathedral of San Jose

Wait until the afternoon to photograph the cathedral. That’s when the building is covered in pigeons and when the light from the sun shines on it.

The style of architecture is Baroque, the typical style of Latin American churches. However, it’s quite understated for Baroque.

Above the door is a carving of Saint Michael, above him is the Virgin Mary, and the third carving is God.

The interior of the church is plain. However, there are a few works of art inside that are worth seeing: paintings depicting the apostles by Juan de Correa and the processional figures from the 1600 and 1700s.

5. Santa Catalina Arch

I’m sure you’ve seen the famous Antigua photo of a cobble-stoned street and an arch with views of a volcano in the distance. That is the Santa Catalina Arch. You’ll find it two streets away from Plaza Mayor.

Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua

If you’re looking to get a good shot of both the arch and the volcano, try and visit it several times. Sometimes the volcano is covered in clouds, while other times the street is covered with people taking photos. The volcano is usually clear of clouds in the morning, but the evening is when the light is the most spectacular.

The arch has a fascinating history. Back in the 1600s, there was a cloistered convent on one side of the street. The nuns wanted to expand their convent, but the city refused to let them on their side of the street. So, the nuns built another wing across the street and because they were cloistered, they built an arch and walkway for the nuns to get from one building to another without being seen by the public.

6. Iglesia de la Merced

  • COST: to visit the monastery ruins: Foreigners – Q20; Locals – Q10
  • OPEN: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm (M-F); 9:00 am – 5:30 pm (Sa & Su)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

One of the most ornate religious structures in Antigua is Iglesia de la Merced. The façade is like a yellow wedding cake covered in white icing.  It is definitely worth a visit.

La Merced means “The Mercy” in Spanish and is another name for the Virgin Mary. Its construction was completed in 1767 (just six years before the 1773 earthquake).

Iglesia de la Merced
Iglesia de la Merced

The church and monastery didn’t suffer a lot of damage during that earthquake, but an aftershock weakened the structure enough. It was later abandoned when the capital moved to Guatemala City. The Fathers of La Merced built an exact replica of the Antigua church in Guatemala City and took all the works of art with them to the new building.

The church was restored in 1850.

You have to pay to get into the monastery but not the church. The most interesting feature of the monastery is the largest water fountain in Antigua in the middle of the monastery’s courtyard.

large stone fountain
fountain in the La Merced Convent

You can walk up the stairs to the empty second floor. The rooms on the floor are all gone now and instead, is a rooftop with views of the fountain below and the mountains surrounding the city. Other than that, this monastery is one that you can easily skip with little regret.

The interior of the church is not all that special, though, so if you can’t get inside, don’t fret.

TRAVEL TIP: After 4:00 pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, there is a food market in the park beside Iglesia de la Merced. You can get delicious street food for a reasonable price.

7. Casa Popenoe

  • ENGLISH TOURS: 10:30 – 11:45 am (Th) – no minimum; maximum 5 people
  • COST: Q100 (US$14); Q150 (US$21) with curator
  • BUY YOUR TICKET ONLINE: Casa Popenoe
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The one thing on this list of things to do in Antigua that I regrettably didn’t do is a visit to Casa Popenoe.

Casa Popenoe is a restored colonial house that was originally built in 1650. Over the years, earthquakes and mother nature destroyed parts of the house. However, some of the original 1650 parts still exist today.

It was purchased by Americans, Wilson and Dorothy Popenoe, and restored to what it must have looked like in the 1600s.

You can tour the house on Thursdays from 10:30 to 11:45. However, don’t just show up. You’ll need to book your tickets online ahead of time.

This looks like a great thing to do in Antigua for architecture and history lovers.

If you do get a chance, let me know what you think in the Comment Section below.

8. Explore the colonial architecture of Antigua

The thing I love to do the most in Antigua is to just wander the streets taking photos of the beautiful and colorful buildings, the cobblestoned streets, the volcanoes, and the people.

Calle de Los Pasos

My favorite architectural spots are the following: Calle de Los Pasos, the small park next to Iglesia San Pedro Apostal that contains Tanque la Union (where people used to do their laundry), 5A Avenida Norte, and Poniente Street. 

a cobblestoned street lined with colorful colonial buildings

TRAVEL TIP: Get the money shot at Mcdonald’s. Yes, I’m not kidding here. Everyone who’s anyone says that the best shot of Volcano Agua is from Mcdonald’s (Google Maps). You don’t actually have to eat there, though. McDonald’s has a courtyard, and you can just go in and snap your photo without spending a dime.

9. Explore the ruins of Antigua

  • COST: Q40 (US$5.21) for foreign tourists; Q20 (US$2.61) for locals
  • OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (every day)

When you think of ruins in Central America, you probably think of Maya pyramids, right? Well, Antigua has a completely different set of ruins. They are the ruins of churches, monasteries, and convents from the famous earthquake of 1773. This is the one that destroyed Antigua and led to Guatemala’s capital permanently moving to Guatemala City.

ruins of cathedral in Antigua, Guatemala

The earthquake left many of Antigua’s grandest buildings in ruins. When everyone moved to Guatemala City, they left the churches, convents, and monasteries as is. Over the years, the buildings decayed even further. But no one thought of completely bulldozing them and replacing them with condos and shopping malls. Thank goodness!

Today as you walk around Antigua, you see these ruins all over the city. They actually look kind of magical. They are an absolute joy to explore and take photos of.

If you love history, architecture, and photography, visiting the ruins is a not-to-miss thing to do in Antigua.

Here are some of my favorite ruins:

  • Cathedral de Santiago (Google Maps) – cool ruin near the main square
  • San Jeronimo (Google Maps) – this has nice views of the Volcano Agua
  • Convento la Recoleccion (Google Maps) – really cool ruins, you can climb over them
  • Convento Capuchinas (Google Maps) – a very interesting circular building and museum
  • Convento Santa Clara (Google Maps) – this one has tunnels
  • Convento Santo Domingo (Google Maps) – it’s now a set of museums on the grounds of a hotel
  • La Merced Convent (Google Maps) – beautiful water fountain

10. Take a Walking Tour with Elizabeth Bell

  • COST: US$25 (the price of the 3 museums is included)
  • TOUR TIMES: 9:30 am – 12:30 pm (Tu, F, Sa)
  • BOOK YOUR TOUR: book and pay for your tour online at Antigua Tours
  • LOCATION: Google Maps and Google Maps

The best way to learn about the history of Antigua is with a walking tour with historian and author, Elizabeth Bell.  Bell is an American who has been living in the city since 1969 and has written several books on the history of Antigua, including one for tourists that I highly recommend called Antigua Guatemala: Its Heritage.

a street lined with colorful Spanish colonial buildings leading to a volcano

On her 3-hour walking tours, she takes you to the ruins of the Cathedral of Santiago, an art gallery, the Jade Museum, and the museums of Santo Domingo. The tickets for the museums are included in the tour price. What a great deal!

Join her Facebook page, where she posts information on upcoming cultural events in Antigua.

11. Take a Free Walking Tour

  • COST: FREE – but you should tip your guide at the end of the tour
  • TOUR TIMES: 3:30 pm (M, Tu, W, Th, F) in English; 9:15 am (W & F)
  • BOOK YOUR TOUR: Free Tours
  • MEETING POINT: Iglesia La Merced

For those on a budget, the FREE walking tour with Klaudia is another great option. I went on both her tour and Bell’s Tour, and I enjoyed both.

Igelsia San Pedro Apostol at dusk

Klaudia is a Guatemalan who moved to Antigua from Guatemala City. Like Bell, she’s also a wealth of information on the history and culture of Antigua and Guatemala. However, because she’s lived her whole life in Guatemala, she can give you a local’s perspective, which is something that Bell can’t do.

Our 3-hour tour started at Iglesia La Merced and then proceeded to visit the famous arch, Nim P’ot, Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral, the old University of San Carlos, the ruins of Santa Clara, Obras Sociales Hermano Pedro, Tanque la Union, Calle de Los Pasos, and finally ending at Iglesia San Francisco.

Taking a walking tour is one of the best things to do in Antigua if you want to learn about the history of the city.

a park with palm trees and a yellow structure that used to be a public laundry

Things to do in Antigua for a Bit of Adventure

There are four volcanoes near Antigua. The most noticeable one is Volcano Agua. Unfortunately, it currently isn’t safe to hike up as there are people who will rob you. The two that are climbable are Pacaya and Acetenango. The fourth volcano is El Fuego, which is the one that erupts every 20 minutes. You can get to it from Acatenango.

12. Hike Acatenango and El Fuego Volcanoes

  • COST: Q50 (US$7) entrance fee to park + guide, cabin or tent, and meals – US$75 – US$129 + US$26 – $32 optional to have porters carry your backpack
  • START and END TIMES: 7:00 or 8:00 am leave Antigua – return around noon the next day
  • WHERE TO BOOK YOUR TOUR: There are many tour operators in Antigua: Wicho and Charlie, OX Expeditions,
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

One of the most popular things to do in Antigua is to climb to the summit of Volcano Acatenango and then if you wish to Volcano El Fuego, an active volcano that erupts multiple times a day.

El Fuego Volcano errupting and lava flowing down its sides at night

This is NOT an easy climb and requires you to be physically fit. Acatenango is 3,976 meters high (Mt. Everest is 8,848 meters high).

It’s a 4 to 6-hour climb to base camp, where you’ll spend the night in either tents or huts. It’s a difficult hike as you are continuously walking uphill.

From the base camp, you can see and hear El Fuego erupt and spew lava.

You can pay extra and hike to El Fuego that evening. It’s another 4 hours round-trip. The hike to El Fuego is at night and it’s not easy to hike in the dark, cold, and wind.

The next morning, you wake up before dawn and hike 2 more hours to the summit to see the sunrise. You can choose to just stay at base camp, however. You’ll still see the sunrise.

Then everyone hikes down. It’ll take about 3 hours.

There are several tours companies that lead hikes to Acatenango:

  • Wicho and CharlieUS$75 – you stay in cabins at base camp; includes 4 meals, snacks, guide, cabin with camping gear, essential personal gear, and transportation; you can also rent clothes from them if you don’t have a warm jacket, gloves, trekking poles, headlamp. They have a list of gear that they rent out on their website.
  • OX ExpeditionsUS$89 to the summit of Acatenango or US$129 for both Acatenango and El Fuego – includes 3 meals, guide, tent, camping gear, and transportation

Everyone I’ve met who has done the Acatanengo hike says it was one of the most difficult hikes they’ve ever done but it was also one of the best things they’ve ever done in their life.

13. Hike the Pacaya Volcano

If you’re not keen on climbing 3,000 meters but still want to hike up a volcano, then definitely do the Pacaya hike.

people on the top of a volcano at dusk

This volcano was last active in May 2021. You did not read that wrong. The volcano erupted and lava flowed down one side. As I write this article, you can climb the one side that didn’t experience lava sliding down.

Pacaya is a moderately difficult hike, so you don’t need to be super athletic. You can also go up by horse if you so wish.

Tours generally pick people up at their hotel at 6:00 am or 2:00 pm. If you do the afternoon hike, you’ll be going down in the dark.

It takes about an hour to drive to the base of the volcano and 2 hours to climb to the top.

When you get to the top, you’ll get to the lava part. Here you can roast marshmallows and see views of the valley below and where the lava turned the ground black.

I booked my tour through my language school, but you can also sign up through your accommodations or do it online through Get Your Guide.

You can also book an overnight Pacaya hike in which you get to stay overnight on the mountain. You can book through OX Expeditions.

What to bring: Good hiking shoes, water, and a flashlight

14. Get some stunning views from Cerro de la Cruz

  • COST: free
  • OPEN: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

For a spectacular view over the city of Antigua that doesn’t require too much hiking or driving, head to the hill on the north side of the city called Cerro de la Cruz.  It’s a hill topped with a huge cross.

Volcano Agua, the city of Antigua and a wooden cross

Not to worry. It’s a short walk from the center of the city and then a short hike up the hill to the top (it took me 8 minutes!). You can safely do it by yourself during the day. I was told that it’s not safe after sundown.

Many ATV tours include a stop at Cerro de La Cruz on their tours.

15. Hang out with Hobbits at Hobbitenango

  • COST: Q50 (US$7)
  • OPEN: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm (M – Th); 8:00 – 7:00 pm (F – Su)
  • WEBSITE: https://www.hobbitenango.com/
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
  • HOW TO GET TO HOBBITENANGO: Uber or shuttle bus for Q45 (contact them via Whatsapp for shuttle times  – 3090-8812)

One of the most unique places to visit in Antigua is Hobbitenango. Yes, just what the name suggests, it is a replica of a Hobbit village with amazing views of the valley and mountains surrounding Antigua.

Located 8.5 kilometers from the center of Antigua, Hobbitenango contains a café and restaurant, trails to walk around, hammocks to lie in, and a rope swing.

a person sitting in a giant hand overlooking a valley and volcano

There’s also a giant hand overlooking the valley below. It’s popular to get your photo taken while you stand or sit on the hand.

You can also stay overnight at Hobbitenango. They have a few rooms that resemble Hobbit houses.

You can join an ATV tour or you can take an Uber or a shuttle bus from Hobbitenango’s office (Google Maps) in Antigua for Q45 (US$6.50).

This is one of the best places in Antigua for seeing amazing sunsets and taking photos.

16. Immerse yourself in nature at Earth Lodge

  • COST: Q290 – Q350 (US$37 – $48) night stay in a tree house; US$10/dish; Q60 for yoga classes
  • RESTAURANT OPEN: 8:00 am – 7:30 (daily)
  • BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com
  • WEBSITE: Earth Lodge
  • LOCATION: Google Maps
  • HOW TO GET THERE: Uber or Earth Lodge can arrange transportation for you

Another way to escape the hustle and bustle of Antigua is to spend a day or stay overnight in a tree house at Earth Lodge.

a balcony with sitting area

Located in the mountains outside of Antigua, the lodge is not just a hotel. It also has an avocado farm, a yoga studio, a restaurant, hiking trails, and stunning views of the volcanoes and Antigua.

Volcano El Fuego and Acatenango

This is one place in Antigua where I wish I had spent more time.

17. Go on an adventure with an ATV Tour

  • COST: Q440 – Q490 (US$58 – $64)
  • TOUR TIMES: 9:00 am or 2:30 pm
  • WEBSITE:  Simoon Tours
  • LOCATION OF TOUR AGENCY: Google Maps

One of the most exciting and fun things to do in Antigua is to go on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) tour and explore the mountains around Antigua. You get to drive your own ATV around windy and hilly roads while enjoying the amazing views of the mountains, volcanoes, and valleys around the city.

El Fuego and Acatenango and the city of Antigua at sunset
The view of El Fuego and Acatenango Volcanoes and Antigua on the Sunset ATV Tour

I did my tour through Simoon’s Tour Agency. They have several types of tours:

Antigua Sunset Tour(Q440 (US$63); 2:30 pm – 7:30 pm) – (1) El Cerro de la Cruz for beautiful views overlooking Antigua (2) Earth Lodge (3) Hobbitenango  – I did this tour but it was done in a different order and we stopped at San Juan del Obispo, Hobbitenango, and El Tambor Restaurant with sunset views of Volcanoes Acatenango and El Fuego.

Antigua Mountain Tour(Q490(US$70): 9:00 am – 3:00 pm) – (1) visit a chocolate factory in san Juan del Obispo (2) El Cerro de la Cruz (3) Hobbitenango (4) Earth Lodge or La Montaña del Hato for lunch

Sky High ATV Adventure Tour(Q490 (US$70) 9:00 am – 3:00 pm or 1:00 pm – 7:00 pm) – (1) El Cerro de la Cruz (2) Los Celajes (3) Hobbitenango

The tours are held every day and they don’t have a minimum number of people. When I did my Sunset Tour, I was the only one.

The quality of guides varies. For my Sunset Tour, Diego was my guide, and he was so kind and friendly and he made me feel very comfortable. His English is excellent. I did another tour called Villages Tour with Simoon’s and my guide was terrible.

Is it worth taking these ATV tours? The ATVs are fun! And I loved my guide, Diego. But the tours are expensive, and you can very easily visit some of these places on your own. See my sections on Hobbitenango and Earth Lodge for info on how to do it.

18. Explore the villages around Antigua

  • TOUR COST: Q470 (US$62) per person or Q270 (US$36) per passenger
  • TOUR TIME: 9:00 am every day
  • WEBSITE Simoon Tours
  • LOCATION OF TOUR AGENCY: Google Maps

Antigua is surrounded by beautiful scenery and several small villages. You can explore the villages on your own with chicken buses. However, a really cool and easier way to do it is with an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

a person sitting on an ATV in front of a church
ATV Village Tour – San Pedro de las Huertas

I did an ATV tour with Simoons Tours. The tour included a visit to:

  • a chocolate factory and wine store in San Juan del Obispo,
  • a jade factory in San Pedro de las Huertas,
  • the main square and oldest church in Guatemala in Ciudad Viejo (the second capital of Guatemala),
  • a macadamia nut farm,
  • a textile museum and souvenir bazaar in San Antonio Aguas Calientes.
  • a brewery for lunch and views of Acatenango and El Fuego.

Is the ATV tour worth it? This tour should theoretically be a fabulous way to learn about the different villages around Antigua. However, my guide, Angel, was horrible! He never told us anything about the villages we visited as he spent the whole time on his phone. When I asked him a question about one of the villages, he just said he didn’t know and went back to looking at his phone. On the other hand, riding the ATVs around the windy roads is a lot of fun!

Things to do in Antigua for Foodies

If you travel to eat, Antigua has 5 really fun things to do. I recommend ALL of them!

19. Join a Street Food Tour

  • COST: US$50
  • TOUR TIMES: 7:00 – 10:00 pm
  • BOOK YOUR TOUR: Cuscun
  • LOCATION: They’ll pick you up at your hotel

If you really want to understand the food of Guatemala, then you’ve got to join a food tour. You get to learn about a country’s cuisine, eat food that you normally wouldn’t, and learn how and what to order when you’re out and about on your own.

street stall with 2 people preparing food and bowls of food on the counter

Luckily, Cuscun Experiences has a great food tour that allows you to learn about and sample some of the most popular street food in Guatemala. These are foods that you normally wouldn’t know about, but if you ask a local, they’ll tell you that they eat them all the time.

On the tour, you get to visit 2 other cities by van: Jocatenango and Ciudad Viejo, and sample 8 different foods and drinks. My tour had only 3 people on it and our guide, Jose, was enthusiastic, friendly, and knowledgeable.

This food tour is one of the best things I did in Antigua.

20. Take a Cooking Class and Do a Market Tour

  • COST: 1 person – US$95; 2 people – US$85; 3 or more people – US$65
  • CLASS TIMES: 9:00 am or 2:00 pm
  • BOOK YOUR CLASS: Cuscun Website

The cooking class with Cuscun was THE #1 best thing I did in Antigua. This is no exaggeration.

For one thing, the food that we made was incredibly delicious. More importantly, the owner (Joaquin), the chef (Ingrid), and her assistant (Lydia) were so amazingly kind and patient that I felt completely relaxed.

two people standing at a table preparing food
Ingrid and Lydia preparing food in the kitchen at Cuscun Cooking School

I was picked up by the owner, Joaquin, and given a tour of the market. Then we went to the school to begin cooking. The kitchen is on the school’s rooftop terrace with great views of the volcanoes.

After that, Ingrid showed me how to cook the three dishes that we were to eat. I got to chop, roast, fry, and take part in all the cooking activities. We had a wonderful meal all together of salsa verde, mole with plantains, tostadas with guacamole, and wine.

I absolutely adored this experience. If you have the time and money to do this class, don’t hesitate. Book it!

21. Make Chocolate at a Chocolate Workshop

  • COST: Q150 (US$21) for a 90-minute workshop; Q100 for a 45-minute workshop
  • OPEN: 11:00 am, 1:30 pm, and 4:00 pm
    BOOK YOUR WORKSHOP: Ek Chuah Chocolateria
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

The best chocolate workshop in all of Central America can be found just a few blocks from the main square at Ek Chuah Chocolateria. This is no exaggeration! I’ve checked out chocolate workshops in Belize, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica and this one beats all of them hands down for price and for the number of chocolate foods and drinks you get to sample.

a counter with bowls, cups, a glass of water, and a burner for making chocolate

You can do either a 45 or 90-minute workshop. I recommend the latter.

During the course, you learn all about the role of chocolate in Maya culture, the different types of cacao, and the process of making chocolate.

However, the best 2 parts of the workshop for me were making your own chocolates and sampling the different chocolates and chocolate drinks. I think I sampled 10 chocolate drinks and 10 different kinds of chocolates.

The class is definitely worth it!

22. Learn About Coffee on a Coffee Tour

  • COST: US$20 for a 60-minute tour by foot (1 person minimum); US$25 for a 90-minute tour in a truck to the coffee fields (4 person minimum)
  • TOUR TIMES: 9:00 am, 11:00 am, and 2:00 pm at Finca Filadelfia
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

If you love coffee, don’t skip doing a coffee tour in Antigua. However, even if you’re not a coffee fanatic, it’s still one of the not-to-miss things to do in Antigua. Simply put. Coffee is a big part of Guatemalan culture, history, and economy. To understand the country, you’ve got to understand how coffee is made.

red fruit

Luckily, there are 2 coffee farms just an Uber ride away from the main square: Finca Filadelfia and Finca La Azotea. Both offer coffee tours. I visited the former.

Finca Filadelfia has been producing coffee for over 150 years. They have a hotel, restaurant, store where you can buy the coffee they grow, coffee fields, and production facilities.

They have 2 kinds of tours: one tour is 60 minutes long. It’s on foot and you mainly visit the facilities for turning the cacao beans into coffee. You do get to see some coffee plants near the facilities.

The other tour is 90 minutes long. You get to take a truck up to the coffee fields along with a tour of the coffee production facilities. There needs to be a minimum of 4 people to do this tour.

You get to learn what the different kinds of coffee are, how coffee plants are grown, and how coffee is made and sold At the end you get to try a cup of probably the finest coffee you will ever have in your life.

23. Take a tour of a macadamia nut farm

What is the most expensive nut in the world? The macadamia nut. It’s also incredibly delicious. One of the most unique things to do in Antigua is to visit Valhalla Macadamia Farm and learn all about this delicious nut.

a person holding macadamia nuts in his hand

I did my tour when I was on the ATV Villages Tour with Simoon Tours. However, you can go on your own to this farm outside of Antigua.

On the tour, you get to visit the farm, learn all about macadamia nuts, try some nuts fresh from the tree, and then get a free macadamia oil facial massage.

The farm also has a highly-rated restaurant where you can try macadamia nut pancakes and smoked macadamia BBQ.

24. Explore the Central Market

A free thing to do for those who love food is to explore the central market. It’s filled with local fruits, vegetables, and cheeses that you’ve probably never seen before.

piles of different vegetables at a market in Antigua, Guatemala

Go to the market with a sense of adventure and accept that you’ll probably pay twice or three times as much as a local. But definitely try fruit that you’ve never seen before.

The market is also a good place to try the local street food.

If you want to take photos of the food and people, ask first. Sometimes they will let you and sometimes not.

Things to do in Antigua – Museums

25. Hotel Santo Domingo Museums

By far the best museums in Antigua are the ones at the Hotel Santo Domingo. The Hotel was built on the site of the ruins of the Santo Domingo church and convent.

a display of 2 clay pots and 2 glass pots

Inside the remains of the religious structures were 6 terrific museums:

  • Silver Museum – This museum contains religious objects made of silver. It’s a worthwhile visit just to see the stunning statue of Saint Michael.
  • Colonial Museum – The Colonial Museum is sort of hidden away behind the church ruins. It contains beautiful religious paintings and sculptures.
  • Chapel of the Rosary and Crypt of the Calvary – Underneath the chapel is a crypt and a mural from 1636.
  • Museo Vigua de Arte Precolombino y Vidrio Moderno – It’s no exaggeration when I say that this is one of my favorite museums in the world. The museum was created by Edgar Castillo, the person who cofounded Gallo beer company and from one of the wealthiest families in Guatemala. Castillo liked to collect both glass and ancient Maya artifacts. The museum displays both of his passions beside each other. For every ancient Maya artifact, you’ll find a modern glass object that resembles it. The juxtaposition of the ancient and modern is fascinating and beautiful.
  • Archaeological Museum – a small room with more ancient Maya artifacts

26. Museum of Colonial Art

  • COST: Q50 (US$7) for foreigners: Q5 (.75) for locals – no that is NOT a typo!
  • OPEN: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm (Tu – Su)
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

In the former location of the University of San Carlos, the Museum of Colonial Art is interesting for both its Moorish architecture and its works of art.

a large hall with large paintings on the wall

The museum houses a collection of paintings, sculptures, and furniture from colonial times. The religious sculptures are supposed to be the best collection in Latin America and the large paintings are the works of several famous Mexican painters.

There is also a replica of a classroom when this building was a university.

Frankly, the huge difference between the price foreigners pay and the price locals pay is ridiculous. There aren’t even translations in English of the descriptions of the works of art.

27. Jade Maya Museum

  • COST: free on the Elizabeth Bell tour
  • OPEN: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (every day)
  • WEBSITE: Jade Maya
  • LOCATION: Google Maps

Visiting the Jade Museum is a good way to learn about the Maya culture and history. For the ancient Maya, jade was considered to be more valuable than gold or silver.

When Hernando Cortes arrived to conquer Mexico, the Aztecs gave him a gift of jade. He thought it was the gift of the devil and had the jade carvers put to death.

a man working at some machines for carving jade

Jade Maya is part museum, part workshop, and part jewelry store. The museum part teaches you about the history of jade, the different types of jade, and its importance to the Maya.

You can also watch the jade jewelry being made as well as buy some yourself.

I visited the museum on the Elizabeth Bell Walking Tour.

28. Museo Nacional de Arte de Guatemala (MUNAG)

  • COST: Free
  • OPEN:  10:00 am – 7:00 pm (Tu – Su)
    LOCATION: Google Maps

If you’re interested in learning about the history of Guatemala and didn’t have a chance to take Elizabeth Bell’s tour, check out Antigua’s newest museum, the Museo Nacional de Arte De Guatemala. It’s inside the Palace of the Captain’s General. The museum is dedicated to the history and art of Antigua.

a courtyard surrounded by two-story buildings

When you enter the museum, you’ll find yourself in not just a museum but the ruins of the Palace of the Captains General.

There is an audio guide that introduces each room to the visitor, but the person on the recording sounds bored, which makes you bored as well.

The whole museum seems like it’s telling you a watered-down version of the history of Guatemala. It’s quite superficial and boring, to be honest, and if you already know something about the country’s real history, you might find yourself disappointed like I was.

The best part of the museum is the building itself, the views of the volcanos, and the view of the Plaza Mayor.

Things to do in Antigua – Langauge

29. Learn Spanish in Antigua

  • COST: US$160 – $220 / 20 hours per week
  • OPEN: M – F mornings
  • LOCATION: all over Antigua

Guatemala is one of the most popular countries to learn Spanish in. For one thing, classes are reasonably priced. For US$8 – $10 an hour, you get your own private teacher.

Second, the country, especially Antigua, has a long history of Spanish language teaching and learning, so you’re bound to find experienced teachers.

Guatemalans also supposedly have one of the clearest Spanish accents making it easy for beginners of Spanish to understand.

Antigua has loads of schools. All vary in price and quality. Because there are so many, you can often just show up in the city and start classes the following Monday.

Day Trips from Antigua

30. Visit the Market in Chichicastenango

For those who want to learn about the Maya culture, don’t miss the Thursday and Sunday markets of Chichicastenango. The city of Chichicastenango is about 2.5 hours by car from Antigua. From Antigua, it’s not practical to do the tour by public transportation. You’ll need to have your own private car or join an organized tour.

A K'iche' woman walking at the Chichicastenango market
A K’iche’ woman walking through the market

Visiting the market was one of the top 3 highlights of my trip to Guatemala.

The market takes place on Thursdays and Sundays and the people of the Highlands descend on Chichicastenango to buy and sell their goods. You’ll find loads of local fruits and vegetables, the traditional clothing of the Maya, everyday household items, and souvenirs.

The city also has 2 fascinating churches and a colorful cemetery where you can observe the rituals of the indigenous religions.

For more details, visit my guide to visiting the Chichicastenango market.

31. Do a day trip to Lake Atitlan

When visiting Guatemala, don’t skip a trip to Lake Atitlan. If you don’t have time to visit the lake on your own, you can easily join an organized tour from Antigua.

Lake Atitlan with 2 volcanos in the distance at sunrise
A view of Lake Atitlan from Santa Cruz village

With the volcanoes surrounding it, the lake is stunningly beautiful. A visit to the lake is also a great way to experience the indigenous Maya culture of Guatemala. The towns surrounding it are the home of the Maya-Tzutujil and Cakchiquel people, who still retain many of their traditional practices.

Make sure your tour goes to the villages of Santiago for the lake’s traditional culture, San Juan for its handicrafts and art, and Panajachel, San Marcos, or Santa Cruz for views of the volcanoes.

32. Visit the ruins of the last capital of the Kaqchikel Maya

Iximche was the capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470 until its defeat by Pedro Alvarado in 1524. The Spaniards then established their first capital at Iximche before moving it to present-day Ciudad Viejo in 1527.

ruins of Iximche
Ruins of the pre-hispanic Mayan town Iximche, Guatemala

Today you can see the ruins of that capital at a site not far from the city of Tecpan.

You can visit the ruins by taking chicken buses, private car, or by joining an organized tour.

How to get to Antigua

You can get to Antigua by shuttle bus or by chicken bus. The more comfortable, faster, safer but more expensive way is to take a shuttle.

From Guatemala City to Antigua

Shuttle – You can take a shuttle from the airport or your hotel in Guatemala City to Antigua by using GuateGo. For a public shuttle, it costs US$19. Shuttles currently (May 2022) leave at 6:00 am, 9:30 am, 11:00 am, 1:30 pm, 2:30 pm, 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm. It takes 2 hours. They pick you up at your hotel in Guatemala City and drop you off at your hotel in Antigua.

If you’re coming in after 7:30 pm, then you might want to book a private shuttle. Antigua Tours has private shuttles starting at US$45 for 1 – 2 people. They also can take you to Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, and Copan, Honduras.

Uber or taxi – Another way to get from Guatemala City to Antigua is by Uber or taxi. The price before the 2022 spike in gas prices was between US$25 and $35. Just be warned that some Uber drivers in Guatemala run scams on passengers.

From Lake Atitlan to Antigua

Shuttle – The easiest way (but not the cheapest) is to take a tourist shuttle from Lake Atitlan to Antigua. You can book a shuttle with GuateGo or just book a shuttle from the countless travel agencies on Calle Santander (the main drag) in Panajachel or possibly through your hotel. They currently leave at 5:00 am, 9:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. The shuttle costs US$25 per person.

Chicken Bus – The cheapest way to get from Lake Atitlan to Antigua is by chicken bus. There is one chicken bus a day that leaves at 10:45 am from Calle Principal in Panajachel at Lake Antigua. It takes 2.5 hours and costs around Q35 (US$5). 

If you miss this bus, you’ll need to take 3 buses to get from Lake Atitlan to Antigua. You’ll need to take a bus to Solola and then another bus at Los Encuentros.

Are chicken buses safe in Guatemala? Lots of locals and ex-pats who have lived in Guatemala for a long time recommend avoiding chicken buses due to crime, the reckless driving of the drivers, and the high number of accidents the buses get into. Actually, every local I spoke to told me to NEVER take a chicken bus in Guatemala if you can avoid it.

From Quetzaltenango to Antigua

Shuttle – You can get a shuttle from your hotel in Quetzaltenango to your hotel in Antigua for around Q200 (US$28). The shuttle meets up with the one coming from Lake Atitlan along the way. Either you or the ones coming from the lake or both groups change vehicles at the meeting point.

From Flores to Antigua

Shuttle – You can catch an overnight shuttle from Flores. I paid Q480 (US$60) to go in the opposite direction. The trip can take up to 12 hours depending on traffic and construction. Book your shuttle through your hotel or hostel or a travel agency in Flores. If you want to get from Antigua to Flores, I bought my ticket from A Viajar Guatemala Travel Agency (Google Maps)

Bus – You can also get a bus to Flores by first traveling to Guatemala City and changing busses at one of the bus stations there. This can be even more expensive than taking a tourist shuttle.

How to get around Antigua

Antigua is a really small city, so you can easily get around on foot from one end to the other.

However, if you need to go far or you’re carrying a heavy backpack or suitcase, you can call Uber. Just be aware that on the weekend, you’ll often have to wait a long time to get anywhere by vehicle. Plus, Uber drivers like to accept your ride request and then cancel.

an old white car driving past a Spanish colonial building

Where to stay in Antigua

I wrote a blog post on just this question. You can check out my where to stay in Antigua post here.

I usually book my hotels and hostels using Booking.com.

Where to eat in Antigua

Café Sky (Google Maps) – Rooftop bar and restaurant; great views of the city; good happy hour drinks; decent bar food

Caoba Farms (Google Maps) – farm-to-table restaurant; serves burgers that are super yummy; great atmosphere

El Viejo Café (Google Maps) – Super yummy bakery; Really delicious food in their restaurant as well

street food vendor at La Merced park

Food Vendors at Parque La Merced (Google Maps) – After 4 pm on weekdays and all day on weekends, you can get inexpensive street food

Hecho en Casa Café (Google Maps) – quesadillas, sándwiches, pizza; Delicious and inexpensive food

La Bodegona (Google Maps) – a large supermarket

La Cuevita de Los Urquizu (Google Maps) – local Guatemalan food that’s delicious but a bit pricey

Panaderia (Google Maps) – I don’t know the name of this bakery and neither does Google Maps, but I absolutely adored the banana bread here (Only Q5); they have loads of other delicious and inexpensive bread and pastries here as well

Pappy’s Barbecue (Google Maps) – American-style barbecue; very delicious; expect to spend over US$10

Pollo Campero (Google Maps) – Super popular Guatemalan fast-food chain; IMHO, it was just ok.

roast chicken piece, salad, and roast potatoes

Rincon Tipico (Google Maps) – Best restaurant in Antigua for inexpensive, traditional, and delicious Guatemalan food! Locals and foreign tourists both love it! You get huge portions for Q35 (US$5)

Santa Clara Bakery and Cafeteria (Google Maps) – I went here nearly every day during my month in Antigua; inexpensive empanada-style food and bakery; also has a sit-down restaurant along with the bakery; looking for a quick takeaway, THIS is THE place!

What ATM MACHINES to use in Antigua

In Guatemala, thieves like to install a device on ATM machines that steal your data. Before you know it, they’re using your card and your bank is canceling your debit card.

Don’t use ATM machines that are outside on the street. Use ones that are inside banks, shops, hotels, or pharmacies.

When withdrawing money from an ATM in Guatemala, you’re usually limited to a maximum of Q2,000. However, the ATM at the Porta Hotel Antigua allows you to take out Q3,000 per transaction. This is great because you avoid having to do two withdrawals and pay ing2 withdrawal fees.  

Getting a SIM Card in Antigua

a street lined with colorful Spanish colonial buildings and cars at dusk

Where to get a SIM card in Antigua

Guatemala has 2 main phone carriers: Tigo and Claro. I had Tigo and was very satisfied with their service.

To get a SIM card, I recommend going to a Tigo or Claro shop and not to a convenience store. The reason is that the phone shop will take the time to install the SIM card and set up your phone if necessary. If you go to a convenience store, sometimes the lines are long and the clerk just doesn’t have the time or patience to install your card.

There are lots of Tigo and Claro phone shops on Poniente Street near the La Bodegona Supermarket (Google Maps). If you need to buy electronic items like a new charger, this area is a good place to do it.

You generally need your passport when buying a SIM card.

I was in Guatemala for over 3 months, so I got a 30-day data plan at 12 GB for Q120 (US$17). To recharge, go into a convenience store or if you’re using Tigo, you can do it on Tigo Guatemala website, which is what I did.

Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua use Tigo and Claro as well. You can use your Guatemalan SIM card in these countries as long as you still have data. If you need to add more data, you’ll need to buy a new SIM card in the other country. You can’t add more data to a SIM card bought in another country.

Staying Safe in Antigua

Antigua is a relatively safe place to travel alone in.

That being said, if you’re out and about late at night and you need to walk in an area without a lot of traffic, call an Uber or take a taxi or tuk-tuk.

a street lined with colorful Spanish colonial buildings and motorcycles

Where to go after Antigua

After visiting Antigua, where to go next?

You’ve got a number of options in Guatemala: Lake Atitlan, Rio Dulce, Chichicastenango, Flores, or Semuc Champey.

You could also head to El Salvador, starting with a visit to Santa Ana, where you can hike the Santa Ana Volcano and see the Ruta de Las Flores.

Another option is to head to Honduras. There’s a direct shuttle from Antigua to Copan for Q480 (US60). You can see the famous Copan ruins and then head to the Bay Islands (Roatan or Utila) or Lake Yajoa.

There are also direct tourist shuttles to San Cristobal de Las Casas in Mexico.

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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel & digital nomad blog, dedicated to helping women over 40 travel the world safely, cheaply, and comfortably. Whether you’re going for a one, two- or three-week vacation, exploring the world as a digital nomad, or staying home and discovering the world from the comfort and safety of your home, you’ll find loads of information to help inspire and inform you in your wanderings.

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