Nestled in the valley amongst towering volcanoes is the UNESCO World Heritage town of Antigua, Guatemala. The cobblestoned streets, colourful facades and quaint courtyards are one of the many draw cards to this Mayan town. I found it a popular hotspot for digital nomads, people wanting to learn Spanish, ones seeking to visit somewhere different or those wanting an adventure of hiking a volcano, definitely the number one thing to do in Antigua.
The gateway to Guatemala, Antigua is the perfect place to start or end your Guatemalan trip, after a visit to the famous Tikal ruins. Three to five days is the ideal time to spend in Antigua; wandering the streets, climbing the volcanoes, soaking up the traditions and brushing up on your Spanish. Out of all the Latin American countries, I found Guatemala to have the most surprises and unknown places to discover. The charm and familiarity of Antigua added to this and it’s the reason why I rate Guatemala as my favourite country in Central America. Find out all the best things to do in Antigua by following this 3 day itinerary. It will help you maximise your visit and ensure you hit all the best places to see in Antigua, Guatemala.
Day One – Get lost in Antigua’s colourful streets
Guatemala is one of the world’s best coffee producers so trying an espresso is a must do in Antigua. Colourful and ancient doorways open up to stunning courtyards with boutique shops and cafes waiting to offer you the perfect coffee. Spend the morning freely wandering the cobblestoned streets, stumbling across chocolate shops, antique stores, local designer shops and much more.
To get an early taste of the cuisine, head to Rincon Tipico for lunch. The cheap eat restaurant in Antigua serves up big plates of rice, beans and local vegetables with your choice of meat (or veggie options). The courtyard restaurant isn’t fancy but they do good local, tasty and cheap meals, ideal for those on a budget.
Afterwards, join the Antigua walking tour to get a great orientation of the town and see some of the key Antigua attractions including the Arco de Santa Catalina, Church of San Francisco, Catedral de Santiago and Iglesia de La Merced.
For a delicious mix of local, international and Latin American dishes, visit the food stalls at La Esquina Antigua. It’s ideal if traveling with a group or if you can’t decide what food you crave. Some may want to travel to Italy for a pasta while others may want a dish from neighboring country Mexico. The restaurant collective is next to the awesome Selina Antigua filled with friendly travellers and a wicked playground that is enjoyed by adults and kids alike. A tree-hanging bed, old school bus converted into a chilled zone and a slide into the pool are some of the fun accessories to this accommodation and great place to stay in Antigua.
Selina Antigua’s Facade.
Day two – Coffee and Chocolate tasting in Antigua
They say early birds get the worm and if you’d like the perfect picture of Antigua and the surrounding volcanoes, go out on an early morning self-guided photography tour – 7am is recommended. Being in a valley, Antigua often clouds over throughout the day, and so do the volcanoes. The AM is an ideal time for snapping that token shot of Arco de Santa Catalina with Volcano Acatenago in the background. Capturing Santa Catalina Arch is ranked on all top things to do lists of Antigua, so it’s gotta be done! Photographers will also be happy to know that the sun’s aspect at this time of day shines nicely on the mountains.
Because you’re up early head out on the morning coffee tour to see how the Guatemalans produce their famous coffee beans. It’s a great opportunity to see the local countryside as well and the tour includes some taste tests – definitely needed after the early alarm.
Continue the taste testing with a visit to the Chocolate Museum. Guatemala created chocolate so it’s a no brainer that sampling and understanding the process is another popular thing to do in Antigua. The Choco museum is right in the centre of town and is worth a visit.
After all the taste tests, burn off the extra calories with a walk up to Cerro de la Cruz to watch the sunset. The vantage point is a highlight and popular thing to do in Antigua. You can’t miss this vantage point as it’s seen from most of the town and has a big cross at the top. The walk takes approximately 30 minutes for the centre of town. It’s a spectacular view anytime of the day but mesmerising at sunset.
Back in town head to your favourite restaurant – Taqueria Doña Lupita for cheap, delicious tacos, Pappys BBQ for American style barbeque, Rainbow Cafe for vegetarian options and Luna de Miel for incredible crepes. After dinner have a drink at the candle lit and super quaint wine bar, Cafe No Se or Frida’s for yummy Mexican cocktails.
Day three – Climb a volcano in Guatemala
Undoubtedly the best thing to do in Antigua and Guatemala is hike a volcano. The country has 37 volcanoes with many being accessible to visit, taking you close to flowing lava or erupting peaks. For those adrenaline junkies the most popular hike is to Acatenango, a stratovolcano that is one kilometer away from the very active Volcan de Fuego.
Hike to Acatenango Volcano.
The Acatenango hike starts early in the morning and is overnight. The first day is spent walking four to six hours to the base camp of Acatenango that sits at an altitude of 3,976m, the third tallest in Central America. The afternoon and evening is spent at base camp watching the magnificent Volcano Fuego erupts, spewing lava meters into the air and down the side of the volcano. It’s one sight and memory I’ll never forget and neither will you! The next morning the team wakes early to climb for 45 minutes to the summit of Acatenango for a spectacular sunrise and view of the surrounding volcanoes. After the sun has risen each group returns to base camp for a well-deserved breakfast before ascending the volcano and transferring back into Antigua.
If you’re short on time, or know you’ll be short on breath climbing Acatenango, the other option is to take a half day trip to hike up Volcan Pacaya. The tour will take you to the start of the track where you have a leisurely one hour walk (or donkey ride) to reach volcanic rock fields and fresh flowing lava. If you dare, the guides will assist you to melt a marshmallow over the hot lava – another epic Antigua activity to tick off your things to do in Antigua. You’ll then descend the other side of the volcano for breathtaking views and transfer back into town. This tour is run twice a day – 6am until 2pm or 12pm until 8pm. I opted for the early one so you can get back and treat yourself to a reasonably priced back massage or spa treatment to finish off your Antigua holiday.
Other important things to know about traveling in Antigua, Guatemala
Where to stay in Antigua, Guatemala:
Antigua is an easy walkable town but staying as close to Arco de Santa Catalina is suggested as most of the restaurants and bars are around there.
Antigua is one hour from Guatemala city. It is recommended to arrange a transfer from the Guatemala City as public transport takes a lot of time and the buses are chaotic which makes it a real adventure when you have luggage.
Guatemala use the Guatemalan quetzal. There are plenty of ATMs in the centre of town to draw money and some places take credit card.
If you’re travelling in Guatemala for a few weeks it’s recommended to get a local sim to stay connected. Mobile companies such as Claro and Movistar are great and often have 7, 15 or 30 day plans that include unlimited whatsapp.
Onward travel in Guatemala:
Antigua is the stepping stone to other incredible destinations in Guatemala. Only a short three hours from Antigua is the magical Lake Atitlan, a stunning laguna dotted with quaint villages with unique characteristics. Check out our guide on getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan and all the things you do in the lakeside towns.
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