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Why You’ll Want to Visit Antigua, Guatemala
Not to be confused with Antigua, an island in the Caribbean, Antigua is Guatemala’s colonial capital. You’ll find gorgeous architecture and a backdrop of volcanoes. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in Central America.
It’s also one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Guatemala. Among both locals and travellers it’s one of the top places to visit in the country who come for its beauty and relaxed ambience.
Local Travel Tip: Go for a walk in the early morning when Antigua is at its most beautiful.
Aside from that, it’s centrally located in Guatemala. It makes an excellent base for exploring other places in the country or for trying these 8 adventures.
Sightseeing in Antigua
The historic part of Antigua is barely nine blocks long and nine blocks wide. Two days is more than enough to walk around, check out the museums, ruins, and monuments.
However, if you want to learn all about the history check out a sightseeing tour of Antigua.
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Antigua
1. The First University in Central America – Did you know that the first university in Central America was founded in Antigua Guatemala? It’s called San Carlos. It later became the largest university in the country. It’s also the only one that’s free.
Today, the old building where it all started is used as an art museum where tons of (mostly) religious artwork from colonial days is displayed.
2. Church and Convent Ruins – Guatemala used to be a deeply Catholic country. It has died down a little but it’s still the dominant religion. Since Antigua was once the capital of the country, it has an astounding number of monasteries, convents and churches.
The Santa Martha Earthquakes in 1779 destroyed most of the city causing everything to be moved to Guatemala City. A few families stayed in Antigua and restored what they could but many of the old monasteries and convents were abandoned.
Sanca Clara convent and many more are now used as huge gardens. You can go here to relax among what remains of the crumbling walls.
3. Coffee Plantations – One of the many things that Guatemala is known for is producing coffee.You’ll still find tons of coffee plantations all around Antigua. Some of those plantations and fincas (old estates that belonged to the wealthy owners of plantations) offer tours where you can learn how coffee is produced. Check out these 20 fascinating facts about coffee here.
4. Macadamia Farm – This one isn’t smack dab in the centre of Antigua, but it is definitely worth a visit. In this macadamia farm, aside from a tour, you can get a spa treatment where they use all natural and organic products. Most of them are made of Macadamia nuts. Then, you can follow it with dinner in their delicious restaurant.
Menus in most restaurants are constantly changing, but the last time I was there, they had dishes that included macadamia nuts and some tasty vegetarian options.
5. Artwork at Churches – The artwork in the churches might not be by famous painters like the ones in Europe but they are worth checking out. Even if you’re not religious you can still appreciate the beauty of the pieces. Most date back from colonial times.
6. Bonus Local Travel Tip: Sit on one of the benches of the many parks with a good book to enjoy the surroundings, the weather and the volcano views.
Where to Stay in Antigua
Antigua has an incredible amount of hotels for such a small city. You’ll often find at least two on each block. It can get a bit overwhelming to find one that suits you. So here are my recommendations:
Santo Domingo has stunning rooms, a few restaurants, at least 2 museums and pools. It’s one of the most well-known hotels in Antigua. It also has an amazing central location.
Meson Panza Verde, on the other hand, is a tiny boutique hotel. It’s beautifully decorated and has tiny but lush gardens and great food. It’s located on one of the most relaxed corners of Antigua, close to old coffee plantations.
San Rafael is in a colonial style building but what makes it special is the fact that it’s been intertwined with modern design. The end result is a very luxurious feel.
Casa Encantada is also gorgeous and has 10 rooms and suites, all different from each other. It’s designed with a combination of colonial style, white fabrics and traditional Guatemalan fabrics.The result is clean and bright.
If you’d like to stay at an old coffee plantation with all of the amenities of a luxury hotel, consider Filadelfia Coffee Resort. Unlike the previous four that I mentioned, this one is outside of Antigua. But they offer free transportation to and from the centre.
What to Eat and Drink in Antigua
Antigua is a melting pot of cultures. You will find indigenous villages nearby. Most of the people are locals but you’ll also see lots of travellers.
Some travellers come to love Antigua so much that they decide to make it their home and start their own restaurant. That’s why you’ll find an incredibly varied array of options for what to eat. I would dare to say that all of the most prominent culinary cultures of the world have a space in Antigua. So make sure to try a few.
But travelling is all about new things right? And, when visiting a new country it is a must to try at least one or two local dishes. So make sure to visit a few of the small eateries offering traditional Guatemalan food like the traditional Antigua dish called piloyada. It’s a sort of bean salad with different kind of sausages. A must-try is Pepian. It’s a spicy stew recognized by the government as THE traditional dish of Guatemala. To drink try Atol de elote. It’s a sweet hot beverage made of corn.
Where to Eat in Antigua
1. Mezon Panza Verde – There is a good reason why this one is mentioned twice in this article. Aside from beautiful rooms, it has a gorgeous cave-like restaurant with amazing international food. It is one of the best places in Antigua for a high-end meal.
2. Samsara – Antigua is becoming increasingly vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Among the ones I have tried my favourite is definitely Samsara. It serves middle eastern inspired food.
3. Rincòn Antigueño – You have to try local dishes at least once. Rincón Antigueño is the best restaurant around for Guatemalan cuisine. However, for a true feel of Guatemalan food, I would suggest going to a small eatery at the market. That is of course if you have a strong stomach because not everyone is able to eat street food without getting sick.
4. Tacos Doña Lupita – This one is a more budget-friendly option. Here, you can get a full meal for about $6. They serve Mexican tacos, nachos burritos, etc. They are delicious and are offer vegetarian and vegan dishes.
5. Cafe Boheme – This is the place to visit if you are looking for delicious French pastries. It is a tiny cafeteria that you most likely won’t notice while walking by but give it a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Bonus – Some other great restaurants include Kabuki for Japanese food, Black Cat for coffee and Cafe Flor for Thai food.
Antigua’s Best Green Spaces
If you are looking for a cheap or free option Antigua is perfect. There are tiny parks and plazas every couple of blocks. If you are looking for something a little bit more private, pay the small entrance fee for one of the church ruins and just relax in their gardens.
If you’re looking for something a bit different you can take a trip to a park located about 15 minutes outside of Antigua called Florencia. Here, you can explore the trails and hang out at the little, roofed areas with benches, tables and places to eat. There are even swimming pools but watch out, they are extremely cold.
La Azotea and Finca Filadelfia also have open spaces where you can walk around and relax safely.
Best Day Trips from Antigua
Pacaya Volcano – If you’re looking for a moderate hike that’s a great adventure check out Pacaya, an active volcano. It takes less than two hours to get to the highest point where visitors are allowed. One of the highlights is seeing gas coming from its active crater and roasting marshmallows over one of the lava flows. It’s an incredibly unique hike.
Acatenango Volcano – This one is harder and takes about 5 hours to go up. However, on a good day, the reward is much better. Since it’s higher, the views are much more spectacular. Plus you get to see the explosions from the active Fuego Volcano up close. Most tours are overnight, but day tours are also possible if you don’t have much time.
Chichicastenango Market – This is a famous market and is the largest one in Guatemala. It’s a place where you can get pretty much anything from produce to clothes to locally made furniture, along with some supermarket items too. The market is also set right in front of an old church, one of the first ever built in Guatemala.
Rock Climbing Around Atitlán Lake – When most people think of Atitlan Lake they think about boat rides, jet skis and kayaks, which are great. But for a real adventure check out the impressive rock walls.
While not exactly near Antigua, you can also visit Tikal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mayan Ruins with this tour that flies you there making it possible for a day trip.
Waterfall Rappelling – Waterfalls in Guatemala might not be as popular as the ones in Costa Rica but we do have them. One that I highly recommend that is just a couple of hours away from Antigua is Los Amates. It’s located on the southern coast of the country. Just getting there can be a lot of fun. The road is extremely bad so only 4 x 4 vehicles can access it. Then once you get there not only do you see a beautiful waterfall, you also get to rappel on it.
Further Information on Antigua
You can find further information on what to do and articles on travel in Guatemala here.
Lourdes is a soon to be lawyer from Guatemala with the mission to explore each corner of the country. Her favourite activity is hiking along with exploring mountains, forests, caves, volcanoes and all that the region has to offer. Her goal is to reach as many summits around the world as she can. You can also find her on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.