Without visiting Antigua; you haven’t been in Guatemala!! This is the must-visit destination of Guatemala, but why?! I will give it a try but, the best way is to see and feel the vibe of this historical, beautiful, former capital city of Guatemala. The streets looks like a painting with the colorful facades and the volcanoes in the back. The Spanish colonial buildings are beautiful renovated and the cobbled streets makes you wandering back in the old days. It has nice churches, arches, plazas, restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
It is a lust for the eyes and inner body. It’s a touristic place I have to admit, but that is for a good reason. People stop here to visit the city, climb the volcanoes, learn Spanish or just hang out to get deeper into the indigenous culture. Antigua survived many earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods, but the people stay positive and remain friendly. Antigua is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for a reason!
I arrived within 3 hours (80Q) in Antigua by shuttle bus from Panajachel, Lake Atitlán. I left Antigua to go to Lanquín, Semuc Champey; that journey lasted about 9-10 hours (150Q). It’s very easy to travel in Guatemala, very tourist orientated and at every corner you will find a travel agency. I traveled only by tourist shuttlebus; no chicken busses in Guatemala for me.
Five must do’s in Antigua
There is a lot to do in Antigua; see below the five main highlights of this picturesque town and her surroundings in random order.
1: Admire the Architecture
Antigua is known for the Spanish architecture; with the famous yellow Santa Catalina Arch as one of the landmarks in the street views of Antigua. This arch was built in 1694 to cross the nuns unseen over the streets. The clock tower was added to the arch two centuries later.
Uncountable more historical buildings like Compañía de Jesús, churches like Catedral de Santiago and La Merced can be found in Antigua. Most of the buildings are very nice renovated and freshly painted or they are currently working on the renovation. I just strolled through the streets and let me surprise by the beauty at almost each corner. Don’t forget to check the Parque Central, in the center of Antigua.
2: Take Spanish Lessons
Many visitors in Antigua follow Spanish lessons for a longer period and stay at local home-stays to intense their study. I think Antigua is a perfect location for that; vibrant town, with nice activities besides the classes and friendly teachers. I only took two morning classes at Spanish School Don Pedro de Alvarado. The school is in the city center at 6a Avenida Norte close to Selina Hostel. I paid 512Q for 6 hours private lessons (including 80Q for the additional Sunday premium), which was not cheap I thought.
Tip: Take some Spanish lessons before you leave and during your travel. You will practice more and feel more comfortable to know the basics. Besides that you make more contact with the local people interacting in their own language.
3: Scenic Look out at Cerro de la Cruz
It is a nice walk through town and a small rather steep hike up the hill to get this breathtaking view over Antigua. Use your Maps.me app and walk with Antigua in your back to the right side of the hill, to get to the path to get up to the Cross (build in 1930). Signs will guide you there and police and army will protect the road. When you reach the lookout point with the Cross you can see entire Antigua and Agua Volcano in the back and if you look to the right (facing Antigua) you can see the other volcanoes too if you are lucky. You can buy drinks, sweets and souvenirs at the vendors at the open field near the Cross. You see families picnicking and lovers spending time here on a summer day. You can get up the hill by car too, but that is no fun right!!
Tip: Do the hike during daylight and in the morning when you have the best chance to have the best view without too many clouds; so choose your day accordingly.
4: Shop at the Local Market
Like in any other tourist town you will find a Mercado de Artesanías where you can by your souvenirs and other local made products. This Artesian market is close to the local market at the busy street Alameda de Santa Lucia and Poniente just before the bus station of Antigua.
Tip: Watch your bags and valuables, walking across the markets and negotiate the prices!!
5: Climb a Volcano
In Antigua they offer different volcano hikes. One popular tour is the overnight Acatenango Volcano hike; where you can see the active Fuego Volcano erupting. I booked this tour at the recommended CA Travelers for ±375Q; check the price in advance at the store at 2a Calle Poniente #25. Unfortunately I had to cancel my trip at the last moment due to sickness. I heard the 6-8 hours hike is extremely difficult where you sleep in a tent on the volcano. The tour includes all the food, water, warm cloths (temperature can drop to 1°C), sleeping bag and an inflatable mattress. I received the pictures afterwards and regretted even more that I couldn’t come; the photos are amazing. All people I run into during my trip that climbed the Acatenango said it’s an extremely tough hike (3976m); but it’s all worth it!!!
Tip: If you can’t go or find it too hard to climb the Acatenango Volcano, go to a high point in Antigua town on a bright evening. Here you can see the Fuego Volcano erupt with red lava every 10-15 minutes!!!
My sister climbed the Pacaya Volcano, here you don’t sleep overnight but leave very early in the morning to hike and have breakfast at the volcano, so this could be another option if you don’t want to sleep in a tent overnight. But it is a total different tour of course but less heavy (±1 hour hike) than the Acatenango. So pick what you want!!
Restaurant Tips in Antigua
In Antigua you can find many nice restaurants and coffee shops; so for every budget and any preference you can find something. My Hotel Y Arte had friendly staff and was clean, but I will not book it again; saw nicer accommodation during my stay in Antigua. Breakfast was not included; so went out to get my healthy fruit bowls in the morning!! See below my recommendation for restaurants in Antigua.
Cactus: I loved this Mexican Taco Hot Spot in Antigua; it’s always very busy and in the small restaurant they have live music too! Food is tasty and they serve cocktails too; great place with cool vibe at 6a Calle Poniente.
Amanacer Juice Bar: Breakfast smoothies and fruit bowls, perfect for a healthy start of the day. The juice bar (No.8, 6a Avenida Sur) is colorful and busy with both locals and tourist. See below the cinnamon bowl (50Q).
Samara: This is a vegetarian and organic restaurant where you can get healthy Indian inspired soups and salads. I went here during dinner time, but they have breakfast too; corner at 6a Calle Poniente. You have to wait a bit long for your meal, so if you are in a hurry don’t go.
Rainbow Café: I was brought here by a local; it is a nice restaurant with a fireplace in the middle of the restaurant with live music. The chicken salad was huge and tasty. Great spot across Samara restaurant.
Açaí Antigua: Another healthy breakfast or lunch place, across the Parque de la Merced at 1a Calle Poniente/5a Av Norte. Like the name says, a great açaí bowl and great coffee, all Instagram worthy!
Unión Café Antigua: Close to the Parque Central at 6a Calle Oriente there is another nice place that offers healthy and western dishes. I had a great ginger tea (20Q). Top spot for breakfast and lunch and good working wifi.
I went to other places like Pasta Nostra, Ta’Cool Tacos, El Viejo Café , Condesa and Café La Parada. All nice places but I recommend the ones above more. Enjoy the gastronomy in Antigua there is “suficiente”!!!