This small city surrounded by a volcanic landscape is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala. Pastel coloured colonial buildings and quaint cobbled streets lend a certain charm to the city that is hard to rival, and it is a photo opportunists dream.
Take a look at our Antigua guide to discover the very best of the city.
Is Antigua safe?
It is no secret that parts of Guatemala have in the past had a reputation for crime, but over the last few years the country as a whole has become a lot safer and it has been growing as a tourist destination.
Anywhere that attracts tourists can be subject to some crime, but you can rest assured that Antigua is considered one of Guatemala’s safest cities! It is generally safe to visit and visitors should take only the same precautions we would recommend on any vacation.
Do some research before you arrive so you know which districts to visit, and which to avoid. Make sure you book accommodation in a reputable neighborhood and, as always, try to avoid taking valuables out with you where possible. Don’t let the police on the streets deter you from enjoying all that Antigua has to offer – they’re one of the reasons the city is such a safe place to be!
Antigua is a small but vibrant city, with a growing and thriving tourism industry. We highly recommend adding it to your Guatemalan itinerary.
For more information check our guide on: Is it safe in Guatemala?
What is Antigua known for?
There are a couple of answers to this question as this dynamic city has a few strings to its bow.
First and foremost, Antigua Guatemala (meaning “old” Guatemala) was once the colonial capital of Central America. It is known for being largely destroyed in the late 1700’s by a series of shattering and fatal earthquakes that forced most of its inhabitants to up and leave, migrating over 40 km east to where, today, you will find the capital Guatemala City.
Next, you’ve seen plenty of pictures of Antigua while researching your Guatemalan adventure, and you’ve likely noticed the beautiful, brightly coloured buildings that fill the city. Antigua is known for its Spanish influenced Baroque-style architecture and it’s a city filled with ancient ruins, in particular those of colonial churches, caused by the earthquakes of the past. Many of Antigua’s colonial buildings were restored and have since been renovated, and for its architecture the city is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top 10 things to do in Antigua
If you’re wondering what to do in Antigua, look no further than our top picks. In no particular order…
Walk the ancient ruins of Antigua
Near the very top of any ‘What to see in Antigua’ list is a tour around the ancient ruins of this historical city. Given the city’s location in an earthquake-prone region, it was always going to be subject to some damage and in the late 1700’s, it was just that. Thankfully, many of the buildings that were destroyed were restored to their original glory, and even those that were not are still worth visiting. In fact, they make this small city even more intriguing; enchanting, in fact.
Some of the highlights include the Church of Candelaria, a parish church built in the 1500’s, the 16th-century convent of Santo Domingo and, perhaps most impressively, the San Jose Cathedral.
The Cathedral was built in 1545 and destroyed by an earthquake in the 1580’s before being restored by Mayan labourers almost 100 years later. Tragically, the building was once again victim to a natural disaster in 1773, and since, only two of the chapels have been rebuilt.
There are many organised tours in operation to take you round the ruins, but we’d also recommend searching for a self-guided tour. There are plenty available online for free, and you’ll have the freedom to explore a little more on your own time!
Bargain your way through Antigua’s artisan markets
One of the top things to do in Antigua is to barter with the locals at one of the city’s many markets. From groceries to textiles, art to souvenirs, the city is packed with excellent markets supplied and run by local artisans.
Nim Po’t is great for Mayan garments, while Mercado de Artesanías is the main tourist market with textiles, handmade jewellery and wooden souvenirs. Whichever you choose, bartering is expected so try not to feel uncomfortable with the concept. There are bargains to be had!
Photograph the famous Santa Catalina Arch
One of Antigua’s most distinctive and iconic monuments, the bright yellow Santa Catalina Arch was built in the 1600’s and originally connected the Santa Catalina convent to a school. Today, it has been beautifully maintained and adorned with a clock, and is the feature of many Antigua postcards. It is a must-see during your stay in Antigua.
Ascend Cerro de la Cruz for views of the city
Cerro de la Cruz (or ‘Hill of the Cross’) is worth the hike for spectacular views of the whole city. We say ‘hike’, but realistically it is a mildly challenging uphill walk, so don’t be put off. It’s perfectly doable even in flip-flops, and particularly on a clear day the views of the city and surrounding volcanic landscape are quite breathtaking.
Sticking with the theme of hilltops…
Head to the lesser-known Santo Domingo del Cerro. It’s so unknown you might even struggle to find it on the map, or research it much on the internet. It is an open-air gallery with a sculpture park, located at the Hotel Santo Domingo, that also features not one but TWO museums! One is a colonial museum, displaying works such as paintings and sculptures created during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, while the other is an archeology museum containing Mayan pottery and figures.
And the best bit? It’s completely free to access!
Wake up and smell the coffee
Guatemala is known for producing fine coffee, and the outskirts of Antigua are home to some great coffee farms that are open to visitors. For a truly awakening experience one of the best things to do in Antigua is to seek out a coffee tour.
Coffee farmers will take around the farm and talk to you about the life of a farmer, explaining ‘a day in the life of’ before showing you the machinery used to make the coffee you so enjoy. You’ll be taught how coffee is produced and, in most cases, you’ll even get to roast your own coffee at the end of the tour before taking some time to sip a cup of the good stuff. Better still, all the coffee farms have shops so you’ll be able to purchase plenty to take home, while supporting the local agricultural industry!
Visit the iconic La Merced Church
Another must-see in Antigua is the Iglesia De La Merced. It is frequently named the prettiest Baroque church in the city and is distinguishable for it’s lovely yellow and white exterior and its dominating design. Built in 1767, the church was constructed to withstand any natural disaster and has done the job perfectly to date.
Challenge yourself to a hike of the Pacaya Volcano
Antigua’s most popular hike (probably because it’s the most accessible) is at the Pacaya Volcano, a volcano that is still active having first erupted more than 23,000 years ago. Out of all of Guatemala’s volcanoes (37, to be precise) this should be near the top of your list if you’re wondering where to go in Antigua.
Pacaya Volcano bubbles away and experiences frequent eruptions; but don’t worry, they’re tiny eruptions and it’s considered safe to hike there. We recommend packing some marshmallows as you will quite literally have the opportunity to toast marshmallows – on a VOLCANO!
The hiking trail is popular so expect crowds, but this tends to contribute to a really great atmosphere and energy which is super motivational and is sure to help you climb the 2552 metre ascent!
Chocolate lovers rejoice… Visit the home of chocolate in Guatemala!
The Choco Museum. Need we say more? Probably not, but just in case.. The Choco Museum tells the story of how the ancient Mayan people discovered the culinary uses of the cacao bean before it became a form of currency for the Aztecs. Tour the plantation, take in the history at the on-site museum and, the best bit – experience the attractions signature ‘Bean to Bar’ workshop where you’ll make chocolate straight from the cacao bean. This is a delicious delight not to be missed!
People watch at Parque Central
We don’t know about you, but one of our favourite things to do on vacation is find a central spot to soak up the sun and watch the world go by. In Antigua Guatemala, Parque Central is that spot.
A popular meeting place for tourists and locals alike, the central park of Antigua is as old as the city and the beating heart of downtown. It is surrounded by trees and historically significant buildings, and a great starting point if you’re doing a self-guided walking tour through the city.
Is Antigua worth visiting?
A UNESCO World Heritage Site with amazing architecture, stunning views, outdoor adventures, and plenty of fresh coffee and chocolate? Yes, Antigua is worth visiting!