14 Best Things to do in Antigua Guatemala (+Photos)

Antigua, Guatemala’s famous colonial gem, might just be one of the prettiest cities on the planet. The quaint homes, elaborate churches, and weather-beaten buildings seamlessly blend together and exude old-world charm on every corner.

Guatemala had already exceeded all of my expectations before I reached Antigua, but this city was the crowning glory. Not only is it beautiful, but Antigua is bursting with things to see and do, and I could easily have spent a few weeks exploring the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have this much time to spare, but I managed to pack in plenty of spots during my short stay.

With otherworldly volcanoes encircling it, Antigua is a hotspot for adventurers and avid hikers, but the city itself is just as deserving of your time as the nature that surrounds it. Dedicating at least one full day of your trip to Antigua to wandering around the city is a must, and I’ve included all my favorite stops from my visit below.

Getting to Antigua

Antigua Bus Station

First things first, you’ll need to figure out how to get to Antigua, which will depend on where you’re visiting from.

La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City is the closest airport to Antigua and is just a one-hour taxi or bus ride from the center of town, provided you don’t get stuck in one of the capital’s notorious traffic jams.

If you’re arriving from another destination in Guatemala, you’ll probably get here by bus or shuttle. I had spent the week prior hopping between the many towns perched around Lake Atitlan, which was thankfully just a three-hour shuttle from Antigua.

Many travellers also make the journey here from Semuc Champey in central Guatemala, which can take around eight hours by shuttle.

The later you depart from the lakeside, the more likely you’ll be to run into traffic, which can add a significant amount of time to the journey, so opt for the earliest departure you can find.

As reluctant as I was to book the 5.00 a.m. shuttle, having the entire day to explore Antigua was more than worth the early start, though it didn’t quite feel like that when we set off in complete darkness!

Best Time to Visit Antigua Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala Climate

Hemmed in by enormous volcanoes, Antigua Guatemala is most visited between November and April when the dry weather is best for sightseeing and enjoying outdoor activities. With comfortable temperatures of 21 to 25°C (70 to 77°F), you can stroll about the old town or hike up the side of one of its many massive mounts.

After its long rainy season, visitors flock back to the charming colonial city in November as its weather improves. December is the absolute peak season with huge crowds heading here for its dramatic El Dia del Diablo celebrations and nine-day-long Christmas processions and fireworks displays.

Both hotel prices and tourist numbers remain high until April. The highlight of the entire year is its elaborate Semana Santa celebrations that take place around Easter.

Besides July and August, when people visit during their summer holidays, May to October is the low season due to its strong rains. While showers only usually last a couple of hours, it rains from 18 to 26 days on average during this period. Although the surrounding mountains are at their greenest, all the rain makes hiking muddy, tiring and a bit less enjoyable.

Explore the Cobblestone Streets

Cobblestone Street

When you first catch a glimpse of the colourful buildings that line the bewitching cobblestone streets, you’ll quickly learn that the best way to explore Antigua is to spend a few hours ambling on foot.

Although compact in size, Antigua has no shortage of picture-perfect architecture that’ll have you snapping pictures at every corner. With this in mind, my best advice would be to simply allow yourself to get a little lost along the way. This is especially worthwhile early in the morning, as you’ll have a chance to see the city come to life gradually as the streets begin to fill up.

Cobblestone Street
Cobblestone Street

Some highlights to keep an eye out for include the famous Union Tank, which locals commonly used in Colonial times to wash their clothes, El Calvario Church, and San Pedro Apostol Church.

It’s worth noting that Antigua has seen an influx of international chains over the years, with Starbucks, McDonald’s and Taco Bell being just a few examples. Luckily, such establishments have been built into the old-school buildings, ensuring the city retains all its allure and picturesque qualities.

Pro-tip: To get a deeper insight into Antigua’s rich culture and history, join one of the many free walking tours operating in the city.

Visit the Santa Catalina Arch

Santa Catalina Arch

If there’s one landmark that Antigua is renowned for, it has to be the Santa Catalina Arch. This famous yellow structure has got to be the most photographed spot in the city and is a must-visit no matter how crowded the streets around it get!

Chances are, you might even stumble upon this distinguished archway with little to no effort, like I did, as many buses and shuttles disembark just a few minutes’ walk away.

Santa Catalina arch

The story behind the Santa Catalina arch is a fascinating one. During the latter end of the 17th century, the arch was constructed so that nuns could move between the convents on either side of the street without being seen in public.

As these nuns had vowed to live a life of seclusion, they were unable to cross the street while other passersby were in the area, which led to the formation of the archway.

Though built for practical reasons, this spot has become Antigua’s most acclaimed monument, thanks to its postcard-perfect design and how it frames the imposing Volcan de Agua in the background.

Pro-tip: One of the convents attached to the archway has been converted into a hotel and is among the most unique places to stay in Antigua if you’re seeking a one-of-a-kind experience.

Admire the La Merced Church

Iglesia de La Merced

Head north from the Santa Catalina Arch, and you’ll soon spot an expansive yellow church at the top of the street. The Church and Convent of La Merced have been around since the mid-1500s, though earthquakes have destroyed them numerous times.

Though the scope of the church was enough to impress me, the elaborate facade blew me away. I spent around 20 minutes marveling at the intricate white carvings, which included depictions of Our Lady of Mercedes, San Pedro Arinengol, and San Pedro Pascual.

La Merced Church

While there, I also learned that the current structure had been built to make it as tremor-proof as possible, including additions like low-rise bell towers and unusually thick walls. The inside was much more paired back, making a lovely contrast to the elaborate Baroque exterior.

Entry into the church is free of charge, and there’s a small fee of 20 Quetzales (€2.40) to access the rooftop, which I believe boasts some jaw-dropping views over Antigua and the magnificent volcanoes positioned around it. Unfortunately, the roof was closed to visitors during my stay, which gave me yet another reason to return.

Do Some People-Watching at the Public Parks

Central Plaza

After a busy morning of sightseeing, make your way to one of Antigua’s public parks and enjoy some downtime. Many of the parks are also hubs for street food, making them excellent spots for those of you keen to dabble in authentic Guatemalan cuisine during your visit.

Central Park is the city’s beating heart. It’s a bustling square filled with vendors, benches, and trees that provide much-needed shade from the often sweltering sunshine. Grab a seat near the water fountain around which the park centers and spend some time watching the world go by.

While you’re here, you’ll likely notice the San Jose Cathedral standing along the eastern edge of the park. Now primarily in ruins, this cathedral was only partially rebuilt after being devastated by an earthquake in the 18th century. If you have time, I highly suggest stopping by when you’re nearby.

Some smaller parks that also make for great pitstop locations are Union Park towards the south of Antigua or Santa Rosa Park if you find yourself in the city’s north.

Pro-tip: If your trip aligns with Holy Week, Central Park is among the best places in town to immerse yourself in the celebrations and watch the fantastical processions.

Learn How Coffee Is Produced at Finca la Azotea

Finca la Azotea

Did you really visit Guatemala if you didn’t indulge in the local coffee?

While pretty much every cafe I frequented in Antigua had tasty, locally sourced coffee, I was eager to stop by a coffee farm and learn a little more about the country’s most sought-after export.

I ventured around ten minutes out of the city center and headed towards Finca la Azotea. Here, you’ll find a small but educational museum and a working coffee farm, among an array of other activities to help you get your culture fix.

Even if you’re not a passionate coffee drinker, the museum is eye-opening and highlights how unjust the coffee industry can often be for the countries producing the beans.

While here, you can participate in a variety of other activities, such as a chocolate-making class, fabric workshops, and horseback riding.

Pro-tip: Entry to Finca la Azotea is 10 Quetzales (€1.20) from Monday to Friday and 20 Quetzales (€2.40) every Saturday and Sunday. Though the likes of the coffee museum are included in the entry fee, many of the add-on activities will incur a separate fee.

Pick up Some Souvenirs at Nim Po’t

Nim Po't

Before you leave Antigua, pencil in some time to go shopping at Nim Po’t. Located right between the Santa Catalina Arch and La Merced Church, Nim Po’t is a fantastic spot selling every kind of memento, with everything from pottery to textiles up for grabs.

The store itself is huge, so much so that I spent almost an hour searching for the perfect keepsake. It’s more like a warehouse than a traditional marketplace, so make sure you set aside plenty of time to sift through the endless rows of brightly-coloured masks, handmade clothing, ceramics, and photo books. After much deliberation, I settled on a classic Guatemalan worry doll, something I’d not seen too many of during my trip.

Unlike most bazaars, there’s no bargaining at Nim Po’t, as all the prices are fixed and displayed clearly. As a result, the staff tend to keep to themselves unless you ask for assistance, meaning you won’t feel under pressure to make a purchase, as can often be the case at many markets.

Nim Po’t is open until 9.00 p.m. most evenings, and I found it to be super quiet and relaxed after dark compared to earlier in the day.

Pro tip: Unlike most souvenir stores, Nim Po’t accepts card payments, so it’s an ideal place to purchase souvenirs if you’re short on cash.

Climb Volcan Pacaya

Volcan Pacaya

Located in Pacaya National Park, Volcan Pacaya rises to a height of 2,552 meters and is a very popular trek amongst tourists. It only takes around half a day to complete and the views from the top are absolutely stunning.

Part of a chain of volcanoes, Pacaya is still active and last erupted in 2014, when it covered Antigua in ash.

With lots of fauna and flora on show alongside the barren, lava-scarred terrain, the hike to the top makes for an interesting and rewarding experience; the scenery and panoramas are awe-inspiring.

Hike Volcan Acatenango

Volcan Acatenango

While it is possible to hike Volcan Acatenango in just one day, many people choose to camp overnight to spend as much time as possible on the magnificent volcano.

Its two peaks, Pico Mayor and Yepocapa, respectively reach a height of 3976 and 3880 meters. From their summits, you can watch the active Volcan de Fuego erupt and bubble away from a safe distance. The trek is quite challenging due to the altitude.

While the hike through a barren and desolate wasteland isn’t particularly beautiful, the views from the top more than make up for the arduous climb.

Learn about Cacao at the ChocoMuseo


As the self-proclaimed birthplace of chocolate, it stands to reason that Guatemala knows a thing or two about the delicious cacao treat; the ChocoMuseo will teach you all there is to know about it.

Taking you through the history of cacao, its cultivation, and how it is turned into chocolate, the museum is very interesting to visit. You may even get to taste a sample or two as well as try your hand at making chocolate yourself.

With a gift shop on hand for when you’ve finished your tour, you may find yourself coming away with more than you bargained for; rich chocolate liqueur and local Guatemalan chocolates prove too hard to turn down.

Enjoy the view at Cerro de la Cruz

Cerro de la Cruz

Meaning ‘Hill of the Cross’ in English, Cerro de la Cruz overlooks Antigua Guatemala. From its summit, you have the best views of the city below.

The short climb only takes about half an hour. At the top, you have a picture-perfect photo before you; Antigua is so beautifully framed by Volcan de Agua that towers behind it.

Cerro de la Cruz is a peaceful spot and many people bring a picnic with them to enjoy while taking in the stunning panorama.

Santo Domingo Monastery

Once one of the largest and most important religious institutions in Antigua Guatemala, the Santo Domingo Monastery was sadly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773.

In recent years, the ruins of the monastery have been transformed into a delightful route which you can peacefully amble along. Alongside the archaeological site are six fascinating museums. The Museo Arqueologico and Museo Colonial, for example, showcase different artworks, artefacts, and sculptures from Antigua Guatemala and further afield.

The monastery’s ruined church and cloisters are particularly stunning, and Calvary Crypt houses a beautiful 17th century mural of the crucifixion.

Catedral de San Jose

Catedral de San Jose

Although much restoration work has been undertaken to rebuild the cathedral, some parts of San Jose still lie in ruins due to the earthquake that devastated the city in 1773.

The dazzlingly white façade, however, is in almost perfect condition and is the highlight, with numerous fine sculptures of religious figures adorning it.

While the interior is less impressive, Quirio Catano’s Christ statue is definitely worth checking out, as are the ruins of the cathedral itself.

Convento de las Capuchinas

Convento de las Capuchinas

Over the course of its history, the Convento de las Capuchinas has been heavily damaged by an earthquake and abandoned for over 200 years. Consequently, it is almost a miracle that the convent has been successfully rebuilt and renovated to its current state.

Nowadays, las Capuchinas offers a fascinating look at what life was like for the nuns who lived here; perusing the rooms and exhibits is very interesting.

The nuns were a very important part of their community; they ran an orphanage and a women’s hospital as well as the convent itself.

San Francisco Church

San Francisco Church

The oldest active church in Antigua, San Francisco was consecrated in 1542 and is a very picturesque place to visit due to its wonderful colonial architecture and delightful Baroque facade.

While the church itself is marvelous, the courtyard in front of it only adds to its splendor, as does the ruined Franciscan convent next to it.

With an interesting museum about Saint Hermano Pedro also on hand, San Francisco Church certainly has a lot to offer.

Convento Santa Clara

Convento Santa Clara

Fascinating to wander around, the ruins of the Convento Santa Clara attest to the frequent earthquakes that plague the region. Opened in 1734, the convent was only in use for four decades before it was destroyed.

At the heart of the complex are the magnificent cloisters, which are particularly delightful to explore. A fountain and peaceful gardens lie at their center.

With some great stonework on show as well as well-preserved arches and an impressive facade, this historical site is well worth a visit and there are loads of great photos to be shot here.

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