Antigua once served as the capital city of Guatemala before a massive earthquake damaged the city and caused the country to reestablish Guatemala City as the capital.
While Antigua may be prone to natural disasters given it sits saddled in between Agua, Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes, this also results in natural beauty and landscapes unique to this part of the world.
The goal of this post is to help savvy travelers like you identify activities to do on a visit to Antigua.
Along the way I‘ll also offer up helpful tips and things to know that I learned during my travels throughout Guatemala.
Here is a list of every activity we'll cover in this Antigua travel guide, feel free to jump ahead using the links below:
In addition to highlighting popular activities to do in Antigua, we'll cover some other important things to know before traveling here:
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Top activities when visiting Antigua Guatemala
Hike a Volcano
We're jumping right into one of the more adventurous activities you will encounter in this region.
The two most popular volcano hikes in this area are to Volcan Pacaya and Volcan Acatenango.
Volcan Pacaya is a moderate difficulty day hike suitable for most travelers. During my visit we booked a day trip out to the volcano with OX Expeditions. Their offices are centrally located in Antigua.
Be sure to bring plenty of water and hiking boots if you attempt this one since you'll be venturing out on to loose volcanic rock for the best portion of it. The total hiking distance is only 3.2 miles (about 5 kilometers) but there is an incline most of the way.
If this hike sounds appealing to you be sure to read my dedicated post highlighting everything to expect when hiking Volcan Pacaya here.
A more adventurous and strenuous hike is to the top of Volcan Acatenango. At the top of Acatenango you'll enjoy the best views in Guatemala of nearby Volcan Fuego which is a very active volcano.
This hike is usually done over 2 days due to it's length and difficulty. You'll hike out to the top and camp overnight before returning the next day.
If you've seen videos of incredible, up close volcano eruptions in Guatemala or Antigua chances are they were taken from the top of Acatenango of Fuego. OX Expeditions offers tours to the summit of Acatenango as well.
Xibalba jewelry crafting experience
If you're looking for the perfect souvenir to commemorate your visit to Antigua, why not consider making your own piece of jade jewelry?
During my visit to Antigua we spent a few hours with Xibalba to do just that.
Located centrally in Antigua Xibalba offers a hand on jewelry making class with local artisans.
This experience involves selecting a stone, grinding it down, polishing and then having the experts at Xibalba set it into a piece of jewelry.
Not in the market for a new necklace? Do what I did and instead create a small decorative stone.
Cerro de La Cruz
Well regarded as the top view point in Antigua no visit to the area is complete without a stop at Cerro de La Cruz.
One major draw of Cerro de La Cruz is its proximity to the city center of Antigua. By car or ATV you should be able to reach the 'hill of the cross' in under 15 minutes.
This makes a visit to Cerro de La Cruz easy to fit into even the tightest of itineraries!
If you're trying to locate Cerro de La Cruz on a map locate the Antigua city center and look north.
A landmark that will help you find parking for this area is the Santiago de los Caballeros statue. Park nearby and walk down to the cross and overlook area.
Interested in learning more about Cerro de La Cruz? I've dedicated an entire post to this area that you can find here.
One of the more peculiar places worth visiting in Antigua is the Hobbitenango eco park.
A hobbit themed eco fun park in the middle of Guatemala? Yes please!
Here you'll find some of the best views of the surrounding volcanoes while you enjoy a number of festival style activities such as a giant rope swing, axe throwing, putt-putt, nature trails, a full bar and so much more!
If this sounds interesting be sure to check out the full post I wrote on what to expect when visiting Hobbitenango.
During my trip to Antigua we visited Hobbitenango as part of an ATV experience with Simoon Tours. This is a great way to secure logistics to the park.
Typically there is a shuttle that also connects the park to central Antigua but I would recommend confirming current shuttle hours with them directly. Here's a link to their website.
Ride in a tuk tuk
New York City is known for streets lined with yellow taxi cabs while Guatemala is known for red tuk tuks and colorful chicken buses.
These small motorized vehicles feel on par with a glorified golf cart. But don’t let that deter you, that’s what makes riding in them so fun!
Antigua isn’t that large of a city, especially when you consider the majority of tourist centric activities are centrally located in town.
This means that these tiny red wagons are a perfect way to explore Antigua and for connecting the dots in between activities.
Not only are they fun to ride in but they’re also extremely cheap. Be sure to have some cash handy before hailing one down and just be mindful that passengers will be capped at 2-3 people per ride.
Cooking Class Cuscun
Looking for an immersive way to hang out with locals while learning about their culture and cuisine?
Two of the best ways to experience a new culture are by getting to know the people who live there and by trying their food.
Perhaps the best part of booking a cooking class experience with Cuscun is that they will take care of all the logistics for you!
They organized a private shuttle which picked us up in front of our Airbnb and took us about 15 minutes outside of the city center to where Cuscun is located.
Not only did Cuscun take care of our ride but they also arranged for us to have a translator as part of the experience.
During this experience you'll prepare traditional Guatemalan dishes on the rooftop of Cuscun.
The food will be delicious, the people friendly and the views spectacular. I enjoyed this experience so much I dedicated a full length post to it that you can check out here!
I also put together a short YouTube video highlighting this experience which you should also watch!
Visit a Guatemalan market - Nim Po't
No journey abroad is complete without shopping some of the local markets. That's where Nim Po't comes to the rescue.
The market will be overflowing not only with people but also colorful arts and crafts.
While some might be lucky enough to visit Chichastenango Market near Lake Atitlan or to be in Antigua during a seasonal market, don’t sleep on Nim Po’t!
Located near the Santa Catalina Arch this market is sure to have the perfect souvenir for anyone visiting Antigua.
Learn about coffee Guatemala style
Guatemala has a reputation for being one of the worlds best producers of coffee. So it's only natural that you should take the opportunity to learn what goes into roasting some of the best beans in the world from those who know best!
There are numerous tour companies in Antigua that offer coffee experiences.
Expect to hand pick (and eat!) coffee beans straight off the tree. From there you’ll learn all about the harvest, drying and roasting processes that go into converting those delicious little cherries into a bold cup of coffee.
If you’re short on time in Antigua this is an activity that’s frequently offered in other parts of Guatemala. We were able to book one in Lake Atitlan instead.
Don’t forget to leave space in your luggage to bring some beans back from where ever you visit!
Photograph the Santa Catalina Arch
The Santa Catalina Arch is arguably Antigua's most recognizable structure.
Constructed in 1694 the arch has been damaged and restored numerous times over the centuries. Here's a great resource for learning more about the Arch's history.
These days the Arch serves as a popular photo op for tourists and locals alike. If you’ve been researching Antigua you’ve probably seen photographs with the Arch framing Volcan Aqua in the distance.
As a heads up snapping the volcano photo for yourself can be more challenging than you’d expect.
Volcan Agua is notorious for having a ring of clouds obscuring views of its peak and finding windows where the clouds disperse can prove elusive.
There's really no better way to explore the Antiguan countryside than by ATV. Fortunately, there are tour and rental options available to fit a variety of itineraries.
With so little time and so much to see in the Antigua area we ended up booking an ATV experience through Simoon Tours.
Not only are ATVs practical for exploring the Guatemalan countryside but they're also a boatload of fun!
While Simoon Tours offers a variety of ATV experiences in the Antigua Guatemala region we opted for their sunset ride.
If you're interested in this activity I'd recommend reading my full post dedicated to what to expect during your ride!
Hang out at Plaza Central
Looking for a quiet place to enjoy some people watching?
The Plaza Central is located in the heart of the city and offers views of the many colonial buildings that line its exterior.
The heart of the square boasts a large fountain, greenery and a number of seating options to relax.
Around the exterior you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants.
This is a popular area for locals to hang out as well so don’t be surprised if it gets crowded!
Visit Lake Atitlan
While you can technically visit Lake Atitlan as a day trip from Antigua, I would recommend spending more time there.
Either way, Antigua serves as the best jumping off point to reach this volcanic lake and it should be part of your Guatemala travel itinerary.
A three to four hour shuttle ride to the lakeside town of Panajachel is the best way to reach Lake Atitlan.
Many travelers will use Panajachel as their home base while utilizing the water taxi system to explore the other towns situated along the lake.
If you’re looking for a specific lodging recommendation in this area be sure to check out my full post on Casa Del Mundo. Casa Del Mundo is a luxury hotel situated along Lake Atitlan’s northern cliff side.
The hotel is only accessible by boat and has a unique layout with private guest houses built into various levels of the steep Lake Atitlan cliffs.
Check out Plaza La Fuente
I'm obsessed with the architectural layout of many buildings in Antigua. Almost every building has an open air courtyard at its center.
The Airbnb we stayed at had this feature as well, with the kitchen and dining rooms exposed year round to Guatemala's perfect climate.
One really cool restaurant area in Antigua is called Plaza La Fuente. Here you'll find numerous restaurant and shop options with an open air dining courtyard at the center.
Aside from this area, it's pretty much the norm in Antigua that restaurants and even coffee shops open up to a courtyard like the one shown here.
Visit during a major festival
While Antigua's Easter celebration is world renown, heed my warning that the town will be over capacity during this time.
During my trip we got a taste of this during their Flower Festival. Guatemalans living in Guatemala City swarm to Antigua on these weekends so you're not just competing with international tourists.
Many of the roads will slow to a crawl due to the excess traffic and the foot traffic will be shoulder to shoulder throughout many parts of town.
Now that you have been warned - these can still be really incredible events to experience first hand!
This place wasn't on my list going into this trip. During the cooking experience we booked with Cuscun, our guide Pampa recommended we check this place out.
I'm glad that we ran into Pampa because Antigua Cerveza was incredible! Antigua Cerveza sits on a large city block and much of their space is occupied by native vegetation. You almost feel like you've entered a forest in the middle of town.
Oh yeah, the beer is really good too!
Brush up on your Spanish
Have you ever thought about learning Spanish abroad? Antigua has a reputation for being an affordable place to study the language.
Whether you take a class for a day or stay a while longer, taking a class during your stay is a great way to immerse yourself in the Guatemalan culture.
While we’re on the subject, I‘d suggest brushing up on some common Spanish phrases before traveling to Guatemala.
You’ll encounter some English speakers here during your travels, but you’ll also find yourself in plenty of situations where people do not.
If you haven’t used it before, Duolingo is a fun and free way to learn foreign languages!
Enjoy a roof top drink
When visiting Antigua it is practically tradition that you enjoy a rooftop cocktail during your stay. There are numerous bars and restaurants throughout Antigua that offer rooftop seating (like Cafe Sky).
Better yet, book your hotel or Airbnb somewhere that offers rooftop access. You'll be surprised at how common this is in Antigua.
Our Airbnb had rooftop seating and I'll never forget the nights we hung out up there drinking Gallos and watching Volcan Fuego erupt!
View the El Carmen Church Facade
Antigua once served as the capital city of Guatemala.
However, in 1773 a massive earthquake destroyed much of the city which resulted in Guatemala City being named the new capital city of Guatemala.
This also shines some light on how the city was renamed, with Antigua Guatemala meaning ‘Guatemala of Old’.
Some of the buildings that survived the earthquake and subsequent 200+ years can still be seen today and contribute to the rich cultural history found in this town.
If you’re looking for a more engaging way to experience these structures, hiring a guide and doing a walking tour is a great way to learn more about these historic buildings.
Other things to know about Antigua Guatemala
Where is Antigua located
Antigua is located approximately one hour driving west of Guatemala City. There are a number of ways to travel between these cities which include chicken bus, private shuttle, taxi, Uber or rental car.
I would recommend taking a shuttle from the airport to Antigua if you're traveling with luggage or a group.
The easiest way is generally to coordinate transportation with your hotel or host in Antigua. Our Airbnb host had a driver they connect visitors with at a very reasonable price.
What to expect when visiting Antigua Guatemala
Guatemala is a relatively inexpensive country which means your budget for food, lodging and fun should stretch further.
Antigua is home to rich cultural history and the architecture here offers a glimpse back in time to when the Spaniards colonized this area.
You’ll also stumble across the ruins of numerous buildings that were partly destroyed by earthquake activity
The cobblestone streets of Antigua make for bumpy car rides but really adds to the historical culture and charm you'll experience here.
Antigua is a very walkable city so unless you plan to do some exploring outside of town you probably won't need a rental car.
Cellular service in Guatemala
Cellular service near the more developed city centers of Guatemala is pretty reliable.
While you shouldn't have any issues placing phone calls, data speeds are on the slower end so you'll want to connect to Wi-Fi for any heavy duty web surfing.
How many days should I spend in Antigua Guatemala
I would look to spend at least three days experiencing Antigua. That should give you enough time to cover most things we've covered in this guide (including a day on the Pacaya Volcano hike).
If you're looking to do the Acatenango hike or visit Lake Atitlan you'll need to budget additional time.
While Lake Atitlan can be visited as a day trip, I would recommend carving out a few days to focus on that area as well.
Be sure to bring some hiking gear
I'd recommend bringing a pair of hiking boots and a small hiking day bag (with hydration insert) on your visit to Guatemala. This ensures you can do the Pacaya Volcano hike comfortably and you might want them for other activities such as an ATV tour or if you do some hiking around Lake Atitlan.
What is the best time of year to visit Antigua Guatemala
I would recommend visiting Guatemala from November to April to avoid the rainy season which runs from May to October.
With that said, the climate here is tropical given its proximity to the equator. Temperatures will be comfortable year round and this tip is more about maximizing your chances at dry sunny days to explore!
Does Guatemala accept credit cards
We had pretty good luck using our credit cards around Antigua and more surprisingly around Lake Atitlan.
With that said, you should always go into an activity or restaurant with an expectation that you will need to pay cash so be sure to have some handy.
When in doubt, just ask!
I usually keep enough cash on me to last a couple days and then try to stretch it further (and not take more cash out) by paying with card wherever possible.
One more thing - if you need to convert USD to Quetzals (the Guatemalan currency) at a bank be sure to have your passport handy as it's required for these conversions.
Is the water safe to drink in Antigua Guatemala
The tap water in Guatemala is generally not drinkable for tourists. However, we never had issues finding bottled or otherwise drinkable water during our time in Antigua.
Don’t forget to pack a reusable water bottle!
Where is the nearest airport to Antigua Guatemala
The nearest airport to Antigua is located in Guatemala City. Visitors flying into Guatemala City can hire a shuttle or taxi to make the 45-60 minute drive between cities. Be mindful that during rush hour traffic between these cities can add up to an hour of drive time.
What language do they speak in Guatemala
Spanish is the official language of Guatemala. In some areas, generally away from the cities, you may encounter locals who speak one of the Mayan dialects.
You’ll find some English speakers in Guatemala, but it isn’t a given here even in the touristy areas.
I’d suggest brushing up on common Spanish phrases before your trip and use a tool like Google Translate’s camera feature for translating menus.
If you haven't used that tool before it's quite handy. Simply point your camera at something needing translation and the app will superimpose the translation on top of the image! Pretty slick.
Is Antigua Guatemala dangerous
Antigua is very safe and accustomed to international travelers. During my visit we never had a negative experience and felt extremely comfortable everywhere we went.
Be sure to read our guide on reducing airfare costs
One of those most unavoidable and dreaded travel costs is airfare.
Even if you budget carefully for food, accommodations and find budget friendly activities the cost of airfare can make many destinations prohibitively expensive.
But if you're a savvy traveler like me then you know there are ways to beat the airlines! I have a full post dedicated to all of the tips and tricks I use to pay the absolute minimum for airfare when I travel.
Looking for quick advice on how to book your next trip?
It's easy to forget how much time, effort and planning can go into putting together a vacation.
Booking flights, shuttles, rental cars, hotels, activities and making sure you've packed everything you'll need for where you're going is no small task!
Not to mention all of these things tend to add up in cost very quickly. With so many things that can go wrong what's a savvy traveler to do? Read my post on travel planning hacks that's what!
In that guide I will highlight all of the strategies I use to streamline the trip planning process while making sure I cover all of the tricks I use to save money along the way.