Of all the places we visited on my recent whirlwind tour of Guatemala and Belize, Antigua was my favourite. I loved the sights, I loved the smells, I loved the people and I loved the striking architecture. I loved the cobbled streets and the rainbow of coloured walls around every corner. It felt like stepping into a film set. Antigua is a place of so much vibrancy and character, and it’s quite possibly the most Instagrammable town I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Despite being a tourism hot spot, Antigua feels like it is frozen in time and still embodies a certain colonial charm that has undoubtedly been around for thousands of years. Dating all the way back to 1541, Antigua is the oldest town in the whole of the Americas and is a melting pot of Mayan and Spanish cultures. It is a town laced with fascinating political and cultural history, which now sits alongside a variety of boutique hotels, shops, restaurants and points of interest.
Here is my boutique guide to Antigua Guatemala;
Top 10 Sights and Things to do in Antigua
1. Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint
Before exploring Antigua, head to the Cerro de la Cruz viewpoint for a panoramic perspective of the city and it’s breathtaking backdrop of volcanos. The prominent crucifix overlooking the city is devoted to the city’s patron saint. Police patrol is on from 8am to 4pm daily for tourist safety.
How to get there: Access via footpath/trail at the end of 1st Avenida. Alternatively, drive by following road to El Hato.
2. Santa Catalina Arch
Antigua’s most iconic landmark, dating back to the 17th Century. Street vendors, tourists and locals alike gather around this area, creating a real buzz. Stroll under the arch and along the cobbles to tick this prized Guatemalan landmark off your bucket list.
Address: 5ta Avenida Norte, between 1ra and 2da Avenida Poniente
3. La Merced Church and Cloisters
An iconic Baroque church just minutes away from the Santa Catalina Arch. Bright yellow in colour with intricate white coving, it’s not hard to find this ornate and historical church. Connected to La Merced Church are the Cloisters of the Monastery La Merced, which is now in ruins. Head to the top level of the cloisters for amazing views over the city.
Address: 6ta Avenida Norte and 1ra Calle Poniente
Entry: 7 Quetzales
4. Choco Museo
A fun shop-turned-museum specialising in home-grown Guatemalan chocolate and cocoa. With a connecting coffee shop, boutique and 2-hour chocolate workshops, it’s a fun alternative in amongst all the sight seeing. You can also book a full day Cacao tour with them and visit the local cocoa plantations.
Address: 4a Calle Oriente, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
Entry: Free (workshops and tours various prices)
5. Nim’Pot Handicrafts Market
This large warehouse is a cooperative for local artists selling their colourful creations. Here you’ll find clothing, home ware and everything in between. It’s the perfect place to pick up some quirky souvenirs, but be warned that as this is a retail store, they do not accept barters (unlike the central market)
Address: 5ta Avenida Norte (right next to Santa Catalina Arch)
6. Parque Central and Antigua Cathedral
Parque Central is in the heart of Antigua and a great place to visit to get a feel for the city. In the centre lies green manicured gardens that often come alive with street entertainers and vendors. Sheltering the square on two sides are the official Parliament buildings with their grand colonial architecture. On another side of the square lies the main Cathedral de Santiago, which was partially ruined by the earthquake in 1773. The cathedral and ruins are both well worth a visit.
Address: In the centre of the Old Town
Entry: Free to enter the Catherdral. $1 US dollar to visit the ruins
7. Mercado Central
This is the main market in Antigua where your haggling skills really come in to play! The outdoor section has one central avenue of stalls all selling similar clothing, leather and souvenir goods. The central market sells flowers, fruit, and vegetables and also has an interesting and authentic food court of eateries. Even if you don’t intend on buying anything, exploring the market is an Antigua experience.
Address: Many entrances, but easier via Calzada Santa Lucia, entry points located at the end of 3rd Calle Poniente and 4th Calle Poniente.
8. Coffee Tours
Antigua is located in the centre of the Guatemala highlands and is surrounded by coffee plantations. There are various companies who sell coffee tours that include an excursion to coffee plantations where you can learn the entire coffe-making process. Coffee tastings are of course included in the tours and latte art classes are also available.
9. Capucinas Convent
Hidden away off the cobbled streets in Antigua is the Capucinas Convent. With its quiet gardens, intricate architecture and perfectly preserved convent precinct, it’s a little haven in the bustling city. The nun’s old living quarters is the most fascinating section.
Address: 2da Avenida Norte and 2da Calle Oriente
Entry: 40 Quetzales
10. Climbing volcanos
Antigua is surrounded by 3 volcano’s, so after exploring the city, why not hike up a volcano? You can embark on a hike or pony trek on the Pacaya volcano, reaching the 8,373 foot peak. The reward for your 7 hour hike is a sweet and gooey snack of marshmallows toasted right on top of the volcano’s orange lava – not to mention the breathtaking views. Many travel agencies in Antigua can arrange guided treks up the volcanoes, starting around 100 Quetzales.
Where to stay
Hotel El Meson De Maria – 3ª. Calle Poniente No. 8, Antiga Guatemala, Guatemala
I stayed at this hotel during my time in Antigua and I couldn’t recommend it enough. It’s a charming boutique hotel in an incredible location, right around the block from the Santa Catalina Arch. At the heart of the hotel is a lush green inside courtyard with trickling water features, which is the perfect place to relax after a day of exploring. The rooms are designed with lovely attention to detail and the rooftop terrace overlooks the whole of the city and surrounding volcanoes. It’s also just 150 meters from the Main Plaza
Where to eat / drink
La Fonda de la Calle Real
A friendly and intimate restaurant with open air courtyard and greenery. Great sangria and a wide range of dishes. Ideal for lunch or dinner.
Address: 5a Avenida Norte, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala
El Sabor Del Tiempo
Perfect for a romantic evening meal. This wine bar and Italian restaurant is located inside an old Pharmacists and still maintains all of the original features. The old medicine racks are now used to display the incredible selection of wines on offer. There is live music and candle light and a fantastic selection of pizzas and pastas – great if you’re craving a change from the usual Guatemalan dishes.
Address: 5 Av Y Tercera Calle Poniente, Antigua
How to get there
Guatemala City (GUA) is the closest airport to Antigua, which is approximately 1 hour away by car. I would advise booking a taxi from a reputable company to take you from Guatemala City to Antigua, especially if you’re travelling alone. However, a cheaper option is to take a minivan shuttle. You’ll find several kiosks for these minivan shuttles after clearing Customs in Guatemala City Airport.
If you’re travelling from downtown Guatemala City, Lake Atitlán or Chichicastenango you can also catch a minivan shuttle. They all charge between Q75 and Q90 ($10-$12/£5-£6) per person, and will leave as soon as they are full, which shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.
What did you think of my boutique guide to Antigua Guatemala? Have you visited Antigua or is it on your bucket list? If you enjoyed this post please leave me a comment in the box below! Jess x
Want to read more? Check out my Ultimate Travel Itinerary for Guatemala
Disclaimer: My trip to Guatemala was provided complimentary as part of a blogger press trip with Visit Central America. All views are my own