Coming in second in an annual poll of the top cities to explore in Central and South America by Travel & Leisure, Antigua, Guatemala (or its formal name, Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala — antigua translates to old) is one of the most beautiful places to spend some time in — especially if you are interested in history, culture (including Mayan), food and adventure.
I was lucky enough to call the quaint and colorful town home for nearly 2.5 weeks. During my time there, I explored church ruins, drank delicious coffee in hip cafes, hiked a volcano, learned about the area's turbulent history and got a bit lost in the local market. And I loved every minute of it.
If you are considering a trip down to Central America and Guatemala specifically, then you must add Antigua to your travel itinerary. And this in-depth travel guide is a great place to start your trip planning. Read on for a full breakdown of what to know about visiting Antigua, where to eat and stay, what to bring with you, and what you absolutely cannot miss.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
The best time to visit Antigua, Guatemala is between November and April since this is the dry season. During this time of year, you can expect beautiful sunny weather almost every day. Do note that during Semana Santa and the Easter holidays, the town can become super busy. So if you are looking to have the town more to yourself, then I suggest visiting during either January or February.
HOW LONG DO YOU NEED IN ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA?
At least 4 days in order to do all of the top adventures — including hiking Acatenango (which takes 2 days). There is a lot to see in town, especially if you are interested in history and culture.
HOW TO GET TO ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
Antigua is located about 1 hour from Guatemala City, the capital (and largest city in Central America) and home to the main airport. You can easily take a bus, shuttle, or taxi from the airport to Antigua. I would suggest checking to see if your hostel or hotel has an airport shuttle or the number of a specific taxi driver they work with.
You can also head to GuateGo to book a ride to and from the airport.
Once you get to Antigua, it is really easy to make your way around town by foot (the town is in an easy-to-master grid pattern). If you are looking to head out of town, there are numerous public buses — the colorful school buses known as “chicken buses” — or small tuk-tuks.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO TRAVEL AROUND ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
Antigua is pretty darn cheap to travel around — especially if you are okay with eating street food (there are some very tasty options available), and don’t mind staying at quintessential cheap backpacker hostels. But with that being said, I would also say that Antigua is probably one of the most expensive places in the country. So if you are looking to travel really cheapy, maybe consider only spending a few days in town and then heading elsewhere.
💱The currency in Guatemala is the quetzal (which also happens to be the national bird). The exchange rate is about $1 USD = 7.8 quetzals (or Q) // €1 = Q8.5.
► You can find a complete breakdown of what I spent during my 2.5 weeks in Guatemala here.
IS ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA SAFE?
Yes! I felt super safe walking around Antigua, even by myself (as a female) and at night. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily suggest wandering around by yourself in the middle of the night on the edges of town, but in the city center — especially in the main touristy areas — I believe you should be totally fine. As with all places, use common sense and listen to your gut if you feel like something might be a bit off.
\\ Where to Stay In Antigua, Guatemala
There are a ton of options when it comes to finding lodging in Antigua. From bare-bones backpacker hostels to super-luxe hotels, there is something for every type of budget and traveler. Below are a few of the best options.
| Selina Antigua: if you are looking to combine travel with work (hello digital nomad life) then this might just be the best place to stay. This Selina in particular was extra nice (and fun!). They offer coworking space, a communal kitchen, restaurant and bar, pool and plenty of activities. | BOOK IT
| Tropicana: a favorite for budget travelers, this conveniently located hostel also offers tours up to Acatenango Volcano. | BOOK IT
| Maya Papaya: this uber-hip spot is very close to some of the best bars and restaurants in town, plus they have some nice amenities — especially if you need to get a bit of work done. | BOOK IT
| Flore Hostel: another great option is this boutique hostel located in the center of town. One great perk of this spot is they have a coffee shop connected — meaning delicious coffees and juices within only a few steps of your bed. | BOOK IT
| Casa Santo Domingo: if you are looking for something super lux, then consider booking a night at this 5-star hotel that is in an old convent. Located a short walk from all the main sites in Antigua, Casa Santo Domingo includes an outdoor pool, spa, museum, jade factory and art gallery. | BOOK IT
| Cacao Boutique Hotel: this mid-priced, but hip boutique hotel is centrally located and provides lots of nice amenities, including free breakfast, a bar and an on-site tour desk. | BOOK IT
| Ojala: located just a short distance from the famous Santa Catalina Arch, this upscale spot includes a garden and terrace, an airport shuttle and bar. | BOOK IT
\\ Where to Eat and Drink In Antigua, Guatemala
You shouldn’t travel to Guatemala — and Antigua in particular — without trying the local cuisine. Overall, traditional Guatemalan food consists of lots of delicious soups and stews, meat, and of course, homemade tortillas. Below are just a few of the best places to head to for food and drinks.
| La Cuevita de Los Urquizú: this family-owned restaurant is a real hidden gem. I actually only found out about it thanks to the free city tour I took (take the same one here), but man I am glad I did because it might have been one of the best meals I had during my whole Guatemala trip.
To start, you walk in and get to pick what traditional Guatemalan food you would like to eat out of the wide array of sizzling ceramic pots. The meal includes one meat dish, two sides, fresh homemade tortillas and a drink. I highly recommend trying the pepian (a delicious chicken stew).
Each plate costs Q98 or roughly ~$13 USD. Find the exact location of the restaurant here.
💬INSIDER TIP: if you want to try some more tasty (and cheap) traditional Guatemalan food, then I highly recommend grabbing some street food one evening. The best place to head to is Parque La Merced, a small park in front of the beautiful yellow Iglesia de la Merced.
| Frida’s: another fun spot to check out for a bite to eat or for an early evening drink is this Mexican restaurant located only steps from the famous Santa Catalina Arch. The margaritas are quite good, while the appetizers are the perfect accompaniment. Find the exact location of this hopping restaurant here.
| Por Que No? Café: now if you are looking for a real off-the-beaten-path restaurant, then make the trek to almost the edge of town and try to secure a seat at this uber-small restaurant. Seriously — there might be five tables in the whole place (and two are actually the bar). But the food? Absolutely delicious, and 100% worth the somewhat high price tag. Find the exact location of this hidden gem here.
| Antigua Brewing Company: if you are someone who likes to try local beers while traveling, then make sure to add this spot to your travel itinerary. Located in the heart of central Antigua, the Antigua Brewing Company is a great spot to head to during the evening for a night of live music, good beer and, if you are lucky, great views of the nearby volcanoes (their terrace is top-notch).
💬INSIDER TIP: now if you are looking to splurge and have a really unique experience, then also make sure to stop by the small, hidden cocktail bar on the ground floor of the brewery. While the drinks are pricy, this is also one of those truly memorable experiences that you can’t find everywhere. To enter the bar, walk through the red phone booth under the stairs.
\\ What to Bring With You to Antigua, Guatemala
The weather in Antigua, Guatemala is pretty great year-round. During the dry season (November to April) you can expect hot days with lots of sunshine, while during the rainy season (May to October) you will want to pack a couple of layers and definitely a rain jacket.
💬INSIDER TIP: one thing I was not expecting while visiting Antigua was the cooler temps during the night. While you will be nice and hot during the day, once the sun goes down you will be reaching for a jacket and some pants — therefore pack accordingly.
TOP GEAR TO BRING FOR TRAVELING IN GUATEMALA
| Light Rain Jacket
Even if you are planning to visit Antigua during the dry season, it still might not be a bad idea to pack a rain jacket just in case — plus, this one by The North Face is light enough to work as a quick pullover when the temperatures start to drop at night or for when you are heading out for an epic hike (like up Acatenango Volcano). | CHECK IT OUT
| Every Day-Wear Shorts
One great minimalist packing hack is to bring a comfortable pair of shorts that can be worn with many different tops. This pair by Outdoor Research is made of a nice stretch nylon fabric that is super comfy to wear all day long (plus it comes in some great colors!). | CHECK IT OUT
| Cute Town Dress
Antigua is full of colorful buildings and vibrant flowers, so why not match the vibe by packing a cute dress that can be worn with sneakers for all-day city touring or with fancy sandals for a fun night out. This one by Vans fits that vibe perfectly. | CHECK IT OUT
| A Sunhat with Style
Finish off your Antigua style with an uber-stylish hat by Stetson. This felt sun hat will help shade your face while walking around town in the middle of the day — while at the same time help you look good no matter how many days you’ve gone sans shampoo. | CHECK IT OUT
THE 5 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ANTIGUA, GUATEMALA
1 | Walk Around the City or Take a City Tour
Antigua is a super walkable city — so much so that during my nearly 2 weeks in the town, I only took one Uber ride (and that was out of the city). If you are wanting to get a feel for the historic town — or just learn more about its unique history, then I highly suggest booking a free city tour.
I booked mine through GuruWalk and highly recommend it. It is free — though you should definitely tip your guide (roughly $10 — $15 is good). The tour lasts around 2 hours and covers the long history of Antigua and Guatemala as a whole. Plus, you will likely be given some great inside tips on the real hidden gems of the city (including a 100+ year-old sweet shop).
➳ Book your free walking tour here.
If a tour isn’t really your thing, then I instead suggest spending a morning just wandering the central area, checking out all of the colorful cobblestone streets and the beautiful architecture (Antigua is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its long history — it was first founded in 1524 — and stunning array of monuments).
Some of the top places to visit include the famous Santa Catalina Arch (by far one of the most photographed places in town), the main plaza, Santa Clara Convent and the La Union Tank (tanque), a historic public laundry facility.
2 | Hike Acatenango Volcano
If I am being honest, hiking up and watching the highly active Fuego Volcano erupt from the side of Acatenango Volcano was maybe the sole reason that I booked my trip to Guatemala. And let me tell you — it was worth it (even with a 12-hour layover at Miami International Airport).
If you are an active adventurer, then this 2-day trip up to the two volcanoes should also be at the top of your to-do list. You can learn everything you need to know about hiking Acatenango Volcano yourself in my in-depth adventure guide.
3 | Bike Around the Surrounding Villages
If you have the extra time, then I definitely recommend booking a tour to check out the surrounding villages near Antigua. While most people choose to do the tour via ATV, I would instead suggest booking one with bikes. Not only will this give you some good exercise, but it also allows you to see the areas in a totally different way.
Along this ~5 hour excursion, you will get to take tours of a family-run chocolate factory, a jade shop, a macadamia farm and even get to spend some time making tortillas in a local market.
I booked my bike tour through Selina Hostels and paid $40 USD (or Q312). You can book the tour for yourself here.
4 | Check Out the Local Markets
While Antigua is not very large, it does have its fair share of markets — including a very large and maze-like one on the edge of town. If you are looking for an authentic experience, then I definitely recommend spending an hour or so wandering around the many alleyways of the central market. Likewise, if you are looking for either fresh produce, a cheap lunch, or some souvenirs to bring home with you, then this is the place to go.
There are two main points in the Mercado Central to be aware of: on the far left side, you will find the Artisan market which houses many local artists, including painters and weavers. This is the best place to go for souvenirs, especially if you are looking for a piece of artwork, a bag or some more high-end items.
On the opposite side of the market (in the far back corner and a bit to the right) you will find a second-hand market. This is a good spot to go if you just need a cheap piece of clothing (like an extra jacket for the Acatenango hike) or if you want to see what kind of cool thrifted pieces you can find.
5 | Explore the Churches and Ruins
Due to Antigua’s turbulent history — mostly due to its location near multiple volcanoes and fault lines — the town has a lot of ruins, many of which are old churches. While some are in the process of being rebuilt or repaired, many others have just been left in their present derelict state.
I would suggest putting aside a morning or afternoon and just walking around checking out some of the prettier ruins (there are many). Do note that most of them do charge a small fee to visit.
❔GOOD TO KNOW: another interesting thing to stop in and see is the local cemetery, which is full of beautiful white mausoleums. You can find the cemetery on the edge of town near the main bus terminal (exact location). The cemetery opens at 8AM and is free to enter.
Antigua, Guatemala is a fantastic place to spend a couple of days during your trip to Guatemala. In fact, while I might be a bit biased, I think it should be at the top of your travel itinerary due to its numerous adventure offerings, beautiful architecture, lively culture, and delicious cuisine (and coffee!).
If you have any questions about visiting Antigua, then definitely do not hesitate to leave a comment or question below, or reach out to me at www.backroadpackers.com.