Capital of the former Kingdom of Guatemala during the Spanish colonial era, exploring it is a true delight where strolling through its cobblestone streets flanked by colorful houses, impressive religious buildings, and markets with centuries of history is something hard to forget. If you add to that the view of several volcanoes (some even spewing lava frequently) from almost any corner of the city, wonderful cafés where you can savor some of the best coffee in the world, and a vast gastronomic offer, we assure you that you will be captivated.
INDEX OF CONTENTS
Map of the Treasures of Antigua, Guatemala
Welcome to our interactive map of Antigua, Guatemala, where rich history and vibrant culture intertwine. Discover Antigua through our interactive map and let each marker tell you a unique story of this Guatemalan gem. Enjoy your exploration! 🗺️🌎
- Central Park: The heart of Antigua, surrounded by the Cathedral of San José, the Palace of the Captains General, and the Fountain of the Sirens. A perfect place to immerse yourself in the colonial atmosphere.
- Santa Catalina Arch: An iconic arch framing views of the Volcano of Agua, adding charm to the cobblestone streets.
- La Merced Church: A spectacular example of Guatemalan ultra-baroque, with a yellow facade adorned with white stucco. From the first floor, enjoy panoramic views of Antigua and the surrounding volcanoes.
- Cerro de La Cruz: Get the best panoramic view of the city and the Volcano of Agua from this viewpoint. Avoid the nights and immerse yourself in the peace of dawn or afternoon.
- Capuchinas Convent: Explore the historic ruins of this convent, offering a unique glimpse into colonial life.
- Church and Convent of the Society of Jesus: Discover history at this site restored by AECID, with ancient classrooms, refectories, and cloisters converted into cultural spaces.
- La Unión Tank: A public laundry rebuilt in neoclassical style. A testimony to everyday life in the past.
- Ruins of the Church of Our Lady of Carmen: Admire the imposing baroque facade that has withstood the test of time.
- Central Market: Immerse yourself in local life and taste authentic flavors in this bustling market.
- Main Square: The epicenter of the city, where the Fountain of the Sirens, the Palace of the Captains General, and the Cathedral of San José will transport you to the colonial era.
Charm of the Arch of Santa Catalina
We begin our journey through what was once acclaimed as “the most beautiful city in the Indies,” and delve into one of its most iconic spots: the famous Arch of Santa Catalina. This corner becomes a must-visit for any traveler venturing through Antigua.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with this captivating sight: cobblestone streets, picturesque buildings, the yellow arch, and the majestic Volcán de Agua as a backdrop. The combination is simply unparalleled. To ensure the perfect shot or simply enjoy the place without worrying about traffic, I recommend visiting during weekends or holidays when the street becomes a pedestrian space, adding an extra charm.
The history of the arch adds a fascinating touch to its appeal. It is said that it was built to allow the nuns of the Convent of Santa Catalina to cross discreetly between the convent buildings, shielding themselves from prying eyes. After suffering significant damage during the devastating earthquake of 1773, the clock tower was added that distinguishes it today. Every corner tells a story, and the Arch of Santa Catalina bears witness to the changes over time in this jewel of Antigua. A stop you can’t miss in your Guatemalan journey!
The Magic of La Merced Church
Immerse yourself in the vibrant experience of Antigua, Guatemala, exploring the fascinating La Merced Church. This architectural gem, an impressive example of Guatemalan ultra-baroque dating back to 1767, will captivate you with its yellow facade adorned with details in white stucco.
Mere exterior contemplation is already worth it, but as you step inside, you’ll be amazed by the images of San Pedro Nolasco and the Virgin of the Rosary. Don’t miss the cloister, which was once part of the La Merced Convent, where a charming water lily-shaped fountain, possibly the largest in Central America, adds a special touch.
From the first floor, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Antigua and the majestic volcanoes that surround it. If you decide to visit in the afternoon, you’ll have the opportunity to explore a variety of local food stalls, offering budget-friendly options for snacks or dinner, especially during lively Saturdays and Sundays.
Opening hours: 8:30 am to 5:45 pm. Admission: 20Q for foreigners and 10Q for nationals. A unique experience you can’t miss on your Guatemalan adventure!
Majesty from Cerro de La Cruz
If you’re short on time and looking for what to do in Antigua in a day, an essential stop is Cerro de La Cruz. This site offers the best panoramic view of the city, with the Agua Volcano dominating the horizon, and the ascent is not a significant challenge.
You can choose to explore it on your own, a stroll that shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes from Central Park (about 10 minutes uphill). You can also join an exciting guided tour or hire a mototaxi (30-40Q round trip) to cover the last part of the journey on foot. Regardless of the option you choose, it’s advisable to avoid climbing at night for safety reasons. Also, before starting your ascent, we suggest taking a look at the volcano to make sure it’s not covered, as clouds tend to move quickly, so don’t worry if you see them at one moment; they could clear up right away. Get ready for an unforgettable experience.
Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes
The star activity from Antigua is sleeping at the top of Acatenango volcano with the active Fuego Volcano spewing lava in front of you.
One of the most amazing experiences when it comes to trekking. The ascent to Acatenango is tough but manageable if one is moderately prepared. And the landscapes encountered on the way, especially at the summit, make the effort worthwhile.
But what’s truly challenging is spending the night in sub-zero temperatures at almost 4,000 meters above sea level.
History at Capuchinas Convent
The Capuchinas Convent, built in 1736 by the Clarisas nuns, is a prominent religious building with a fascinating history. Although it suffered severe damage in the 1773 earthquake, restoration has allowed the appreciation of its unique structure. Known for possibly being the first apartment building in the American continent, it features a circular tower surrounded by 18 cells with private bathrooms and living areas. The porticoed cloister, filled with flowers, adds an extra touch of beauty. The visit, which lasts between 45 minutes and 1 hour, is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the history of this place.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm.
Entrance: 40Q for foreigners and 5Q for residents. Explore this historical treasure during your stay in Antigua!
Exploring the Heart of Antigua: Plaza Mayor
When you begin your visit to Antigua, Guatemala, you are likely to find yourself at its epicenter: Central Plaza, also known as Parque Central or Plaza Mayor. This central point not only houses several significant buildings but also serves as a meeting place for both locals and visitors. The pleasant park is the perfect spot to enjoy the Antiguan atmosphere and admire the beautiful huipiles worn by Guatemalan women.
Among the highlights in Plaza Mayor that you shouldn’t miss:
- Fountain of the Sirens: Designed and built in 1739 by Diego de Porres, this fountain features four sirens holding their breasts with their hands.
- Palace of the Captains General: Former residence of the president of the Royal Audiencia of the Confines. In addition to admiring the building, we recommend exploring the Santiago de los Caballeros Museum, with an exhibition on the history of Antigua and impressive views of the square and its surroundings.
- Cathedral of San José: This imposing building is the focal point of the square. Although it was part of the destroyed Cathedral Primada of Santiago de los Caballeros in 1773, the new construction is worth admiring. Explore the ruins of the old cathedral, with its imposing columns and the remains of the open-air dome. Descend to the crypt in the area of the main altar, where you’ll find a small enclosed chapel with a striking image of Christ blackened by smoke and fire. It is recommended to visit early in the morning to enjoy the peace and the most beautiful light. The entrance fee is 20Q.
Past in the Convent of Santa Clara
If you’ve noticed by now that one of the must-do activities in Antigua, Guatemala, is exploring its various religious buildings, many of them abandoned due to earthquakes, don’t be discouraged. Although it may sound somewhat mysterious, the experience is fascinating and unique, something you will truly enjoy.
Within this list, another place you shouldn’t overlook is the Church or Convent of Santa Clara, just a few steps from Central Plaza. Opened in January 1700, it suffered damage in the earthquake of 1717, but it underwent a complete renovation and expansion with a beautiful church designed by Diego de Porres. Unfortunately, the earthquakes of 1773 and 1874 left it in such a bad state that it was also abandoned.
Despite its condition, the Convent of Santa Clara is so photogenic that it has become a coveted location for photo sessions and events. Without a doubt, entering and strolling through centuries of history is worth it.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm.
Entrance: 25Q for foreigners and 5Q for residents. Immerse yourself in the history and beauty of this unique place during your visit to Antigua!
Exploring History at Tanque La Unión
A few steps from the aforementioned convent, another intriguing destination awaits in Antigua, Guatemala: Tanque La Unión.
In a time when only the largest houses of the wealthy had washbasins, the residents of Antigua relied on public washbasins. One of the most prominent is Tanque La Unión, inaugurated in 1853. Although it was rebuilt in neoclassical style in 1976, you can still admire it for free today.
It is believed that the tank received its name in commemoration of Guatemala’s victory against El Salvador in the Battle of La Arada and as recognition of the Unionist Congress of Central America. This place is a living testimony to the history and everyday life of Antigua.
Ruins of the Church of Our Lady of Carmen
If there’s an imposing facade you shouldn’t miss in Antigua, it’s that of the Church of Our Lady of Carmen. This magnificent example of Guatemalan Baroque has withstood the earthquakes since its construction in 1638.
Although what remains standing is astonishing, it’s necessary to imagine it with its two levels, each with 12 intricately carved columns with delicate arabesques or spiral designs. This detail extends to a section of the central nave, where designs of acanthus leaves and palms can still be appreciated.
While it’s currently not possible to enter, we recommend getting close at least to admire it from the outside. Additionally, it’s common to find a small crafts market in its vicinity. These ruins are silent witnesses to the past grandeur of Antigua, a visual reminder of the rich history that permeates every corner of this charming city.
Church and Convent of the Society of Jesus
Despite the ravages suffered by earthquakes, this place was restored thanks to the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). Today, not only can you admire its facade, but also explore the old classrooms, refectories, and cloisters that have been transformed into conference rooms, patios, and recreational areas, including a library and a cafeteria.
Entry is free, allowing you to enjoy permanent and temporary exhibitions on Guatemalan culture. Also, we recommend staying informed about their events through their Facebook page, where they announce various activities, many of them free. Immerse yourself in the living history of this place, which has known how to reinvent itself to offer enriching experiences to visitors.
Exploring Local Flavor
We conclude our list of activities in Antigua, Guatemala, with something as obvious as it is irresistible: enjoying local food and drinks. And, if you’re a die-hard foodie, we advise you to sign up for this gastronomic tour or this guided visit to the market.
To savor authentic Guatemalan dishes like pepián and caldo de res, we recommend visiting the Central Market. Here, you’ll find numerous stalls with daily menus for 10-20Q (1 to 3 euros), which even include a refreshing drink. After delighting in the food, you can explore the craft shops, where prices are often more affordable than in tourist areas.
If you’re looking for more refined options, Rincón Antigüeño and El Refectorio are excellent restaurants. And for food enthusiasts, we recommend a gastronomic tour or a guided market visit.
As for Guatemalan coffee, famous worldwide and especially in Antigua, you can’t miss it. Grown on the fertile slopes of the volcanoes, this fine coffee offers a consistent body and fruity notes. Explore the coffee culture at places like Fat Cat Coffee House, Coffea, and Alegría Café, where baristas will be delighted to guide you in this unique sensory experience. Delight your palate with the best of Antigua!
Best Excursions from Antigua, Guatemala
Your trip to Antigua promises to be an exciting adventure! Here’s a summary of the best excursions you can take to make the most of your stay:
2-day trekking route to Acatenango Volcano: Experience the majesty of witnessing a volcano erupt, with impressive views of the Fuego Volcano. Sleeping on Acatenango will allow you to enjoy nighttime views of the lava.
Chichicastenango Market and Lake Atitlán: Take a day trip to explore the vibrant Chichicastenango Market and then relax on the shores of the stunning Lake Atitlán. If you have more time, consider a 2-day tour that includes a night on the lake.
Excursion to Lake Atitlán + Boat Ride to Santiago: If you’re limited on time, this excursion allows you to explore the beautiful Lake Atitlán and enjoy a boat ride to the charming village of Santiago.
Excursion to Pacaya Volcano and Kawilal Hot Springs: If Acatenango seems too challenging, this excursion takes you to Pacaya Volcano and ends with a relaxing time at the Kawilal hot springs.
Excursion to San Juan del Obispo: This charming village, just 20 minutes from Antigua, offers a close cultural experience. Take advantage of the 2.5 to 3-hour guided excursion to explore its charms.
These options will give you a comprehensive perspective of the natural and cultural beauty that Guatemala has to offer. Enjoy your trip to the fullest!
A multitude of countries in my retina, travels behind me, more than 25 years traveling, and endless getaways have given me a good foundation in this matter.
My great curiosity to know the world has taken me to wonderful places, which I would like to share with you.
My commitment, Help you start dreaming about your next trip!
Also follow me on my YouTube Channel 😉