Antigua is a top tourist destination in Guatemala. Therefore, not only backpackers and digital nomads visit Antigua, but also tour groups and traveling families. Most travelers use the city as a hub to visit other places in the country. We also used Antigua as a travel hub our self to travel to Lake Atitlan, El Salvador, … And we returned to this great destination multiple times. Over the past few years, we visited Antigua again and again. Over time we established a nice comprehensive list of top things to do in Antigua Guatemala.
Top things to do in Antigua Guatemala – Sights and activities
Let’s start our city guide with the top things to do in Antigua Guatemala. These are a few sights and activities to spice up your trip to Antigua. Some activities are very well known, while others are more off the beaten path.
But they all are among the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala!
Parque Central – Main City Square
The main city square of Antigua is a no-brainer!
You have to walk through and sit down on one of the benches for a little while, just to watch local life unravel in front of you. Watch the local women sell goods to tourists, accompanied by their children and grandchildren. You’ll also see children selling goods to tourists, which is a whole different story. I’d recommend you to not buy goods from children in order to help to stop the circle of child labor in countries like Guatemala.
But without any doubt, the Plaza Central Park of Antigua is a nice place to relax.
La Merced is also one of the main tourist attractions. The recognizable yellow building dates back to the mid-sixteenth century and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times after earthquakes hit the region. Iglesia La Merced is a famous landmark in Antigua and the main facade is built in a baroque style. It’s possible to enter the church or just watch it from the outside. La Merced is also a main hub where the procession for Semana Santa walks by.
Next to the Merced, you can find a beautiful indoor market with souvenirs. But this particular market isn’t very cheap.
Largest fountain in Central America
The fountain at La Merced is one of the less known sights in Antigua and when you visit this fountain, you might be there all by yourself. This fountain is the largest in Central America and it was built in the sixteenth century and has been partially destroyed by an earthquake and restored again. You can climb the stairs of the surrounding building and walk around the fountain with great views from above. The fountain itself wasn’t operational when we visited and I’m not sure if it ever is, but it’s still an impressive view!
El Arco de Santa Catalina – The Santa Catalina Arch
This is without any doubt the most photographed spot in the entire town of Antigua! The arch was built in the seventeenth century and it once served as a secret walkway to help the Santa Catalina nuns to cross the street from the convent to the school across the street without being seen by anyone since they had taken a vow of seclusion. The arch has been restored over the years, but it has not been destructed by the many severe earthquakes that struck the area over the centuries. That’s why the Santa Catalina arch is a symbol of resilience to Antigua. The former nunnery of Santa Catalina is now a hotel.
Park Tanque La Union
Tanque La Union is a small park, which is located a bit out of the city center, but it’s worth the short walk in order to see the former lavanderia from the old days. A few years ago, you could still find local women doing laundry in the basins which are designed as a laundry station, but the last time we visited the washing basin wasn’t being used by anyone. Even if the place isn’t in use anymore, it is still a very nice sight! The park is located next to the Santa Clara convent.
The mercado de Antigua – Local market
The local market is a sight that is skipped by many visitors, but we do recommend walking through the Mercado at least once. It feels as if you would get lost in this maze of small corridors with hundreds of stalls selling different goods, but even if you get lost, it won’t take you long to find the main road again. I always think that the main attraction of places like these is to get lost for a while before returning to the touristy streets of Antigua.
Free Walking tour Antigua
Antigua is a cute colonial town that lends itself perfectly for walking around on your own. You can just walk around and hope to find some cool sights, which you probably will, or you can download an app to show you the best free walking tours in Antigua. For the best self-guided walking tours on your phone, check the GPS My City app, which allows you to download the different walks for offline use.
Chocolate museum and chocolate workshops
Guatemala, as well as Mexico, are both great locations for cacao to grow, so both countries offer some options for chocolate making. In Antigua alone, two chocolate museums offer a diversity of activities for travelers. You can either learn to make chocolate, visit the chocolate museum, or even take a tour of the plantations. Check the ChocoMuseo website to learn more about the different options.
Map of top things to do in Antigua Guatemala
Semana Santa Antigua Guatemala – Festivals in Antigua
As with any other Latin American country, Guatemala counts many festivals and holy celebrations. If you have to pick one, let it be Semana Santa. Holy Week or Semana Santa is the week before Easter, with parades all through the weekend. People dress up in holy robes and the floats are actually carried by dozens of people. During Semana Santa in Antigua, the town is bustling with activity and it’s hard to miss! Another interesting aspect of Semana Santa are the flower beds, called ‘alfombras’, which are displayed in the streets. These holy works of art consist of flowers and colored sawdust and locals are working together to manually create these artworks.
Semana Santa – Antigua – Photo by Inge
Antigua Spanish School – Learn Spanish in Antigua
Learning Spanish is one of the top things to do in Antigua Guatemala since it allows you to stay in the city a lot longer and you can usually learn Spanish in Antigua very cheap. Language schools often offer their classes in combination with a homestay to make your learning course budget-friendly. Antigua language schools are among the best in Central America and a lot of backpackers start their Latin America travels in this city in order to study in an Antigua language school. Check this post on Y Travel Blog to find out how to choose a good Spanish school in Antigua. You can already start studying Spanish before you start traveling with an online language course.
Restaurants and Bars in Antigua Guatemala
Finding a great bar in one of the top things to do in Antigua Guatemala and the city has plenty of these. We encourage you to find a few cool places while walking through town. We only list three because these three are our favorites, but you won’t have trouble at all finding nice places to go for food and drinks!
Fridas Antigua Guatemala – LGBT travel tip
The first bar to get a mention is this LGBT-friendly bar and restaurant near the Antigua Arch. This place offers food and drinks, but what’s even better: an LGBT party in Antigua Guatemala. Check the poster at the door which mentions all the upcoming events to know when the next big party is organized. Usually, on Saturday nights, the upstairs part or El Atico de Frida is converted into a party area and it’s very inviting to LGBT travelers. We enjoyed an awesome party with a female DJ, surrounded by local LGBT party people. Fridas Antigua is one of the only LGBT places in Guatemala, so if you visit Antigua, make sure to include a weekend! You can also check their Facebook page to see upcoming events!
Fridas bar & restaurant – Antigua – Photo by Lobke
The Mono Loco bar is an all-time favorite for travelers and tour groups alike. This restaurant/bar in Antigua has a cozy downstairs area and a more open plan upstairs dining area. You can get great burgers and other tasty dishes here. At night, the Mono turns Loco and the Mono Loco bar becomes a party zone. This place is definitely worth a visit and you can check upcoming events on their Facebook page!
Cafe No Sé
Cafe No Sé has a completely different kind of setting and it’s more of a calm place to go to. The cafe is lit by candles and they often have live music events. Who can better explain what Cafe No Sé is like than the owners with their own video? Check out their Facebook page to see upcoming events.
Quick facts – Antigua Guatemala
Antigua is surrounded by volcanoes and some of them are more alive than others. Visiting and hiking these volcanoes are top activities for backpackers and hikers. Fuego and Pacaya are active volcanoes in the Antigua area. You can hike Pacaya in a half day volcano tour and Acatenango volcano is another popular 2-day hike nearby.
Weather in Antigua
Temperatures in Antigua are mild throughout the year and on most days temperatures are somewhere between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius. From June to September, chances on rainy days are higher. October to May count a lot of dry days.
Antigua Guatemala Altitude
Antigua Guatemala is located at an altitude of approximately 1500 meters above sea level.
How far is Antigua from Guatemala city
The distance between Guatemala City and Antigua is only 40 kilometers, but with the traffic and sometimes difficult terrain, it can take over an hour to commute between both cities.
Antigua Guatemala Safety
Guatemala is a safe country to travel as long as you keep a few basic facts in your mind. With the use of a little common sense, you’ll experience no trouble at all. Basic safety rules apply in Guatemala as much as they do in any other backpacking destination. Don’t flash expensive jewelry and don’t carry hundreds of euros when walking through town at night, alone. We never experienced any discomfort when traveling in Antigua and you should be fine as well!
Semana Santa – Antigua – Photo by Inge
LGBT travel to Antigua
Guatemala is not actually a top LGBT travel destination, but this doesn’t mean you should worry when traveling to Guatemala as a lesbian or gay traveler. We have traveled through Guatemala and even lived there for a while without experiencing any trouble. Read our information page about LGBT laws and rights in Guatemala and check our post about lesbian travel in Guatemala.
We did meet a local gay boy in Antigua who was living in a small community with his family. I had the opportunity to chat with him for a little while he explained that gay life in a small Guatemalan community isn’t all roses and moonshine. He wasn’t able to out himself to his family and he believed he would be punished severely by his community for being gay. Of course, I can’t speak for the Guatemalan people and I can understand that life and culture in rural communities in Guatemala are different from anything we know.
Where to sleep in Antigua Guatemala
Antigua offers plenty of accommodation options, many of which are very expensive. We tried a few and changed a few times. As we are budget travelers, we’ll start with the best backpackers budget hostel in Antigua, which is also our favorite!
Top things to do in Antigua
As you can see, Antigua has a lot to offer for all types of travelers. From Antigua, you can easily take day trips all over the country of Guatemala or you can cross the border into Mexico or El Salvador. It’s pretty easy to travel to Honduras or Nicaragua from Antigua as well and most hostels organize shuttles to a plethora of destinations. Have you been to Antigua? Let us know in the comments below!