Antigua is a top tourist destination in Guatemala, not only visited by backpackers and digital nomads, but also by tour groups and traveling families. Most travelers use the city as a hub to visit other places in the country. 

Over the past few years, we visited Antigua again and again.

We really started feeling at home in this city. That’s one of the strengths of Antigua: it welcomes you and embraces you like a long lost child. Within days, it makes you feel at home!

Over time, we established a nice comprehensive list of the best 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 and extremely popular, while others are more off the beaten path. We even included an Antigua activity that has been kept a secret for a very long time!

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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 break the circle of child labor in countries like Guatemala.

Without any doubt, the Parque Central of Antigua is a nice place to relax.

The Santa Catalina Arch

This is without any doubt the most photographed spot in the entire city of Antigua!

The arch was built in the seventeenth century and it once served 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 for Antigua. The former nunnery of Santa Catalina is now a hotel.

Arco de Santa Catalina Antigua Guatemala

Santa Catalina Arch – Image by Only Once Today

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Park Tanque La Union

Tanque La Union is a small park, which is located a bit out of the city center.

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.

Park Tanque La Union Antigua

Parque Tanque La Union in Antigua – Image Only Once Today

Convents and nunneries

In Antigua, quite a few convents and nunneries, which date from colonial times, can be found.

Most of them are ruins and were abandoned after different major earthquakes in the area. The fact that they’re actually ruins makes them very authentic and awesome places to visit.

These 4 Convents are the most interesting ones to check out in Antigua:

Convento Capuchinas

The church and Convento Capuchinas is one of the most beautiful nunneries in the city. It is the most visited and the most impressing one.

If you choose only one Convento to visit, make it this one!

Entrance Fee

40 Q for foreigners (locals and children pay a lot less)

Opening Hours

Monday to Friday from 9 to 16h (except on holidays)

Las Capuchinas Convento Antigua

Convento Capuchinas – Photo by Greg Willis on Wikimedia Commons

Convento Santa Catalina

This convent is the second most viewed convent in Antigua, simply because it is located near the famous arch!

The convent is now a hotel, but the famous arch remains as a part of the convent. There’s also a small piece of the garden that remains. In this garden, they’ve put some religious statues you can see from the street.

Convento Santa Clara

The Convento Santa Clara can be found near Parque Tanque La Union.

Entrance Fee

40 Q for foreigners (locals and children pay a lot less)

Opening hours

Every day from 9 to 17h (except on holidays)

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Convento de San Jeronimo

 

San Jeronimo is located near the local market. You can look inside through the gate or pay a fee to enter the actual ruins. This convent was actually never fully built before it was destructed by an earthquake. The ruins mostly consist of a garden with walls around it.

 

Entrance Fee

40 Q for foreigners (locals and children pay a lot less)

 

Opening hours

Every day from 9 – 17h (except on holidays)

Convento San Jeronimo Antigua Guatemala

Convento de San Jeronimo – Img by OOT

La Merced Church

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 the main hub where the procession for Semana Santa walks by.

Entrance Fee

You can watch the outside of the Merced for free

Entering the church costs 15 Q for foreigners

Opening hours

Every day from 9 – 18h (except on holidays)

La Merced Antigua

La Merced – Img by OOT

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More Churches

Well, we’re not huge fans of churches anyway, but these churches are special!

It’s just the way they look from the outside, which makes them look like either ruins or works of art.

El Carmen Church

This church looks majestic!

After it was partly destroyed during an earthquake in the 18th century, people abandoned the place and the facade still looks exactly the same… partly destroyed.

You can’t enter this church.

El Carmen Church Antigua Guatemala

El Carmen Church on Wikimedia Commons

San Francisco Church

The San Francisco Church is the largest church in Antigua.

It was first built in the 16th century and it was destroyed and abandoned after an earthquake. Now, you can visit the church and gardens.

Fun fact

The ruins of the San Francisco Church are used as a film set in the 1935 ‘New Adventures of Tarzan’. The church was in worse condition back then! It has been restored later. Check minute 54 in the movie!

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Largest fountain in Central America

The fountain at La Merced is one of the less known sights in Antigua.

Guide books and travel guides don’t usually mention this highlight. When you visit this fountain, you might be there all by yourself. So don’t tell anyone and we can keep it a secret!

This fountain is the largest in Central America. It was built in the sixteenth century and has been partially destroyed by an earthquake and restored again. At some point in history, local monks used the fountain to breed fish.

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!

Entrance Fee

Visiting the fountain is included in the entrance fee for La Merced

Opening hours

Every day from 9 – 18h (except on holidays)

Fountain La Merced Antigua Guatemala

The fountain at La Merced – Image by OOT

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Handicraft markets

On quite a few different spots in Antigua, you can check out various handicrafts markets. Some are more expensive than others.

I’ll just name a few in this list. You will soon notice that Antigua is simply full of artisanal shops. The ones we mention here are larger and interesting

Nim Pot’

Nim Pot’ is one of the largest and most popular souvenir shops in Antigua. In this store, you can find cheap souvenirs of all kinds. It’s actually more of a warehouse.

This shop is located near the Catalina Arch.

Opening hours

Every day from 9 to 21h  (except on holidays)

Where

5a Avenida Norte, not too far from the Arch.

Mercado Artesanias

Next to the local market, there’s also an artisanal market. You might need to check the address in your GPS because we thought it was kind of hidden at first.

This place offers better quality products at higher prices. Definitely worth to check out if you’re looking for high-quality textile and other beautiful souvenirs.

Opening hours

Every day from 8 to 18h

Where

Calle Poniente – Behind the Pollo Campero

Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen

This handicraft market is located next to the El Carmen Church.

It’s an open-air market where locals sell their goods from a blanket on the street.

Open

Every day from 8 – 20h (not always equally busy)

Where

In front of the El Carmen church

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’s not really much of a handicrafts market and more a place where locals do their usual shopping.

Here, you can find fresh vegetables, spices, and other food, but also shoes, clothing, kitchenware, … Really anything!

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.

Souvenirs and Handicrafts Antigua Guatemala

Handicrafts in Antigua – Image by Only Once Today

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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 walking tours in town.

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.

Take some classes

Antigua offers an abundance of different types of classes. You can learn Spanish, take cooking classes, salsa classes, yoga classes, … and many other options! 

Cooking classes

Some cooking classes show you the entire process of making food in Antigua. They take you to the local market and then teach you how to make delicious local dishes. Check out the best cooking class in Antigua!

Check out more cooking classes in Antigua.

Salsa Classes

Antigua has a few salsa schools in the city. We didn’t try any of them since we only discovered that it was possible right before we left.

If you want to learn salsa, check out the New Sensation Salsa Studio, Salsa Dreams, or Salsa y Mas dance studios. The Salsa y Mas studio offers a free try out! 

Spanish Classes

Antigua is the walhalla for backpackers who want to study Spanish before they continue their travels into Latin America.

It’s a nice place to stay for a while and learn the language meanwhile!

We took Spanish classes in Antigua a few years ago and loved the experience. For us too, it was an awesome reason to stay longer, much longer!

You could also learn a little bit of Spanish before you leave home with an online language course!

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Chocolate museum and chocolate workshops

Guatemala, as well as Mexico, are great locations for cacao to grow, so both countries offer some options for chocolate making.

In Antigua alone, two chocolate museums can be found and both offer a diversity of activities for travelers.

You can either learn to make chocolate, visit the chocolate museum, or even take a tour to the plantations.

Check the ChocoMuseo website to learn more about the different options.

Hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz

For amazing views over the city, the Cerro de la Cruz would probably be the best place to go!

The Cerro de la Cruz is a hill you can hike near Antigua. The hike is only 30 to 45 minutes before you reach the cross and the viewpoint.

We never hiked this trail. Keep reading to find out why!

This activity comes with a great warning!

I know that most travel guides recommend this activity and nobody ever talks about safety. We want to talk about safety regarding this hike.

Each time we visited Antigua, we tried to do the hike. But each time, we were discouraged by locals who told us that it wasn’t safe. An elderly couple stopped us on the street on our way to the Cerro. They advised us not to go there.

Tourists get mugged or robbed on this trail constantly.

If you really want to do this hike, ask about it in your hostel. They will be able to give you recent and updated information about safety.

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Seasonal activities in Antigua

Some Antigua activities can only be done during some seasons or particular days during the year.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa takes place during the week before Easter, with the highlights of the celebration on Easter. This day, a huge parade walks through the entire city.

People are dressed up for the occasion and the procession is a delight to watch. Floats are being carried through the colonial streets in order to re-enact the crucifixion of Christ.

These floats can weight up to a few thousand kgs and are carried by a dozen to hundred men.

All over town, you see men wearing purple robes, which symbolize the mourning process.

If you are in the neighborhood of Antigua during this period, we definitely recommend planning your visit on the right dates in order to witness those special days.

When

The events take place before Easter. Dates vary, but usually, this is between the end of March and the end of April.

On Palm Sunday, the actual procession takes place.

Semana Santa Antigua Guatemala

Semana Santa – Image by Only Once Today

Flowers Carpets during Holy Week

Also during the Semana Santa Week, locals from surrounding villages create beautiful flower carpets or ‘Alfombras’ to celebrate the Holy Week or Easter.

Preparations for the flower carpets start weeks or months before the actual event. These works of art consist of flowers and colored sand, forming beautiful and colorful scenes, biblical symbols, and traditional Mayan symbols.

You can either watch the flower carpets in Antigua or in some of the surrounding villages.

The colorful carpets get trampled by the processions, so if you want to see them, arrive before the procession!

When to visit

To see the flower carpets at their best, walk the procession route in the early morning of Good Friday.

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Activities outside of Antigua

Aside from all the cool things you can do in the city itself, there are also quite a few things to do in the area surrounding Antigua!

Hike up a volcano

The three most popular volcanoes to hike in the Antigua region are Acatenango, Pacaya, and Fuego. Each has its individual charm and level of difficulty.

Acatenango volcano hike requires a multiple day hike in order to reach the top at sunrise on the second day. Even though this hike could be done in one day. We recommend doing the 2-day hike. This way, you get to see the top of nearby volcanoes glow during the night and the sunrise view of the surrounding volcanoes is just amazing.

Volcan Pacaya and Volcan Fuego are 2 different volcanoes, which aren’t completely dormant. So you’re not always allowed to hike them since they have a tendency to erupt. Check with your hostel what the current option for volcano hiking and marshmallow roasting are! Read more about hiking Pacaya.

Acatenango hike Summit

Photo by Oliver Dickerson on Unsplash – Acatenango Volcano Sunrise

Chichicastenango

The handicrafts market of Chichicastenango is something else. This market cannot be compared to the other handicraft markets in this list!

As the largest handicraft market in Guatemala, Chichi is more than worthy of a complete day to spend there. It takes some time to get there and you can walk around the market for hours!

This market is an excellent place to practice your bargaining skills because prices can drop very quickly once you try and test your skills!

Chichicastenango is a village, not too far from Lake Atitlan. You can visit the market from Antigua, but if Lake Atitlan is also in your Guatemalan itinerary then you’d better visit from there!

Visit a coffee farm

Guatemala has a world famous coffee industry and Antigua is the perfect place to book a coffee tour!

You can discover the entire process from farm to cup during these all-inclusive and interesting tours. Check out the very best coffee tour in the region.

Map of top Antigua activities

Found any things to do in Antigua Guatemala?

As you can see, Antigua has a lot to offer for all types of travelers and it should be included in every Guatemala itinerary!

Are you still looking for reasons to visit the country? Check out our complete backpacking guide for Guatemala.

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.

Have you been to Antigua? Maybe you found more interesting sights and activities!

Let us know in the comments below!

Antigua Guatemala - Top things to do
Antigua Guatemala - Top things to do

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