If you are planning for a Central American getaway soon you should definitely pin this amazing colonial town on your itinerary. Not only it is a safe and quiet place for getting to know the Guatemalan and Mayan culture remainings, but Antigua is also beautiful to visit and can keep you busy for several days.
After spending 3 weeks there we decided to get together a list of the must do and see sites in and around Antigua, suitable for every type of budgets. And do not worry, most of the ideas below can be visited on your own (except for the Acatenango Volcano hike, but you can read about how we did it here ), as the city is safe for single travelers also.
Santa Catalina Arch, the colonial symbol of Antigua
The number one photo spot for tourists coming to Antigua, this emblematic colonial building stands right in front of Volcan de Agua. If you are lucky and the sky is clear, you will get an amazing view to its peak. Build in 1694, its purpose was to work as a passage for the nuns passing between the convents on its left and right, in order not to be exposed to the public.
Shop like locals do at the Central Market of Antigua
If you are looking for shopping malls, big supermarkets and designer clothes, then Antigua is definitely not for you. But if you are up for an authentic shopping experience from local producers, then the Central Market is the right place to be.
Head there in the morning (especially during weekends) and you will be able to find here almost everything you could wish for, at very good prices also: from clothes to household essentials, meat (although were not brave enough to buy it), fruits and vegetables (best prices you can get in the city), flowers and many more. Not to mention that you will get as a bonus an authentic shopping experience among locals and indigenous Mayan people.
Get to know the architectural jewels of the city
Antigua is such a beautiful city that our best advice would be to just go out and explore it on foot. And since it is not a very big one, you can easily cover all the main landmarks in a day.
The best time to see the city would be on a Sunday or national holiday, when locals gather in the parks and churches. Make sure you do not miss Iglesia de la Merced, Plaza Mayor and Tanque la Union.
Have a typical Guatemalan lunch at Rincon Tipico
Make sure to come here at least once for lunch, and for sure you will want to return! The daily menu is extremely tasty and the prices are very good. For 35 GTQ (3,9 EUR) you get a soup, natural drink (agua de tamarindo/agua de Jamaica), salad, grilled potatoes and chicken made right before your eyes in a traditional style and of course the freshly made tortillas. We totally loved it!
Visit a McDonald’s with a view
Antigua’s only McDonalds restaurant, located between the central park and the market is one of a kind. Even if you are not a big fast food fan, you cannot miss this view towards the volcano.
Hike the Acatenango Volcano to witness real-life lava eruptions from close-by
For us this hike will stay as one of the best travel experiences we had so far. Get ready for a challenging ascent during the first 2-3 hours, but be sure that you will get rewarded with magnificent views and a lava show nearby. The best part comes late at night and early in the morning, when you will get to witness the Volcan de Fuego erupting and the beautiful Volcan de Agua at its left. We wrote more on the experience itself and everything you need to know before heading there in this article.
Watch the city from above at Cerro de la Cruz
After just a short (15-20 minutes) walk from the Central Park (Plaza Mayor), you will get to the start of the stairs trail leading to Cerro de la Cruz. From there you will get to the viewpoint in 10-15 minutes of walking through a quiet forest, surrounded by locals and tourists alike. This is a popular spot for sports lovers coming here for jogging and locals walking their dogs, so you should not worry about your safety.
Become a hobbit for a day at Hobbitenango
Ever wished to visit the Lord of the Rings movie set? Look no further, this is the place for you! You can find here a viewpoint set for incredible photos, beautiful tiny hobbit houses that can also be rented for an overnight stay, a few short trails around the property and restaurants/cafes.
You can easily spend half of a day here, especially if the weather is nice and sunny. An easy way to reach Hobbitenango is by Uber, around 36 GTQ (4 EUR) one way for almost a 10 km ride from the city center. The entrance ticket costs 50 GTQ/person (5.6 EUR) + 5% fee if you decide to pay by card.
From the ticket booth you can either wait for the “safari” car to take you up the abrupt hill or walk by yourself the 1,5-2 km to the entrance. We decided to go up by car and get down on foot and it was a good option.
Ride a brightly decorated chicken bus
I was absolutely fascinated by these colorful old American school busses and we recommend you to take at least one ride with them while in Guatemala. Although you can find these chicken busses also in other Central American countries, the Guatemalan ones seemed special in terms of design and overall experience. And yes, the ride can get a bit extreme, as the drivers seemed to like a lot the adrenaline and speed 🙂