Planning a trip to Guatemala and looking for the top activities you can't miss?! Look no further. After visiting Antigua 7 times in the past 7 years, this past trip for several months, I have officially spent a LOT of time as a tourist here. The vibrancy and uniqueness of this historic city keeps me coming back year after year, not to mention the amazing opportunities for recreation! Antigua is surrounded by four prominent volcanoes, two of which are still quite active! This creates a gorgeous backdrop to the city, and some very unique hiking adventures. So if you consider yourself an adventurous vacationer who enjoys experiencing different cultures, vibrant colors and great food, Antigua is the vacation spot for you. Let's dive into 8 of the top things to do in/around Antigua Guatemala.
Tour the famous Monastery Ruins
The iconic ruins of Antigua date back to the Spanish colonial era of the 1500s. Antigua was previously the capital of Guatemala, filled with these gorgeous monasteries. That was until massive earthquakes took place in the 1700s, that destroyed these structures and caused an exodus of the city. Guatemala City then took its place as the capitol city, as it remains today. However, these beautiful, historic structures have been preserved as Monastery Ruins that can be toured and enjoyed today. They are conveniently located in the heart of Antigua, and many restaurants/bars even overlook or are built around the ruins. I recommend checking out Santo Domingo (a UNESCO World Heritage Site hotel, restaurant, and spa built into the ruins), Convento Capuchinas, Convento Santa Clara, and Convento El Recoleccion. Be sure to have cash on hand for your admittance fee to each destination.
Visit a coffee farm
A trip to Guatemala isn't complete without sampling copious amounts of their incredible coffee! Antigua is home to several gorgeous coffee fincas, where you can learn about the process, tour the grounds and enjoy coffee with a view. These tours typically take no more than a few hours depending on the location. My two favorite coffee farms are Finca Azotea, and Finca Filadelfia. Finca Azotea has gorgeous grounds, very personable tours, several restaurants/a beer garden, and a chocolate-making shop on the grounds. Finca Fildadelfia is more old-school with one beautiful restaurant, a gift shop and tour options of on-foot or by horseback!
Hike Volcan Pacaya
If you're looking for a unique day-trip hiking experience but you AREN'T an advanced hiker, this is the hike for you. A lot of the other volcano hike experiences surrounding Antigua are more of a backpacking excursion for the serious adventure enthusiasts. However Volcan Pacaya is more of a mild ascent, and doesn't take more than a few hours. It's important to note that it is still about a 45 minute - 1 hour drive from Antigua, and requires a guide to complete. This helps support local tourism, prevents theft, and keeps you on track in unfamiliar terrain. But don't let those things deter you, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime hiking experience! You will hike an active volcano, cross a lava rock field, and have the opportunity to roast marshmallows in the volcanic steam! Certainly not your average hike. For more details on how exactly to go about hiking Volcan Pacaya, you can see my Volcan Pacaya Blog Post here.
Hike Volcan Acatenango
If you DO consider yourself a more experienced hiker and are looking for the thrill of a lifetime, you NEED to hike Volcan Acatenango. This dormant volcano sits directly next to extremely active volcano, Volcan Fuego, which erupts every few minutes (small eruptions). The draw of this hike is that you can literally watch Volcan Fuego erupt from up close and personal, which is truly amazing. It should be noted that this hike includes 5,000-6,000 feet of vertical gain, and is CHALLENGING. It, too, requires a guide/tour company and is very unsafe when done without proper guidance due to freezing temperatures, and the terrain. You will hike up with your overnight gear, sleep at a basecamp just slightly beneath the summit, and then hike to the summit at sunrise the next morning for the view of your life! If you plan to attempt this hike, you will want to train properly using a program like this one, pack plenty of good layers for the overnight backpacking trip, book a reputable tour guide, do your research on what to expect, and come prepared!
Spend (at least) a day as a tourist in Antigua
Antigua is one of the most unique cities you can visit. This colonial city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the cobblestone streets, churches, and ruins have been preserved for centuries. Even the most basic of places like Starbucks and Taco Bell are beautiful courtyards with life music, and architecture dating back hundreds of years with fountains and stunning landscaping. You will definitely want at least one full day to walk around Antigua, enjoying the eclectic mix of flavors, people, and views. Around every corner is a picturesque rooftop overlooking the volcanoes to grab drinks or a peaceful courtyard to sip coffee. Be sure to check out Parque Central, which is at the center of Antigua and gives you a taste of the vibrant culture. You will also want to visit the famous Arch for a photo opp. Be sure to wear your best walking shoes, because these cobblestone streets and jagged side walks are not to be attempted in flimsy shoes!
Make the drive to Lake Atitlan
Okay - I know technically this doesn't qualify as IN Antigua, but it's definitely worth the 2.5 hour drive to see one of the most beautiful lakes in the world! There are many bus services in Antigua that can provide transportation to and from the lake so you don't have to worry about navigating the wild roads of Guatemala! Lake Atitlan is a lake surrounded by dormant volcanos, making it a truly unique destination. Surrounding the lake, you will also experience completely different cultures, from indigenous mayan villages to hippie-type villages. When you visit, I recommend using the town of Panajachel as your home base. My favorite hotel in this area is the Porta Hotel del Lago. If you're looking for more of a unique stay, you can check out Casa Del Mundo, for more of a community style stay with truly incredible grounds and a boat ride necessary to get there! If you're a hiker, there are several volcano hikes you can check out, such as the Lower Mayan Trail, Indian Nose Trail, San Pedro Volcano, or the Atitlan Volcano Hike.
Visit Cerro de la Cruz
One of the most iconic views of Antigua is from Cerro de la Cruz, a large cross on a hill overlooking Antigua down below with the towering volcanoes as a backdrop. This cross lies on the outskirts of the city, and only requires a 5 minute walk uphill to access it. One of y favorite golden hours of all time was from this very spot! While some evenings are perfect to visit Cerro de la Cruz, there's also a chance you won't get the incredible views depending on cloud cover. So you will want to look up weather conditions and sunset time in advance. You will also want to avoid being at Cerro de la Cruz much past sunset, as some have reported it to be unsafe after dark.
Dine with a view
There are COUNTLESS rooftops, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars with stunning views in Antigua. It can almost be overwhelming when choosing a spot to dine. So below is a list of my favorite options where you can dine with a view:
San Cristobal el Alto - best dining view of Antigua hands down. You'll need a good vehicle to make it up the windy mountain road.
Caoba Farms - absolutely gorgeous farm-to-table breakfast/lunch spot. Be sure to explore the grounds!
Cafe Sky - one of the best rooftop views in Antigua for drinks/dinner!
Antigua Brewing Company - awesome rooftop views of local volcanoes.
San Cayatano - a little outside of Antigua, but gorgeous volcano views and grounds.
The Rooftop - best coffee views in Antigua! But they are also open all day and serve cocktails in the evening.
Santa Domingo - built into ruins, this restaurant ambiance is hard to beat!
Septima Norte - enjoy pizza and amazing drinks overlooking ruins and Antigua as a whole.
*TRAVEL WELLNESS TIP*
As a Holistic Health Coach + Trainer, I can't help but tie in my love for wellness with my love for travel, adventure and hiking. So here's a quick, easy tip for staying healthy on your trip to Guatemala!
Start your day with food before coffee. I know I know...in. coffee mecca like Guatemala you probably want to head straight to a coffee shop. But starting your day with coffee on an empty stomach will spike cortisol, insulin and set you up for energy/hunger fluctuations all day. The simple fix for this is having some protein/fat specifically before or with your coffee! For more wellness, metabolism, and hiking fitness tips, HEAD HERE next!
I hope this article has both convinced you that Antigua, Guatemala absolutely NEEDS to be on your travel bucket list, and has equipped you to experience it to the fullest! If this is helpful + you'd enjoy more Guatemala trip-planning content, comment below!
Happy Trails + Travels,