With its cobbled streets and baroque-influenced colonial architecture, Antigua Guatemala is a vibrant UNESCO world heritage site with a diverse population of locals and expats from around the world. Your biggest worry when visiting Antigua is that you may not want to leave. I went for 2 weeks and stayed for 8 months! Once the capital of Central America Antigua may be geographically small but it is full of things to do in Antigua from volcano hiking to partying with locals in an empty pool!
1. Hike a Volcano (or 3?)
The first thing you will notice about Antigua is that it is quite literally surrounded by Volcanoes. It would be rude not to hike at least 1. The most dominant volcano in the skyline is Volcan Agua, this is also the only one you should not attempt to hike. To the west of the town, you will see 2 connected Volcanos. Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Fuego. If you have a good level of fitness and are up for a challenge I urge you to do an overnight hike to Acatenango, book online here for $90. You will hike up to a campsite where you will pitch a tent and get to spend the night watching Volcan Fuego erupting (if you are lucky). It is one of the most unforgettable experiences I have ever had, and one of the most physically challenging.
If you really want to push yourself there is one tour company that will take you the Fuego’s knife ridge! Yes, that’s right they will take you to stand on an erupting Volcano. This is a very challenging hike so don’t underestimate the physical challenge. But what an experience!
For those who don’t have 2 days in Antigua to spare or don’t fancy the physical challenge then there is a volcano beyond Acatenango called Volcan Pacaya. It is an active volcano but not as active as Fuego and nowhere near as challenging a hike! In fact, you can even get a mule if the walk is too much for you. You won’t struggle to find a tour company to take you, most offer two tours a day one leaving early morning and one in the afternoon. If you go during rainy season be sure to do the morning tour as you are more likely to stay dry. Click here to see all Volcan Pacaya tours starting as cheap as $15.
Editor Note: If you’re looking for the ultimate hike in Guatemala consider the 3 day/2-night trek with Quetzaltrekkers from Xela to Lago Atitlan. This was the most epic and challenging hike we’ve ever done. We still take about this hike, it was one heck of an adventure. This was one of our favorite things to do in Guatemala.
2. Do a Walking Tour of all of the Ancient Buildings
Ravaged by devastating earthquakes over the years Antigua is now home to some of the most beautiful ruins you will ever see. As you wander the streets of Antigua around each corner you are likely to find another hidden gem. Some have free entry, others you will need to pay a small entrance fee. If you don’t want to pay the fee you will still get a good street view. We suggest joining a walking tour your first day in Antigua, that way you get a lay of the city.
3. Eat Some Really Good Guatemalan Food
Antigua has a lot of really good food! If you are a vegetarian or vegan you will be in heaven here.
My favorite place to eat in Antigua is Toko Baru. It is small and although it may not look like much from the outside, the food is freshly prepared. If you are a vegetarian or vegan Toko Baru is great as there are plenty of meat-free options. Be sure you order the sweet potato fries! The prices are budget friendly and the portions are HUGE. It definitely is one of the best restaurants in Antigua.
If you want to sample the best street food Antigua has to offer then eat like the locals and head up to Iglesia La Merced on 1a Calle. The best day is Sunday but there is normally street food most evenings apart from Monday. You will notice a lot of places are closed on Monday as Sunday is the main day when people eat out.
Another great place to find fresh and delicious food is Caoba Farm. They serve food daily and have an organic farmers market on a Saturday from 9 am. There is a lot on offer here so plan for a few hours to get some food, browse the shop and take a tour of the farm. They also have a yoga shala where they have different classes on daily. You will need to check their Facebook for the schedule as it changes weekly. It is a 20-minute walk down 5 Avenida to get here, or you can catch a free shuttle from Central Park. If you don’t want to wait for that you can also take a Tuk Tuk for 15Q per person.
4. Take the Steps to Cerro de la Cruz
No visit to Antigua is complete without walking the steps to Cerro de la Cruz! It’s also one of the free things to do in Antigua and has one heck of a view. Just look up to the North of the city and you will see it. The view is spectacular and although it looks like a long way up it is actually only a 15-minute walk up the steps from the bottom.
To find the bottom of the steps you will need to walk across to the East of the city and then walk north up 1 Avenida you will pass some basketball courts on your right and eventually come to the foot of the steps. If you don’t fancy the hike you can also get a Tuk Tuk or taxi up there.
5. Learn to Salsa Dance
Salsa is pretty huge in Antigua and you can find a free introduction class most days. The best salsa school in Antigua is New Sensation who offer group and one on one classes. If you just want to go and dance then Las Palmas has a live band playing salsa Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights.
6. Dance the night away at Las Vibras de la Casbah and La Piscina
Antigua has a lively nightlife and the undisputed best place to dance the night away is Las Vibras de la Casbah. In Antigua, all of the bars close at 1 am so if you still have the energy there is only 1 option to keep the party going.
The famous Antigua Pool Party! This is probably one of the weirdest afterparties you are going to find in the world as it takes place in an old abandoned swimming pool on the outskirts of town every Saturday night. You will need to ask around in the bars to find out about transport there is normally someone selling spaces on a minibus. Otherwise, you can take a taxi from Parque Central.
I know a rave 20 minutes outside of town in an abandoned swimming pool might sound really sketchy, it’s actually a really well-established event. There are DJ’s, food carts and a bar that accepts credit cards! The party normally goes until sunrise and if you are lucky Volcan Fuego might put on a firework show for you! I travel as a solo female and recommend it, make sure to read my Guatemala safety guide.
7. Take a Dip in the Rooftop Hot Tub with a Volcano View
This is one of the best-kept secrets in Antigua! On 7th Calle, there is a hostel called Zoola. If you go upstairs they have a rooftop bar with a hot tub! Go early and order a beer and you normally get a free shot. They even provide towels and if it is a clear night you will have a view of Volcan Fuego.
8. Spend the Night at Earth Lodge
Earth Lodge is right above Antigua and has an incredible view. It is possible to walk up there but it will take you a few hours. The easiest way to get up there is to contact them to arrange for a shuttle to pick you up and drop you back off.
Even with the transport, you will need to make sure you wear good shoes as it’s a 10/15 minute hike to get up and down from the main road. You can just go up there for the day to enjoy the view and some amazing food. However, if you have the time I would really recommend staying there for at least one night. Their accommodation is really cool and they always have lots of different events on.
9. Take a Yoga Class
Antigua is getting a name for itself as a wellness destination and with such a wealth of incredible Yogis, it’s not surprising. The main yoga studio is Shakti Shala founded by Irene and Lauren they offer classes in Spanish and English and have a wonderful smoothy lab which is worth a visit in itself. If you are looking to connect with locals and expats and enjoy yoga it’s a great place to practice. They also offer lots of different events and are a wonderful source of information about other wellness workshops and events taking place in Guatemala.
10. Learn Spanish in Antigua
Guatemalans speak relatively slowly and with a neutral accent. For this reason, Guatemala is one of the best places you can choose to learn Spanish. The cost of classes here is very low in comparison to other countries. Classes are all one on one and you can choose to be accommodated in a homestay while you study with 3 meals a day included.
*Editor Note: Adam and I spent a week learning Spanish in Antigua and staying with a local family. It was $95 a week per person for room & board (3 meals a day). We highly recommend Antigua Plaza. Staying with a local family is a great way to practice your Spanish and help a local family out with the extra money. Our family was a lady who lost her husband and her two sons, none of them spoke English so it really forced us to use our Spanish skills. We had a private room and shared a bathroom, our house was nice and clean, centrally located, and had free wifi. We did 5 hours a day for $135 a week per person.
More Things to do in Antigua
Ride in a Chicken Bus
You can’t go to Guatemala and not take a ride around the city in one of the colorfully painted antique school buses. These retired US school buses have made their way down to Guatemala and are now one of the main modes of transport. What makes these buses special are the lights, chrome, and paint jobs applied to them by their owners in hopes of attracting more riders.
Sip some Mezcal at the Mezcal Bar – Cafe No Se
This one of a kind bar shouldn’t be missed while visiting Antigua with its secret rooms and quirkiness. Aside from having some nice Mezcals behind the bar the decore toes the line between eclectic and horror movie. There’s a room where the entrance is an 80-year-old refrigerator door, another room with a skeleton and probably even more if there were more candles.
Author Bio: Claire Summers is a full-time traveler and Digital Nomad. At 34 she sold all of her worldly possessions that wouldn’t fit into 3 boxes or her backpack and hit the road. She works as a freelance copywriter and online English teacher as well as writing about her travels and nomadic lifestyle on her blog Claire’s Itchy Feet www.clairesitchyfeet.com.
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