Everyone who has visited Guatemala loved visiting Antigua. The city offers an exciting mix of old-world charm and pre-Colombian Mayan cultures. And it has some of the friendliest people in the Americas. It’s affordable and undoubtedly worth a visit.
Surrounded by volcanoes and set at 5,000 feet above sea level, Antigua boasts of having the most magnificent colonial architecture in the Americas. Antigua offers plenty of attractions for history buffs, nature lovers, and cultural connoisseurs. Even the coffee aficionados will find their place there.
Things to do
1. Walking tour
Join a guided walking tour and get acquainted with the city. For four hours, I explored the city with a guide. We walked on the cobblestone streets visiting notable buildings like Casa de la Moneda, Palace of the Captains General, the Cathedral, Las Capuchinas, La Merced, Convento Santa Clara, the Santa Catalina Arch and the Mermaid’s Fountain in Parque Central.
Antigua was Guatemala’s capital city. The city faced many challenges since its founding date in 1524. Throughout its existence, it was destroyed by fire, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flood. But the volcanic eruptions of 1773 left the colonial city in a mess causing the government to move its capital city to Guatemala City.
Inspired by the Italian Renaissance, Antigua is the best example of a 16th-century city in Latin America. Many buildings of the 17th and 18th centuries survived despite many natural disasters.
2. Hike up Cerro de la Cruz
The best time to hike up Cerro de la Cruz is early in the mornings. I did the easy way and hired a driver to take me there. Another option is to take a tuk-tuk to get you to the top. You’ll get the best views of Volcan Agua and the city of Antigua from the top of Cerro de la Cruz.
3. Visit a coffee farm
Antigua is known for its coffee farms. Tour companies usually offer coffee farm tours from Antigua to Finca la Azotea and Finca Filadelfia.
4. Check out the coolest McDonald’s in the world
Housed in an old colonial house, Antigua’s McDonald’s has a courtyard, a fountain, garden, and views of Volcan Agua. Besides featuring the usual fries and hamburgers, there’s also a McCafe inside the building. McCafe serves freshly brewed Guatemalan coffee. Get a coffee and dessert there. Use their clean restroom before you leave.
5. Taste chocolate at ChocoMuseo
ChocoMuseo gives out samples and free chocolate making demonstrations. Other than coffee, Guatemala produces the finest chocolate in the world. Try it and bring some home as gifts for friends and family.
Places to stay
1. Meson Panza Verde
This 12-room luxury boutique hotel is within walking distance to Parque Central and the Colonial Art Museum. Meson Panza Verde’s unique features include a rooftop terrace and garden that offers impressive views of Antigua and an elegant in-house restaurant and bar.
2. Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo
The Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo, a historical monument, is a group of three restored colonial houses. With over 300 years of history, this 41-room hotel has beautiful courtyards, gardens, and patios. The unique restaurant offerings include Guatemalan and international cuisine, and nightly Marimba music and Baile de los Moros folk dance.
3. Hotel Museo Casa Santo Domingo
Built on what was a 16th-century convent, this hotel has 130 spacious rooms appointed with elegant décor and original paintings by local artists. There are preserved archaeological sites along with a swimming pool, a poolside bar, three on-site restaurants, and a full-service spa.
4. Airbnb apartment
I visited all the hotels mentioned above but chose to stay in a two-bedroom and two-bath Airbnb apartment in a gated community. The two-level apartment had a fully equipped kitchen, a balcony, and a large living room.
Where to eat
Dona Luisa Xicotencatl
Recommended by our Airbnb host, we ended up eating breakfast and lunch at Dona Luisa Xicontencati. Once a colonial house constructed back in 1650, this restaurant boasts alluring colonial architecture and classic Guatemalan breakfast. You can find seats at the courtyard under umbrellas or head upstairs for the window seats.
La Cuevita de los Urquizu
This restaurant serves authentic Guatemalan pepian (chicken stew), guacamole and rice. You can have a choice of chicken, pork, and beef served in a clay pot and two side dishes. Recommended by our tour guide, a meal here was all about experiencing Guatemalan dishes.
Located by Parque Central, Café Condensa offers quick meals, coffee, and dessert too. There’s a bookstore that sells English language books in the café.
Pollo Campero is Guatemala’s most famous fast food restaurant chain serving fried chicken. We ordered over the telephone, and our fried chicken dinner was delivered in less than 30 minutes.
How to get there
You’ll need to fly into La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. We flew with Delta from Atlanta to Guatemala City. The flight was just over three hours.
1. Arrange for a shared arrival transfer with Viator for your transportation from Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport to Antigua. It is a door to door service at $19.99 per person. It’s a 24-hour service and available daily.
2. Reserve a private shuttle service with Antigua Tours with Elizabeth Bell.
3. Get a taxi from the airport on arrival in Antigua.
3. Or get your Airbnb host to arrange transportation for you from the airport to the Airbnb. Our door-to-door service from the airport to the apartment was $49 per car, plus tip.
4. The chicken buses (public buses) will be the cheapest way to get from Guatemala City to Antigua. You’ll need to find your way to Guatemala City bus terminal. I didn’t try it and didn’t know the route and I wouldn’t recommend it.
Photos and article by Claudia Looi