Antigua was one of my favourite spots in Guatemala. It’s clear to see that it’s heavily dependant on tourism and this, for many people, is it’s main drawback due to the busyness of the place, the increased prices and the way it can feel overly touristy.
But my personal take on this was that the town manages to get away with being “overly-touristy” and has kept it’s charm & culture about it. The influx of money that the tourists have brought means that it’s home to the best restaurants, cafes and bars that Guatemala has to offer – just try and avoid the Irish Pub if you don’t want to feel like you’re in Gringo Land.
I spent over a week here all together, because I took some Spanish lessons and I’d have loved to stay longer if I had time. The colonial charm, beautiful buildings and original cobbled streets ooze of Guatamalan culture and will all leave you knowing exactly why this entire town is declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
But what is there to do, and where should you stay?
1) Hike Acatenango Volcano.
This is usually the top of everybodies list for those visiting Antigua. However I chose to take Spanish lessons and in the end didn’t have time to do it.
But the idea is that you climb a dormant volcano to enjoy incredible, close up views of an active volcano; watching it spew lava and ash from your tent!
In terms of booking a tour, as always… do NOT book in advance, wait until you’re in Antigua where every hostel, shop, cafe and dog will be offering hiking tours and you’ll easily be able to book a tour that suits your budget and time constraints at very short notice.
Be warned…even the most fit and active of my friends who did this said it was fairly hard going. Make sure you’ve got decent shoes and be ready for a strenuous hike that’s continuously uphill on a steep gradient.
2) Study Spanish
(study in the garden with Mercedes)
Guatemala is a great place to learn Spanish! The accent is clear and understandable and it’s cheap! In particular, Antigua is a great option because it’s got all the creature comforts so that after a hard day learning Spanish you can then treat yourself to a nice meal or drinks. Also there are some amazing coffee shops that actually know how to do make great coffees to keep your brain fuelled in class!
I studied with “Proyecto Linguistico Fransisco Marroquin”. It worked out at around $90USD for 21 hours. They also have options to add on homestays, meals and so on.
If you decide to learn here, ask for Mercedes to be your teacher. She was incredible! She would sing Spanish nursery rhymes to me whilst I drank my morning coffee and was full of life and charisma. An amazing character! She even took me out one day with her for lunch, we went to the local market to buy some clothes for her upcoming night out. She knew everybody in town and was introducing me to everybody and being incredibly flamboyant. She’s like this adorable glamorous grandmother figure, I wished I could have continued with more classes.
3) Skybar for Sunset/Volcano views
Visit this small rooftop bar on the far edge of town to watch the smoking volcano at sunset. Of an evening there are plenty of other exciting and interesting bars to explore to enjoy a few drinks, whether you want party-central or something more chill.
4) Explore the Markets, Streets & Churches
What makes Antigua beautiful is it’s beautiful coloured streets lined with colonial buildings and still with the original cobblestone paving. The main market just outside of the old town (literally one street to the west) is a huge sprawling market of fruit, vegetables, clothes & homeware. It’s an interesting place to wander and try some tropical fruits.
Within the Old Town itself there are plenty of high-end boutique style stores and beside the famous yellow arch of Antigua there is an artisanal market selling gifts, nic nacs etc that is a nice place to explore just for how colourful it is.
Wander up to Antiguas famous yellow church and enjoy tasting some street food from the square. You will also find there are another 34 churches to explore around the city.
5) Coffee, Cake and more Coffee
Love them or loath them, the hipster style coffee shops and cafes sure know how to froth up a Cappuccino or slice an Avocado, and Antigua has plenty of nice restaurants and cafes to enjoy. Many have beautiful courtyards that reflect the grandeur of the old buildings and you sit in the shade between the plants and trees.
Two of my favourites were:
- Cafe Condesa / Garden Seating / Delicious Food / On the Central Square
- Kaffee Fernando / Great Coffee / Cakes & Pastries / Garden Seat / Trendy/Hipster style
Where to Stay
The key is to stay close to the old town. When I went, a few of us that had met in Lanquin got an Airbnb together, which I always think is a great way to stay in a place if it’s affordable for you.
However, there are a wealth of Hostels in the old town that cater to both the huge party scene here in Antigua as well as those who want somewhere more chill.
- Tropicana Hostel / Centrally Located / Offers Tours / Social Party Vibe
- Frank & Fre / Centrally Located / Nice Food / Quiet and Chilled Out
Let me know in the comments where you ended up staying and what you did…