Guatemala, to me, is a hugely underrated and under-visited country! There are so many points of interest in this country and so much to see. I naively thought I could visit them all in five days, and there was zero chance that would happen. I luckily enjoyed spending some quality time in Antigua, Guatemala, the old capital and one of the cutest cities most colorful cities in Central America I’ve visited thus far. It’s not only brightly colored but has Spanish colonial and baroque-inspired architecture and influence. It’s quaint, authentic, yet very lively with a bustling but pure atmosphere. I loved it. Antigua is about an hour and a half by car from Guatemala City (Where you would fly into). It’s nestled in the lush Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by active and mesmerizing volcanos. Its charming cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings will have you enamored and charmed from the moment you start exploring. I know I was. The ruins of the original buildings that were once destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1773 will leave you intrigued but will surely fill your history-loving soul.
Antigua is Guatemala’s most visited city and is also a UNESCO Heritage site. Everything fits the look of the charming little city. Antigua was even the capital of Guatemala until 1773 when it was abandoned due to earthquakes, floods, volcanos, and other issues. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the city came back and started restoration and got its second chance. There is no doubt about why Antigua is Guatemala’s most attractive city and why it’s one of the most popular and lively in the region. It indeed came back better than ever. I don’t know if it’s the colors, the views, or the vast culture, but I was beyond impressed. It felt almost like I was in a city out of a fairytale. Antigua is a city you should put on your bucket list. Enjoy it now, before it gets too famous and busy. Below I will give you the top ten things to do in Antigua! I hope you enjoy them, and as in any city, use common sense, exercise caution against petty theft, be mindful at night, and don’t flash valuables. Other than that, it’s a safe and exciting city to explore and get to know. You’ll love it!
“It’s nestled in the lush Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by active and mesmerizing volcanos. Its charming cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings will have you enamored and charmed from the moment you start exploring.”
“It was such a divinely intriguing and authentic building with such captivating history. The property is flawless, green, and detailed well with hints of wood designs and pillars.”
One; Stay in a lush, historical, and enchanting boutique hotel with contemporary colonial architecture matching the rest of the city’s charm. I stayed at El Convento Boutique Hotel, which was just fantastic! It was such a divinely intriguing and authentic building with such captivating history. The property is flawless, green, and detailed well with hints of wood designs and pillars. The rooftop is a dreamy vibe with views of the Cerro de La Cruz, the garden below, and lush greenery up top with a white domelike structure. It’s a great place to have breakfast or relax. It truly feels like a peaceful vacation here. There is also a long pool in the ground floor garden that is just perfect. I had a delicious breakfast there in the sun. My room was huge and beautiful with wood fixtures, and I had a private patio equipped with my own Jacuzzi tub. Lucky me! Staying here was such a treat while in Antigua. I would absolutely recommend staying at El Convento.
“You will find magic and history on every new street. I was in awe with so much of the old architecture.”
Two;Do a walking tour around the town. I hired a sweet tour guide (I have his contact info if anyone needs, comment below). I met in the center of the city at The Plaza Central Park for only 20 dollars, and he walked me to all the main points of interest like the churches, ruins, parks and told me the history behind the city and the buildings inside the city walls. He was so knowledgeable. He also took my photos at each place which was helpful since I was solo traveling. There are so many sites to see in the small city walls, but you can certainly do them in one day walking if you don’t mind your feet being a little fatigued and sweating a bit. It’s truly the best way to take in the city. Take a stroll and get lost! Literally! You will find magic and history on every new street. I was in awe with so much of the old architecture. You may even find some yummy ice cream or popsicles to enjoy while walking. The highlights of my walking tour were stopping and exploring and learning about the history of Church Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande and Iglesia de La Merced. I also loved Cathedral de San José. It is just stunning.
Three; Bring your hiking shoes and hike a Volcano! There are two main volcanos you can hike that are active. The one you choose should depend on your athletic ability, the time you wish to devote to hiking, and the activities you want to do. The most famous volcano to hike is Pacaya Volcano. This volcano is usually a day trip that lasts around 7-10 hours there and back. You can expect hotel pick up and drop off, and when hiking, you’ll get views of the three other very popular and gorgeous volcanos, Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. You’ll hike up some pretty incredible landscapes before getting up close and personal with one of the most active volcanos in the area peering into the boiling hot lava. Cool, right? You can even roast marshmallows at the top while taking in the breathtaking views of the surroundings. This isn’t a great idea for someone not in good shape as the hike is steep and the air gets thin, but the good news is, you can take a horse if you feel you may not be keen to hike the whole way or aren’t as athletic. Some of the tours to Pacaya include Kawila hot springs stop on the descend. This is a relaxing and unique experience. These hot springs have 25 steam baths and 12 soaking pools. Who needs a commercial spa when you have natural hot springs and baths? Not me!!!
“You’ll hike up some pretty incredible landscapes before getting up close and personal with one of the most active volcanos in the area peering into the boiling hot lava.”
Another volcano you can hike is the Acatenango volcano. There is both a day trip here and an overnight hike. The most popular is the overnight hike. The day hike is about a six-hour ascend with beautiful views at the top. This volcano isn’t active, but you will see the other active ones nearby. For example, you will see Fuego erupting every thirty minutes or so. The overnight hike tour here is two days technically. You hike up and watch the sunset, stay overnight in a tent and sleeping bag, and awake around 4 am to see the sunrise. It’s an unforgettable experience. It’s obvious watching nearby Fuego Volcano erupt its lava at night would be much more of a thrilling adventure than just the daytime. Acatenango is also one of the tallest volcanos in Central America. Both hikes are memorable; it’s just dependent on how much you love to hike, how much you love nature, and how much time you have in the area. I couldn’t do the hikes because of time and because one of them was closed due to eruption, activity, and lava spewing out, destroying the plantations around it and causing wildfires. I couldn’t believe I was there during this. I was bummed I missed out on the experience due to safety, but I will for sure go back to hike it as my best friend did Acatenango and said it was one of the most incredible experiences she has ever done and seen. I also saw her amazing photos at night there, and I was insanely jealous!
“This was one of the highlights of my trip! I went and had a tea, saw the tiny, candy-colored hobbit houses, excitedly did a very tall rope swing that was slightly scary but added a lot to my experience and also got my adrenaline pumping.”
Four; Take a trip to Hobbitenango! This was one of the highlights of my trip! I went and had a tea, saw the tiny, candy-colored hobbit houses, excitedly did a very tall rope swing that was slightly scary but added a lot to my experience and also got my adrenaline pumping. I got to see incredible views of the volcanos and valleys below. It’s pretty high up in the hills, but it’s such a magical little place and one that is unique, especially to find in Central America. If you love Lord of the Rings or any fantasy film, then you can’t miss this spot! There are also so many places here to get great shots! I wouldn’t miss it! You only need a couple of hours here, but go, take in the views, explore the land of Hobbits, have a beer at the hobbit pub, or grab a bite to eat and soak up the sun and fresh air, play games up there like cornhole or Jenga or relax on a swing or hammock and enjoy the escape from the city below. It’s a place for all ages. It is also a hotel believe it or not. Take a sweater, as it can get cold since you’re at a much higher elevation, even if much warmer below. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake several times on trips and have frozen my buns off because of it! Five; If you are at Hobbitenango, I would visit another quirky and unique place just next door called Altamira. It’s a similar nature park with stunning views of the volcanos and forests below. Here you will find a wooden hand you can stand on and gaze at the sights, similar to Hobbitango. It has a giant wooden hobbit, a vintage airplane, and several other outrageous things to take photos with. It also has tiny little cabins you can stay in. It’s a pretty cool place, and again, great for fun photos and a nice lunch.
“I would visit another quirky and unique place just next door called Altamira. It’s a similar nature park with stunning views of the volcanos and forests below.”
Six; Watch the sunrise at Cerro de La Cruz. I went up this hill of the cross one of my mornings just before the sun came up, and I was the very first person up here. I got excellent views of the city below and the volcanos surroundings me. In the mornings, you get the clearest views, and you get the place to yourself. I loved sitting here just taking the whole area in and being so grateful to see and experience such beauty in a place where I honestly was so unaware it had such.
“I got excellent views of the city below and the volcanos surroundings me. In the mornings, you get the clearest views, and you get the place to yourself.”
“I love looking at old buildings and ruins. It gives me such a nostalgic feeling of a time and place I’d never seen before. It’s genuinely fascinating and warms my soul.”
Seven; Explore all of the old ruins of the city that are left from the late 1700s. There are churches, monasteries, and other buildings that still partially stand. One of my favorites was Convento de Las Capuchinas. I loved exploring these and just sitting on some of the rubble, imagining what it was like in its glory days. My tour guide showed me photos of some churches before they sadly faced their fate of destruction. I’m a total history nerd, so this was another highlight of mine. I love looking at old buildings and ruins. It gives me such a nostalgic feeling of a time and place I’d never seen before. It’s genuinely fascinating and warms my soul. It gives me such peace and hope that things can age and decay yet still be beautiful, mysterious, and impressive. For instance I couldn’t take my eyes off of The Church of La Campaña de Jesus. It was really interesting to see how it used to stand vs the facade of it today. Saving the best for last, I found Iglesia el Carmen to be the most beautiful, and it’s just across the street from my hotel El Convento! There are so many beautiful churches and monasteries here, make sure to really try to see them all. Each one is so beautiful and worth a visit. Eight; Find the most iconic structure or landmark in Antigua, the one you undoubtedly see when you google Antigua or visit any Antigua Blog, The Arco de Santa Catalina. Snap a photo, and people watch there for a few. This area is one of the most bustling spots in the city. There are a lot of cute cafes and boutiques right along this street as well. The best time for a photo is early morning when there are fewer people.
The Arco was built in the 17th century with the increase in religion in the area. It was attached to an old convent that expanded to the other side of the street to a school. It allowed the nuns to pass within the halls to the school without needing to go outside as then they were meant to live a life of isolation. The perfect solution, I suppose. The clock at the top of the arch was added much later in the late 1800s after the city started to go through its restoration.
“Find the most iconic structure or landmark in Antigua, the one you undoubtedly see when you google Antigua or visit any Antigua Blog, The Arco de Santa Catalina.”
“There are many cute little restaurants and rooftops around to enjoy the cuisine of the region or sip on cocktails. I loved it!”
Nine; Enjoy the cuisine and bars in the city. Have breakfast with a view at Café Sky. They have a great breakfast with smoothies and views over the city and the erupting Fuego volcano. Try a beer at Antigua Brewing Company, a great venue and rooftop, and great craft and local beer. Enjoy a fantastic lunch at the trendy Frida’s restaurant. It’s colorful, fun, and has a great bar and cocktails. It’s just near the Arch. There are many cute little restaurants and rooftops around to enjoy the cuisine of the region or sip on cocktails. I loved it! I had a great gluten-free pizza at Vice! I was impressed that they had plenty of gluten-free options for me. That’s rare to find in some countries, but it was so appreciated! The interior was filled with neon signs of catchy phrases or lyrics and had a young and hip lunch crowd. Aqua was great. Also, there is downstairs with a pool and restaurant. I went to the upstairs patio with views over the old ruins beneath! I had a few coronas here and practiced my Spanish with the lovely bartenders. Other great spots for food are Rainbow Cafe and Bookshop, Fernando’s Kaffee, Caoba Farms, (outside the city), Kombu Ramen Shop, and Panza Verde, Angie Angie, and Y tu Pina Tambien. You can also check out Casa Santo Domingo. It’s a hotel in the city, but has a beautiful restaurant, spa, and pool. You can even enjoy the amenities here for a day rate if you’re not a hotel guest. It’s a fabulous property to check out and walk around with a lot of history as it’s a former monastery that dates back to the 15th century with original artifacts inside the hotel. Check it out!
“Again, the views alone from there were just intoxicating. I could not stop gazing over the lake to the massive volcano in front of me.”
Ten; As a bonus, if you’re really into exploring, appreciate natural beauty, and have the time, then for sure go to Panajachel and visit Lake Atitlan. It’s a massive lake in an old volcanic crater. Some say it’s the most beautiful place on earth! The views of the lake and the surrounding volcanos are just exquisite. I went for one day, which was exhausting given the amount of time it takes to get there and back, but it was worth it. I stayed at the Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort, and it was indeed an incredible experience. The room was insane there, and the resort eco-friendly served vegan food, had gluten-free options for me, and had a great pool overlooking the views. Again, the views alone from there were just intoxicating. I could not stop gazing over the lake to the massive volcano in front of me. I felt so small in the world, yet it reminded me just how beautiful life is and how grateful I again was. Lake Atitlan is one of the most visited places in Guatemala, and for obvious reasons. It is a trek from Antigua but worth it. I took an uber there, which took around 2.5 hours and cost about 90 dollars, and then a bus back that took about 4 hours but cost 40 dollars and took me to the airport back In Guatemala City. If you are a nature lover like me, you have to make the trip here. The photos will convince you enough! There you have it! I hope you think about visiting Guatemala. It’s a beautiful country with so much to see. This blog covered only half of that. Check out flight prices to Guatemala City and be pleasantly surprised if you decide to visit! It’s incredible! Antigua is a place I will for sure visit again!