Antigua is the kind of city you want to sing about. The kind of city that brings a melody to your head, gives a new beat to your heart and writes a note of adventure to your soul. Settled amongst the volcanic giants of nature in southern Guatemala, Antigua is it’s own vision of beauty. From the Spanish colonial style buildings to the cobblestone streets, to the many churches that make it one of the most popular cities to celebrate Semana Santa, Antigua is nothing short of spectacular. I had the pleasure of spending a month exploring Antigua, though I’d say it took much less time to fall in love with it.
If you are looking for discovery, culture, beauty, and a truly memorable experience, look no further than Antigua, Guatemala. Keep reading and I will tell you all about the people, places, and activities that created a once in a lifetime experience.
Top 5 Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala
Whether you are an avid hiker or you’ve never hiked in your life, Antigua is the hiking destination for you. The possibility of breath-taking views and once in a lifetime experiences lie waiting for you. All you have to do is climb a volcano…
Volan de Acatenango Sunrise Hike
Words can’t describe the stunning life experience that awaits you at the end of this hike…but I am going to try. To set the stage: there is a very active volcano in Guatemala called Volcán de Fuego. It erupts regularly throughout the day and the ash can be seen from surrounding areas, including from Volcán de Pacaya (described below) and the City of Antigua. There is a dormant volcano that rests just next to Volcán de Fuego that you can climb in order to watch the majesty of Volcán de Fuego’s eruptions – Enter Volcán de Acatenango.
The trailhead for Volcan de Acatenango is situated about 1 hour away from Antigua near the village of Soledad. The hike is an 8.6 mile out and back trail with 5,250 ft of elevation gain that is often covered over the course of 2 days. Most tours include one night of camping below the summit and an early wakeup call to hit the summit at sunrise. The campsite itself as well as the summit offer stunning views of an erupting volcan de fuego!
The hike itself is not for the meek BUT it is achievable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. Our group had people of many fitness levels and everyone was able to make it to the top. The first 4 or so hours of the hike are very steep and take hikers through cloud forests and pine forests. Following that, there is about 1 hour of relatively flat hiking taking people to the campsite. In the morning, the ascent to the summit is again steep AND the trail is loose sediment making it even more difficult to climb.
THE VIEW IS WORTH IT
On the way down, hikers can be seen blazing down the volcano taking advantage of the loose sediment to create another other worldly experience. All in all – find a way to do this hike.
Volcan de Pacaya Hike
Have you ever wanted to roast marshmallows to a perfect golden brown without a fire? How about eat a pizza that was cooked to perfection from simply being set upon some rocks? Okay – so these may have never been on your radar but now they can be! And if that doesn’t spark your sense of wander, I’ll add in that on some days, you can actually see lava flowing down the side of the volcano because Pacaya is an Active Volcano.
Volcan de Pacaya is about 1.5 hours from Antigua and about 2 hours from Guatemala City, depending on traffic. The hike is roughly 3.2 miles in total including 1,500 ft of elevation gain. It is a relatively steep hike but it is well worth it and you might get a view of other volcanos in the area as well as surrounding cities.
This can be considered a long half day or full day activity from Antigua due to drive times, hiking, and activities at the top.
2. Learn About and Drink Incredible Coffee
Guatemala is one of the top coffee producing countries in the world. There are in fact 8 Regions in Guatemala, all of which are coffee regions. Antigua is often considered the best coffee region, producing the tastiest coffee due to it’s rich volcanic soil and variable temperature.
Strong, bold, not too acidic, and simply delicious, the coffee here is a real treat. In Antigua, you can enjoy the delicious coffee of the area at one of the many coffee shops. There is also a plantation close by where you can learn about the coffee making process, and of course, sample some coffee at the end.
3. Enjoy Stunning Views
All around Antigua, you can find stunning views of the surrounding volcanos and the town of Antigua itself. I’ve already mentioned the views from the volcanos but several other must stop viewpoints are as follows:
According to Earth Lodge’s website, they are an eco-friendly lodge, restaurant, avocado farm and yoga destination. What could beat that…other than all of those things with a stellar volcanic view. If you are looking for a place to rest, recharge, and soak in the beautiful surroundings, Earth Lodge is the place for you. It is about ~7km or a little over 4 miles outside of Antigua and a quick taxi ride will get you to this incredible location.
Cerro San Cristobal
Nestled in the hills above the city of Antigua, Cerro San Cristobal serves delicious food with a romantic view of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. Walk around the restaurant and explore the different garden areas. Their orchid greenhouse features over 250 orchids!
Bella Vista Cafe
Rooftop volcanic views and top notch coffee – Bella Vista summarized in one sentence. Located in downtown Antigua, Bella Vista is a must visit. Go there early on a clear morning and sip in the picturesque views of the city and surroundings. If you are lucky, catch a big puff of smoke escaping from Volcán de Fuego.
4. Marvel at the City’s Architecture
Antigua is a city that will put your senses into overdrive. Try to keep your balance on the drastically uneven cobblestone streets as your eyes betray you, giving into the temptation to peak upward at the Barroco Antigueño buildings that transport you back to the founding of the city in 1543.
Once the capital of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala, Antigua today gives onlookers a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in a bustling 17th or 18th century city. The colorful and mostly stucco buildings sometimes dressed with columns bring a vibrancy to the city that will surely stay in your mind and leave with you when your visit is done.
5. Take Spanish Lessons
What better way to support the community and enhance your cultural experience than to take Spanish Lessons! Whether you are a complete beginner or an expert, there are teachers in Antigua who are ready to help you reach the next level.
I personally took classes at Spanish Academy Antiguena almost every week day of the month with a wonderful instructor named Sylvia. She was very kind, came prepared with lessons to help me learn, and made good use of our time together! Several of my friends also took classes at this academy and everyone had good things to say!
So there you have it! Explore by Day’s top 5 things to do in Antigua Guatemala. Disfruta y espero que tengas una experiencia increíble!