With its delightful cobbled streets, colonial architecture and leafy plazas, Antigua Guatemala is a picturesque and peaceful place to visit. It’s no wonder that it is an increasingly popular tourist destination.
The former capital of the country lies in a volcanic part of Guatemala; the impressive Volcan de Agua which towers above it is in part what makes Antigua such a scenic city to visit. Among the most popular things to do in Antigua Guatemala are numerous treks and outdoor adventure activities in the city’s surroundings.
Over the centuries, Antigua Guatemala has unfortunately been plagued by earthquakes. Consequently, you’ll see quite a few ruined and damaged buildings while walking around town. This only adds to the city’s considerable charm; the overgrown ruins lie next to beautiful colonial churches and convents which themselves have seen better days. Meaning ‘Old Guatemala’, there is certainly an old-timey feel and look about the city. This is what makes it so endearing to visit and explore.
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12. San Francisco Church
The oldest active church in Antigua, San Francisco was consecrated in 1542 and is a very picturesque place to visit due to its wonderful colonial architecture and delightful Baroque facade.
While the church itself is marvelous, the courtyard in front of it only adds to its splendor, as does the ruined Franciscan convent next to it.
With an interesting museum about Saint Hermano Pedro also on hand, San Francisco Church certainly has a lot to offer.
11. Convento Santa Clara
Fascinating to wander around, the ruins of the Convento Santa Clara attest to the frequent earthquakes that plague the region. Opened in 1734, the convent was only in use for four decades before it was destroyed.
At the heart of the complex are the magnificent cloisters, which are particularly delightful to explore. A fountain and peaceful gardens lie at their center.
With some great stonework on show as well as well-preserved arches and an impressive facade, this historical site is well worth a visit and there are loads of great photos to be shot here.
10. Santo Domingo Monastery
Once one of the largest and most important religious institutions in Antigua Guatemala, the Santo Domingo Monastery was sadly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773.
In recent years, the ruins of the monastery have been transformed into a delightful route which you can peacefully amble along. Alongside the archaeological site are six fascinating museums. The Museo Arqueologico and Museo Colonial, for example, showcase different artworks, artefacts, and sculptures from Antigua Guatemala and further afield.
The monastery’s ruined church and cloisters are particularly stunning, and Calvary Crypt houses a beautiful 17th century mural of the crucifixion.
9. Catedral de San Jose
Although much restoration work has been undertaken to rebuild the cathedral, some parts of San Jose still lie in ruins due to the earthquake that devastated the city in 1773.
The dazzlingly white façade, however, is in almost perfect condition and is the highlight, with numerous fine sculptures of religious figures adorning it.
While the interior is less impressive, Quirio Catano’s Christ statue is definitely worth checking out, as are the ruins of the cathedral itself.
8. Convento de las Capuchinas
Over the course of its history, the Convento de las Capuchinas has been heavily damaged by an earthquake and abandoned for over 200 years. Consequently, it is almost a miracle that the convent has been successfully rebuilt and renovated to its current state.
Nowadays, las Capuchinas offers a fascinating look at what life was like for the nuns who lived here; perusing the rooms and exhibits is very interesting.
The nuns were a very important part of their community; they ran an orphanage and a women’s hospital as well as the convent itself.
7. Central Plaza
Also known as Parque Central, this delightful plaza lies at the heart of the city. Everyone passes through at some point during their stay in Antigua Guatemala.
Lined with wonderful, colonial-era buildings, cathedrals and fountains, it is a picturesque plaza teeming with life. There are lots of restaurants, cafes, and bars for visitors to choose from.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, Central Plaza is a lively spot where you can find anything from government buildings and boutiques to street vendors and live music.
6. Cerro de la Cruz
Meaning ‘Hill of the Cross’ in English, Cerro de la Cruz overlooks Antigua Guatemala. From its summit, you have the best views of the city below.
The short climb only takes about half an hour. At the top, you have a picture-perfect photo before you; Antigua is so beautifully framed by Volcan de Agua that towers behind it.
Cerro de la Cruz is a peaceful spot and many people bring a picnic with them to enjoy while taking in the stunning panorama.
5. Volcan Acatenango
While it is possible to hike Volcan Acatenango in just one day, many people choose to camp overnight to spend as much time as possible on the magnificent volcano.
Its two peaks, Pico Mayor and Yepocapa, respectively reach a height of 3976 and 3880 meters. From their summits, you can watch the active Volcan de Fuego erupt and bubble away from a safe distance. The trek is quite challenging due to the altitude.
While the hike through a barren and desolate wasteland isn’t particularly beautiful, the views from the top more than make up for the arduous climb.
As the self-proclaimed birthplace of chocolate, it stands to reason that Guatemala knows a thing or two about the delicious cacao treat; the ChocoMuseo will teach you all there is to know about it.
Taking you through the history of cacao, its cultivation, and how it is turned into chocolate, the museum is very interesting to visit. You may even get to taste a sample or two as well as try your hand at making chocolate yourself.
With a gift shop on hand for when you’ve finished your tour, you may find yourself coming away with more than you bargained for; rich chocolate liqueur and local Guatemalan chocolates prove too hard to turn down.
3. Iglesia de La Merced
One of the finest churches in the city, Iglesia de La Merced is very well preserved. Its impressive yellow baroque facade showcases some lovely stucco work, as well as two solid looking bell towers.
Due to religious persecution, the Mercedians who ran the church were forced to abandon it and all its wonderful sculptures and altars when they were forced to leave Central America in 1829.
Well worth a visit when in Antigua Guatemala, Iglesia de La Merced is an intoxicating mix of art, architecture, and history. Its magnificent fountain that dominates the church’s courtyard is just one of its amazing highlights.
2. Volcan Pacaya
Located in Pacaya National Park, Volcan Pacaya rises to a height of 2,552 meters and is a very popular trek amongst tourists. It only takes around half a day to complete and the views from the top are absolutely stunning.
Part of a chain of volcanoes, Pacaya is still active and last erupted in 2014, when it covered Antigua in ash.
With lots of fauna and flora on show alongside the barren, lava-scarred terrain, the hike to the top makes for an interesting and rewarding experience; the scenery and panoramas are awe-inspiring.
1. Santa Catalina Arch
The most famous and recognizable landmark in Antigua, Guatemala – if not the whole of Guatemala – Arco de Santa Catalina (as it is known in Spanish) is simply a must-see when in the city.
Built in the 1690s, the arch is made out of bright yellow stone. A clock, added in the 1830s, is located on its single turret that lies directly in the middle of the arch, above the street passing below it.
With the magnificent Volcan de Agua in the distance behind it, you can take some great photos of the famous arch. This is what makes it such a popular tourist attraction.
Best Time to Visit Antigua Guatemala
Hemmed in by enormous volcanoes, Antigua Guatemala is most visited between November and April when the dry weather is best for sightseeing and enjoying outdoor activities. With comfortable temperatures of 21 to 25°C (70 to 77°F), you can stroll about the old town or hike up the side of one of its many massive mounts.
After its long rainy season, visitors flock back to the charming colonial city in November as its weather improves. December is the absolute peak season with huge crowds heading here for its dramatic El Dia del Diablo celebrations and nine-day-long Christmas processions and fireworks displays.
Both hotel prices and tourist numbers remain high until April as the good weather continues and people come to see its old churches and convents or scale its volcanoes. The highlight of the entire year is its elaborate Semana Santa celebrations that take place around Easter.
Besides July and August, when people visit during their summer holidays, May to October is the low season due to its strong rains. While showers only usually last a couple of hours, it rains from 18 to 26 days on average during this period. Although the surrounding mountains are at their greenest, all the rain makes hiking muddy, tiring and a bit less enjoyable.