Once the capital of Guatemala, Antigua’s colorful streetscapes are nestled between three volcanoes. The most fascinating of which is Volcán de Fuego which is active and continuously billowing smoke throughout the day. This city is easily one of Central America's most charming destinations and is even listed as a World Heritage site.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in this quaint city for a month, and became close with several locals who showed me the best things to do. In this guide, I’ll share with you both their suggestions and my top picks as a travel expert.
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Top things to do:
Lord of the Ring’s fans will rejoice at this adorable recreation of a hobbit village that is located on a mountainside 30 minutes from Antigua. There are tons of fun things to do here including; games, horseback riding, archery, and live music. Plus there is a great bar serving local beer and craft cocktails.
If you’re hungry, you can also order freshly prepared dishes, such as tacos. Enjoy your meal as you listen to live music and gaze at a beautiful mountainside vista. Tickets for this start at about $6.50. Click here to visit their site.
Shop at the traditional market
Guatemala is known for its colorful woven clothing, bags, and blankets. The Mercado Artesanal is the place to go if you are looking for the largest variety of beautiful, locally made items.
As you walk through its tight hallway, you’ll see traditionally dressed women selling all types of goods. Remember bargaining is part of the buying process here so cut the price at least in half from what they told you it is!
Learn Salsa dancing
A great place to learn how to dance salsa is Antigua! There are several places that hold classes, or you can take a free class at Las Palmas. They offer free classes each night. After the class, guests are invited to join the bar crowd to dance salsa to live music. Check out their website here.
Take a Chocolate Making Class
The Choco Museo offers daily chocolate making classes. During this three-hour ($30) class, you will learn the process of making chocolate from seed to bar. During the class, you not only make your own chocolate bar that you can bring home, but also learn the history and significance of chocolate in the Mayan world, and taste several types of hot chocolate and tea. Click here to visit their site.
Go on a Coffee Tour
De La Gente offers the unique experience of joining a farmer to see the process he uses to make coffee from bean to brew. During this three-hour tour, you’ll learn the history of coffee in Guatemala, visit the local farmers coffee fields, pick coffee fruit, and go through the whole process of extracting the bean then roasting it.
The tour ends at the local farmers house, where you will meet his family, grind the coffee beans traditionally, then roast and brew them in his kitchen. The whole experience is about $30, includes your own bag of coffee to bring home, and is non for profit, so you know your money is going to a good cause. Click here to visit their site.
Restaurants & Bars
There are few cities in the world that are as small as Antigua with such a variety of restaurants and bars. The reality is that there wasn’t a single place I went to that disappointed me. The town has everything from sushi to traditional cuisine, and dive bars to craft cocktail speakeasies. It is incredible!
La Casa De Las Sopas
Guatemala is known for their soups and stews. To have an authentic experience head to La Casa De Las Sopas and order Jocón or Pepián. Click here to visit their site.
Ulew & Antigua Brewery
Antigua Brewery is a great place if you are a craft beer lover. Unfortunately, I am not (though my husband is)! What I LOVED about this place was that they had a speakeasy craft cocktail bar called Ulew hidden inside a London style telephone booth.
Ulew is special for a few reasons. First, it is located inside what used to be a kitchen of an old stone mansion. You can see this based off of the bar, which is located inside the chimney. Second, their cocktails are exceptional. The bar does not have a menu. When you order, tell the bartender your liquor and flavors of choice and he will concoct a masterpiece. Click here to visit their site.
La Tienda de Doña Gavi
For the best ice cream in town head here and order some of their more unique flavors, such as, beet, beer, or avocado. If you’re not adventurous stick to their fruit flavors. The mango is delicious! Click here to visit their site.
For a romantic night out head to Welten Restaurant. This is easily the most beautiful dining spot in town (which says a lot because their are tons of gorgeous places)! Inside you’ll find a charming courtyard and pool covered with pink and red rose petals.
The fine dining restaurant serves international and local gourmet cuisine. At night it is lit beautifully by hanging lights, but by day you have a lovely view of the volcano. Click here to visit their site.
Cerro San Cristobal
For the best view of the city and a locally sourced meal, head to Cerro San Cristobal. This farm-to-table restaurant is as organic as it gets. As you wait for your meal to come, you can walk through their on-site gardens that grow all of the ingredients that they use in their dishes.
Plus this restaurant has panoramic views of the city since it is located on the mountainside. It is only open for lunch but worth the short drive from Antigua for the experience. Click here to visit their site.
La Cuevita de Los Urquizú
The buffet style restaurant is great if you are looking for a quick, high-quality meal. From the outside you’ll see a mountain of clay pots holding a variety of traditional cuisine. All of it is tasty, but I recommend the Pepián. Click here to visit their site.
If you’re craving sushi in Guatemala (it happened to me!) then head to Akai Sushi. They serve the best sushi in town (though the rolls have a bit too much rice), plus on Thursdays it is buy one roll get one free! Click here to visit their site.
For a late night meal go to Tacool. They serve a variety of tasty tacos, but get busy at night so be prepared for a wait. Trust me, it is worth it. Click here to visit their site.
Amanecer Juice Bar
I went here every day. I’m serious. It is just that good! Amanecer Juice Bar serves healthy green juices, and great coffee. It is also a great place to work if you are a digital nomad because their wifi speeds are good for Guatemala. Click here to visit their site.
Cafe de la Escalonia
This restaurant is located within a beautiful garden. It is a great place for breakfast. I recommend ordering the traditional Guatemala breakfast of refried beans, tortillas, plantains, and scrambled eggs with tomatoes. Click here to visit their site.
Where to Stay
Meson Panza Verde
Meson Panza Verde is a beautiful boutique hotel located on a quiet cobblestone street in Antigua. This hotel is special to me for a few reasons, most notably because Luis and I had a party here to celebrate our marriage with his Guatemalan family.
They were recently featured in the New York Times and have fantastic gourmet cuisine. There are only a few rooms in the hotel, which allows guests to have a more personalized experience. My parents stayed there and had a fireplace and an outdoor space that came with their room. It was lovely! Click here to visit their site.
Since I stayed in Antigua for a whole month, I lived in an Airbnb. The airbnbs in Guatemala are inexpensive and if you are a budget traveler or staying for longer than a week then I recommend it. My airbnb came with a fireplace and balcony, plus a private courtyard! Check it out here.
Guatemala is often defined by the legacy of their early civilization. However, it’s their kindness combined with the country’s outstanding cultural legacy and natural beauty that makes Guatemala such a compelling place for travelers today. No matter what type of traveler you are, Guatemala will find a special place in your heart.