Antigua Guatemala

A fusion of cultures: spanish, indigenous and mayan. Antigua remains a colonial masterpiece, characterised by striking streetscapes and dramatically flanked by volcanoes
  • 25 miles from the capital, Antigua is one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America. It is marked on the Unesco world heritage list for its colonial ruins, churches, convents and pastel-coloured residences with dilapidated walls. Take some time to walk around Parque Central, a square where you can find the palace, the baroque-style cathedral and the city hall. Wander around the market, visit Santa ...
    © Milosk / 123RF
  • Antigua is known for the baroque style of its colonial architecture.
    © Milosk / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Guatemala

25 miles from the capital, Antigua is one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America. It is marked on the Unesco World Heritage list for its colonial ruins, churches, convents and pastel-coloured residences with dilapidated walls. Take some time to walk around Parque Central, a square where you can find the palace, the baroque-style cathedral and the city hall. Wander around the market, visit Santa Clara, an 18th century convent, the San Francisco Church, with typical of Spanish baroque a rchitecture and also Popenoe casa to see inside a colonial house.

Antigua Guatemala: what to do?

A must when visiting Antigua is to try some of the delicious local coffee. This can be done by sitting in one of the many coffee houses around the city, including Refuge Coffee Bar, Tretto Caffe and Caffe No Sé, as some of the best. Visitors can also sip on a fine quality espresso at a working coffee farm and learn about how the product is farmed in order to create the perfect cup of coffee they offer.

For some art and culture, when in Antigua you must take a trip to the Casa Santo Domingo complex which is a beautiful restored 16th century monastery which is now home to five fascinating museums. There is the Colonial Museum which contains works from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It also holds religious paintings, silver pieces and sculptures. The Archeology Museum exhibits ceramic and stone objects mostly from the Classic Period of Mayan Culture from around 200-900 AD. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass offers an interesting sample of Pre-Hispanic ceramics, stone and other recent glass pieces. The Marco Augusto Quiroa and the Artist Halls are dedicated to great contemporary artistic exhibits, and finally there is the Silver Museum, otherwise known as the Sacatepéquez Arts and Popular Handcrafts Museum, which contains a sample of the old handcraft traditions of the region, such as crockery, ceramics, candles, and textiles among others.

Continuing with the cultural activities, you must head over to the Santa Domingo del Cerro Cultrual Park, which is a free outdoor sculpture gallery showing the fascinating works by artist and architect, Efrain Recinos, who has also been referred to as "Guatemala's Picasso".

Antigua is a shopper's paradise and there are many artisanal shops and markets to pick up some handmade goods. Make sure to check out Nim P'ot which is a local "mercado" brimming with colourful local Guatemalan products.

For those a little more adventurous who want to get out of town, Antigua is near to some exciting landscapes including vast rainforests where you can spend a day zip-lining through the trees. Or, an absolute must in the area is to take a day trip to visit the stunning Lake Atitlan which is towered down over by the immense Pacaya Volcano.

If you are visiting over the month of April, you will be unable to avoid getting involved in the city's Semana Santa celebrations. Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter and is very important in Guatemalan culture. The most emblematic symbol of Antigua's celebrations are the endless carpets of colour lining the town's streets, decorating the cobblestones along the procession route, which is a fascinating and exciting sight to see, it would be advised to join in on the festivities to get a real feel for their culture.

One of the key sights in Antigua is the Santa Catalina Arch, which is the city's iconic arch, located on 5th Avenue North, and was built in 1694 to enable nuns to cross the street without being seen; the clock tower is a 19th-century add-on.

The Church and Convent of Las Capuchinas is an extraordinary old convent building which is located in between the 2nd Avenue North and 2nd East Street. It was the fifth convent to be built in Antigua in 1726 by architect Diego de Torres and set up as a convent by five nuns from Madrid. Sadly, i, 1773 it was abandoned due to being destroyed by an earthquake. In the early 20th century it began being restored and is now open to visitors from 9am - 5pm every day of the week. There are beautiful fountains and courtyards flanked by sturdy stone pillars with arches and bougainvilleas flowers. It is considered the most elegant of the convents of Antigua.

One of the most significant sights in the city has to be the San Fransisco Church, which is said to be one of the oldest churches in the city. Inside the stunning building is the tomb of Hermano Pedro of San José of Betancourt, who was a Franciscan monk who came to Antigua from the Canary Islands and founded the Hospital of Belén. The church is also home to the Hermano Pedro Museum, which runs along the ruins of the monastery.

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela is the heart of Antigua, Guatemala. It is located in the centre of the city and soars up over the streets below in a mass of spires and sculptures. It is a fascinating architectural construction as it was built over a long period. Some parts are of Romanesque structure and then threre are Gothic and Borque elements to it too. The key artistic part is the Pórtico de la Gloria inside the west entrance, featuring 200 Romanesque sculptures.

For the best view in the city, head to Cerro de la Cruz. You won't find a better view as it looks out to the south over the town towards Volcán Agua. The prominent cross at the head of the lookout point is devoted to the city's patron saint. Despite this notorious Guatemalan hill boasting fantastic views, be careful when visiting as it is also a renownded spot for pick-pocketing and mugging.

  • Ruins, coffee farms and other exciting culture
  • Stunning views
  • A mix of colonial, baroque, gothic and romanesque architecture
  • Friendly locals
  • Day trips to exciting adventurous spots
  • A selection of musuems, art, culture and shopping
  • Crime levels can be high
  • Uneven and narrow streets which may be diffcult for some on foot
  • Undrinkable tap water

Reminders

If you become ill whilst in Antigua there is a good recommended hospital, Hermano Pedro. It is also suggested t check in with your country's embassy in Guatemala, by phone or on-line, for recommendations of English-speaking doctors.

The best way to get around Antigua is by foot as it is such a small city. There are taxis and busses but they could be unreliable and walking lets you absorb the atmosphere far better!

To avoid

Be careful not to go into a restaurant that doesn't have very many customers as the food will probably be of terrible quality or bad hygiene. Never drink the tap water and be careful of fruit or salad that may have been washed by unpurified water as you may get very sick.

Antigua has a reputation for being "pretty safe" but it is always best to avoid being alone at night or carrying a lot of valuables on you as people do get mugged, frequently pickpocketed, and in rarer instances, physically attacked. Criminals may target tourists if you look like you have a lot of money on you.

Antigua Guatemala: what to eat?

Guatemala as a country has a variety of typical dishes, but those that are delicacies particularly of Antigua include rolled pork tortillas (pork in a spicey tomato sauce with peppers and wrapped in a tortilla), Black Pepian (a simple stew with pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, tomatoes, chilies, onions, garlic, and coriander), El Jocon de Pollo (chicken cooked in a spciy green stew of onions, coriander, parsley, garlic, green bell peppers, and green tomatoes), Chiles Rellenos (spicy peppers stuffed with meat, beans, rice or vegetables), black beans cooked in many different ways, and as a sweet, figs in honey is the most popular.

Guatemala produces some of the world's best coffee, so you can definitelyfind a good cup of coffee in Antigua. There is a variety of fruit, and fruit smoothies are called "licuados". Freshly squeezed orange juice is often offered.

Beer is a good go-to drink in Antigua if you are looking for something alcoholic; with Gallo, Monte Carlo, Moza, and Dorada Draft being some of the most popular.

Antigua Guatemala: what to buy?

The main market in Antigua happens on a Monday, Thursday and Saturday which is chaotic, colorful and always busy. There is also the Nim Po't arts and crafts sale and the Mercado de Artesanías. In all of these markets you can pick yourself up some special homemade artisanal products or gifts including a huge collection of Maya clothing, as well as hundreds of masks, wood carvings, kites, paintings, refrigerator magnets, Maximón figurines, blankets, jewellery, purses and much more.

A jewellery shop, La Casa del Jade, also has a museum that displays pre-Hispanic jade and holds an open workshop where you can watch the contemporary craftspeople working.

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