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Antigua is one of the Guatemala’s most popular tourist destinations, and it’s not hard to see why. Known worldwide for its stunning baroque architecture, the allure of this UNESCO World Heritage Site causes many tourists to extend their stay, and if you’re lucky enough to be visiting, you’ll probably want to do the same. But however long you have to explore, there are some things that all tourists must do – here are 13 of them.
The Arch of Santa Catalina is Antigua’s most famous landmark, and probably one of the most well-known symbols of Guatemala. Perched above a busy street, the bright yellow stone, neat white trim and French clock on this historic arch make the perfect photo, particularly if you can get the dramatic Volcan de Agua looming in the background.
There are dozens of markets in Antigua, but the Mercado is the most authentic. Browsing its stalls is the most colorful and chaotic way to experience Antigua, and you can buy absolutely everything here. If you’re hungry, join the throngs of locals and eat at one of the Mercado’s excellent and cheap cafés.
There are many pretty churches in Antigua, but La Merced is the loveliest of all. This baroque church is one of the best preserved in the city, and anyone with an interest in architecture should pay a visit. Keep an eye out for the magnificent stucco work on the walls of the church.
Parque Central, also known as Plaza Central Park, is the buzzing hub of Antigua. Bustling with activity and fringed by cathedrals, fountains and trees, the plaza is the best place to get a feel for the town and enjoy a spot of people-watching.
Walk up to Cerro de la Cruz – “hill of the cross” – for the best view of Antigua. It only takes 30 minutes and you’ll be able get some incredible photographs of the town and its volcanoes. Try to go on a sunny day so clouds don’t block the view.
Built in 1542, San Francisco Church is the oldest active church in the city. Its beautiful colonial architecture, grand courtyard and ruined monastery make it a stunningly photogenic place to visit. There’s also an interesting museum here dedicated to Spanish missionary Hermano Pedro, Guatemala’s only saint.
The convent of Las Capuchinas was damaged by an earthquake in 1773 and was abandoned for over 200 years. Recent renovations have allowed visitors to understand what life was like for the convent’s nuns, who also ran an orphanage and women’s hospital from the convent.
Pacaya Volcano is the most popular volcano trek in Antigua, and also the most accessible. You only need a moderate level of fitness to climb Pacaya and can do it in an afternoon. Best of all, the volcano is still active, so you can toast marshmallows on the still-hot rocks while smoke spews out from the top.
Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate, and at the Choco Museum you can learn about the chocolate-making process and how it’s evolved over the years. Afterwards, visit the chocolate shop and buy some delicious gifts, like cacao body butter or chocolate liqueur.
Guatemala produces the best coffee in the Americas, and touring a plantation will give you an insight into the coffee-making process. You can support local farmers by visiting one of the independent, family-run coffee farms – and picking up a few packs of coffee to take home with you.
Casa Santo Domingo is a five-star hotel with a fascinating history. Hundreds of years ago it was a monastery that was home to the people of the Santo Domingo De Guzmán order. Today the hotel has several museums, a candle factory, church, chocolate factory, restaurant and bar. The grounds are especially beautiful, with fountains, pools and tropical birds – so leave enough time to explore.
If you’re an art fan you’ll love La Antigua Galeria de Arte, the best gallery in the city. Housed in a gorgeous colonial mansion and featuring displays from over 70 local artists, this gallery is well worth a visit.
Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm is an organic, independent farm committed to sustainability, and touring it is just as fun as touring a coffee farm. Go in the morning and eat macadamia nut flour pancakes with blueberry jam once your tour has finished!