Must-Visit Attractions in Antigua, Guatemala

You cant miss the view from Cerro de la Cruz on a trip to Antigua
You can't miss the view from Cerro de la Cruz on a trip to Antigua | © Simon Dannhauer / Alamy Stock Photo
Allegra Zagami

Not for nothing is the town of Antigua, in Guatemala’s central highlands, hailed as one of the country’s finest tourist destinations. Celebrated for its impressive, photogenic baroque Spanish architecture – such as the Catedral de Santiago – and green spaces like Parque Central, this Unesco World Heritage site is full of must-see sights. Here are the very best attractions in Antigua.

1. Parque Central


Parque Centrale, Antigua, Guatemala
© Robert Wyatt / Alamy Stock Photo

Antigua’s Central Park, as it translates into English, is the beating heart of Antigua – quite literally, since it’s part of the center of the old city. On a hot afternoon it’s the perfect place to sit on a bench and unwind in the shade, basking in the views of Antigua’s grand architecture rising around you. With its prime location, it’s the obvious place to begin your exploration of the city, starting with a look at the elaborate fountain, flanked by mermaids, in the middle of the park.

2. Cementerio General


It might come as a bit of a surprise to find a cemetery on a list of must-visit attractions in Antigua, but the Cementerio General has evolved as a hugely popular attraction among tourists – thanks to its lush, tree-lined pathways and white mausoleums. As you wind your way through the maze of tombs you’ll ultimately reach those mausoleums, exquisitely decorated with wreaths and exotic flowers. Here you can spend a contemplative hour or two.

3. Catedral de Santiago


Catedral de Santiago (Santiago Cathedral), Antigua, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guatemala, Central America
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Facing Parque Central is this Roman Catholic church, with roots that stretch all the way back to 1541. In the late 16th century, an earthquake rocked the ground beneath this baroque head-turner, causing cracks and other damage. Having undergone restoration, only its two main towers remain intact from the original building. Spend time wandering through the crumbling ruins inside the church, admiring its arches and stucco relief work. Venture deeper into the catacombs for a dramatic and haunting end to your tour.

4. Cerro de la Cruz

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

For the best outlook over Antigua, head north of the city and put your best foot forward for an ascent of Cerro de la Cruz, or Hill of the Cross. The hike will take you about 30 minutes – but if you’d rather skip the cardio workout, you can opt for a short cab ride. However you get to the summit, make sure you’ve got your camera with you – you’ll want to capture what is without doubt the most dramatic view of Antigua from up here, with a spectacular volcano backdrop.

5. Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Boutique Hotel, Bed and Breakfast, Hotel

Courtesy of Hotel Casa Santo Domingo / Expedia

Step into Casa Santo Domingo and you’re immediately whisked back in time. It’s a captivatingly beautiful five-star hotel, laden with history – and of course luxury amenities, including a sophisticated spa performing great massages and facials. In an earlier incarnation this place was a convent – learn more about the history of this structure at the hotel’s museum. Spend your afternoon sipping ice-cold beers in the garden, admiring the beautiful pools and fountain, as vividly feathered tropical birds fly overhead.

6. Pacaya Volcano

Natural Feature

You can’t honestly say you’ve been to Antigua if you haven’t paid homage to the Pacaya Volcano – this still-active attraction is dramatic, bucket-list territory. No need for Sherpa Tenzing levels of fitness either – the most popular hike is super-manageable without extreme levels of fitness. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Antigua, and you should factor in a couple more hours to scale its bulk. Grab some marshmallows before you set off – you’ll be able to break your climb and toast them on the sizzlingly hot volcanic rocks.

7. Iglesia de La Merced


La Merced Church / Iglesia de La Merced, Antigua Guatemala
© Drokebyt / Alamy Stock Photo
Dating from the late 18th century and with fine baroque flourishes, Iglesia de La Merced is one of the best-preserved churches in Antigua – and that’s why it’s one of the most-visited places of worship in the city. Tourists are spellbound by its impressive photogenic architectural details, from its vibrant yellow-and-white facade to the intricate stucco work. Notice how low the bell towers are – they were constructed specifically to withstand the constant earthquake tremors that shake the city.

8. Church of San Francisco


You are about to enter the oldest active – and frequented – church in the city, home to the shrine of Peter of Saint Joseph de Betancur (also known as Hermano Pedro), a missionary whom some call the first saint of Guatemala. Many flock to pray in the vicinity of his tomb, found through a garden just north of the church. Near his resting place is a museum dedicated to the patron saint, bestowed with his former belongings and offerings of gratitude for his miracles and healing powers.

9. The Mercado


Mercado de Artesanias, Artisans Market, Antigua, Guatemala
© dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo

If you want to really experience the authenticity of a city, you can’t beat a deep dive into a local market – and Antigua’s mercado is no exception. Wind your way among its frenetic stalls, piled with everything you could conceivably need, from fresh produce and live chickens to watches and jewelry, cosmetics and ceramics. Be sure to stop along the way to gorge on some of the local fresh fruit. If you’re really hungry, take a table for lunch at one of the cafes.

10. Convento de las Capuchinas


The convent was built in 1725, and was the last to be constructed in the city. Because of its amazing architecture, it’s actually considered the first apartment complex in the Americas. Like most edifices in Antigua, the Convento was severely damaged by the 1773 earthquake that rocked the city, after which it was left abandoned for nearly two centuries. As a result of more recent renovations, you can step inside for a glimpse of how life was all those centuries ago.

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