The Arch of Santa Catalina is Antigua’s most iconic landmark, and probably one of the most recognizable symbols of Guatemala. Perched above a bustling street, this historic arch was built in the 1690s, and its bright yellow stone, neat white trim and French clock make the perfect photo—especially with Volcan de Agua looming in the background.
Tourist markets are a dime a dozen 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, make like a local and eat at one of the Mercado’s cafés.
La Merced Church is perhaps the prettiest Baroque church in the city, and certainly one of the best preserved. Anyone with the faintest interest in art, architecture, or design should pay a visit, as the church boasts magnificent stucco work that showcases the Moorish influence present in Spain at that time.
Parque Central, also known as Plaza Central Park, is the beating heart of Antigua. Buzzing with activity, and bordered by cathedrals, fountains, trees and colonial buildings, 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 a half hour and you’ll be able get some dramatic photographs of the town and its spectacular volcano backdrop. Try to go on a sunny day so clouds don’t obscure the view.
San Francisco Church was built in 1542, and is the oldest active church in the city. Its spectacular colonial architecture, grand courtyard and ruined monastery make it an incredibly photogenic place to visit, but there’s also an interesting museum here dedicated to Hermano Pedro, a Spanish missionary who is Guatemala’s only saint.
Just 15 minutes from Antigua is Caoba Farms, an organic farm with a café serving up mouthwatering local Guatemalan fare, often with live music. On Saturday mornings you can visit the farmer’s market and buy products like organic fruit and vegetables, natural soaps, and fresh juices.
Antigua is known for producing beautifully woven textiles, and Museo Casa del Tejido is the best place to learn more about these traditional designs, which are far more significant than you might think. It’s a museum, market, and workshop all in one, with demonstrations of weaving techniques, exhibitions on regional outfits, and weaving classes.
From 1549 this palace was Central America’s colonial headquarters, and the grand double-arched façade on the south side of the plaza is all that’s left of the original complex. After extensive renovations, the palace is now Antigua’s cultural center and has art exhibits and live performances.
The convent of Las Capuchinas was seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1773 and was abandoned for two centuries. Painstaking renovations in recent years allow visitors to get a glimpse at what life was like for the convent’s nuns, who also ran an orphanage and women’s hospital.
Pacaya Volcano is the most popular volcano trek in Antigua, probably because it’s the most accessible. You only need a moderate level of fitness to scale Pacaya and can do it in a half day. The volcano is still active, so you can toast marshmallows on the still-hot rocks.
For something a bit more challenging, hike Acatenango Volcano. You can do a one-day guided hike, which starts at 5 a.m. and costs about US$80. Alternatively, you can do the hike over two days and camp overnight on the volcano.
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 to buy some indulgent gifts, like cacao body butter, or rich chocolate liqueur.
Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world, and touring a plantation will give you an insight into the coffee making process. Support local farmers by visiting Finca los Nietos, an independent, family-run coffee farm which grows wonderfully rich beans without any chemicals or pesticides.
Casa Santo Domingo is a five-star hotel with a compelling history: years ago it was a convent and sanctuary that provided shelter for people of the Santo Domingo De Guzmán order. Today the hotel is also a museum, candle factory, church, chocolate factory, restaurant, and bar. The grounds are beautiful, with fountains, pools and tropicals birds.
Just south of the bus terminal is Antigua’s main cemetery. A maze of dramatic tombs and mausoleums lavishly decorated with wreaths, flowers and photographs, the cemetery has become a popular stop-off point for photographers.
Book lovers should pay a visit to the Museo del Libro Antiguo, which displays the most important works of early Guatemalan printing. A first edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha (from 1620) is showcased here, as well as replicas of the country’s first printing press.
Art lovers will enjoy visiting La Antigua Galeria de Arte, which houses an impressively eclectic collection of art. With displays from over 70 artists all across the region, Antigua’s best art gallery is housed in a striking colonial mansion and is well worth a visit.
Touring a nut farm is just as fun as touring a coffee farm. Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm is an organic, independent farm committed to sustainability: it’s planted 350,000 macadamia trees over the past 15 years. Go in the morning and eat macadamia nut flour pancakes with blueberry jam after your tour.
Just like the convent of Las Capuchinas, Antigua’s cathedral was destroyed by the 1773 earthquake, and has only been partially rebuilt. Visitors should allow an hour or two to explore the ruins of the old cathedral. With crumbling pillars, moss-covered walls, and only the sky for a ceiling, it’s a dramatic and haunting place.