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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.