Can there be a more dramatic backdrop than the one enjoyed by Antigua? With not one, not two, but three ancient volcanoes looming in the background, Antigua is a town that’s spectacular from every angle. Each time you turn a corner you’ll be greeted by another picture postcard view; if it’s not a smoke-spewing volcano staring back at you, it’s tree-blanketed mountain vistas, or pastel-pink buildings sitting pretty under misty skies and steel-grey clouds. This is one seriously photogenic town.
Walking along Antigua’s cobbled streets is like stepping back into the days of Spanish colonialism. This is a town made for walking, and the best way to appreciate one of the most well preserved colonial gems in the Americas is with a gentle stroll. Walk beneath 17th century stone arches in a flamboyant range of colors, admire churches that look like they’ve been plucked from the streets of Seville, and take some time to photograph the Baroque-inspired architecture of the grand Plaza Mayor.
With so many volcanoes within easy driving distance, it’s no surprise that climbing one is on many visitors’ to-do list. Some of the volcano treks are very difficult and more suited to experienced hikers, but most people will be able to scale the dramatic Pacaya Volcano. Standing at 2,500 feet (760m), you might experience some mild altitude sickness towards the top, but the views from the summit are worth it. Better yet, Pacaya is an active volcano: when you reach the top you can toast marshmallows on the still-hot rocks, and take photos beside glowing molten lava rivers.
Thanks to its volcanic landscape, Antigua has the ideal climate for growing coffee, and the beans produced here are among the best in Latin America. A great way to spend an afternoon is by visiting one of the local coffee plantations, where the farmers will proudly show you their crop and the coffee making process. Afterwards, browse the seemingly countless coffee shops scattered throughout town and sample the different varieties. Locals drink it without milk or sugar, and with such a rich, inimitable taste it’s a shame to mask it with other flavors. If you think you don’t like black coffee, you haven’t tried Antiguan coffee.
If coffee just isn’t your thing, no problem. Guatemala is considered the birthplace of chocolate, and nowhere in the country is better to get your sugar fix than Antigua. There are several excellent cacao museums that are fun to visit, where you can learn how the Mayans made chocolate—a produce they considered “the food of the gods.” Most museums have adjoining chocolate shops, and there are dozens of chocolate cafés serving up heavenly chocolate cakes and sweet treats. Make sure you leave room in your suitcase for decadent bars of dark chocolate, cacao-infused moisturizers, and rich chocolate liqueur.
If you’re someone who likes to buy souvenirs when you travel, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Antigua. The vibrant markets here are bursting with colorful handicrafts and pretty woven garments, so buying a few items to take home is a must. The local women make beautiful and intricate ponchos, hats, tablecloths, wallets and decorative bowls, all of which make unique gifts—if you can bear to part with them yourself.
Antigua is known for being one of the best places in Central America to study Spanish—and the clear accent in Guatemala makes it one of the easiest, too. There are many well regarded language schools and courses to suit every schedule and budget. Whether you want just a few hours of lessons to brush up on your speaking skills or are looking for an intensive course, learning Spanish is a fun way to get to know the local people and customs.