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Antigua Guatemala is one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in Latin America. Surrounded by three dramatic volcanoes and packed with colonial charm, excellent restaurants, buzzing bars and fascinating markets, you could spend weeks here and not get bored. But sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of time, in which case we’ve got you covered. If you have just 24 hours in Antigua, here’s how to spend them.
Get a feel for Antigua’s colourful baroque architecture and cobbled streets by touring some of its most famous landmarks. A small and easily walkable city, Antigua is perfect for exploring on foot, and you can visit some of the most famous attractions in less than two hours. Be sure to visit San Francisco Church, the oldest active church in the city, the pretty La Merced, and the yellow Santa Catalina Arch that is quintessential Antigua.
Samsara is rather a whimsical cafe but its food is no-nonsense, healthy and delicious. Here, you can get a large variety of local and international meals, with plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options available as well. The mouthwatering tacos on black corn tortillas make an excellent lunch, but make sure you leave room for some of the delicious smoothies that are on offer, too.
Wandering through the chaotic Mercado is a great way to see the more authentic side of Antigua. You can buy everything here, from fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and fish to clothes, shoes and pirate DVDs – and at the north end of the market there’s the paca, a vast warehouse packed with unique T-shirts and vintage clothes. You’ll probably get lost navigating the maze of the covered market, but that’s part of the fun.
A visit to Antigua isn’t complete without exploring the famous Casa Santo Domingo. Located in the grounds of the ruined Santo Domingo Monastery, what still stands has become a monument preserving the baroque architecture and treasures of the period. Part of the ruins now form a five-star hotel, but non-guests can visit the excellent museums, which include a colonial museum, an archeology museum, a museum of pre-Columbian art and a silver museum. Casa Santo Domingo also has beautiful landscaped gardens, a chocolate factory, a candle factory and a popular bar and restaurant.
Just beyond the Santa Catalina Arch is Tabacos y Vinos, a tiny wine bar that most tourists walk straight past without seeing it. Tabacos y Vinos may be small, but it has the best wine selection in the city. Enjoy a pre-dinner drink or two here, and remember that every glass of wine you buy is cheaper than the last!
Meson Panza Verde is a boutique hotel that has one of the very best restaurants in all of Guatemala. You can sit inside, or outside in the pretty courtyard, and choose from a gourmet menu that includes exceptional local and international dishes. With a beautiful setting and gentle piano music playing, its hard to beat for its relaxed and inviting ambiance – and the hotel is also an art gallery.
If you think you don’t like dive bars, think again. Café No Se is known for being the first mezcal bar outside of Mexico, and this candlelit bar is perhaps the coolest place to drink in Antigua. Full of artistic characters, quirky decor and thumping live music, the shadowy bar is also one of the best places in the city to enjoy a bit of people-watching.
Lucky Rabbit is one of the most popular night spots in town, and the young crowd, beer pong tables, games selection and projected movies on the walls enhance its buzzing atmosphere. The music is good, too, with separate areas for house and dance.
Y tu Piña Tambien is one of the most unique and fun places to enjoy breakfast in Antigua. The menu is extensive, but the Mexican breakfast is best: two eggs sunny-side-up with homemade ranchero sauce and melted mozzarella on a tortilla, served with black beans and escabeche.
You can’t leave Antigua without picking up some gorgeous souvenirs, and the best place to shop is the Artisan Market. Full of colourful textiles, traditional blankets, wooden masks, jade jewellery and woven purses, it’s an incredibly photogenic place to wander around. Never buy anything at face value; vendors usually increase the price by three, so use that as a reference point when haggling.