With a long history that merges Mayan culture with Spanish colonialism, Antigua Guatemala is one of the most fascinating towns in Latin America. Walking around these cobbled streets is a history lesson in itself, but if you’re looking to dig a little deeper there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Antigua isn’t short of decent museums, no matter what you’re into; from chocolate to music to antique weapons, here are the top museums in Antigua.
Guatemala is the original birthplace of chocolate and Antigua produces some of the best in the world. At the famous Choco Museum you can mix pleasure with learning as you discover the history behind the Mayan love affair with chocolate, which they considered the “food of the gods.” You can also get involved in one of its workshops, where you’ll learn how to turn cacao bean into chocolate bar – and enjoy plenty of tastings along the way. Afterwards, visit the museum chocolate shop to buy some indulgent gifts, like cacao body butter, or rich chocolate liqueur.
Book lovers should definitely 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 (dating from 1620) is showcased here, as well as replicas of the country’s first printing press. Located in a grand, double-fronted 18th century building to the north of the park, the stone benches under the arches at the bottom are excellent spots for some people-watching.
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. You’ll learn about the different styles of Traditional Guatemalan clothing and weaves from different villages and can buy unique gifts from the shop afterwards.
For the more musically-inclined, head to Casa K’ojom at the end of Calle del Cemetario Final, Jocotenango – just one mile from Antigua. One of the most unique and interesting museums in Guatemala, Casa K’ojom (K’ojom is the Mayan word for music) will take you on a journey through Mayan music and instruments. As well as countless artifacts, the museum is also known for having excellent multimedia archives, and you can spend hours listening to the sounds and watching video clips. Be sure to check out the fascinating short documentary about Mayan music at the end.
Located in a striking colonial mansion in the loveliest part of town, La Antigua Art Gallery boasts an impressively eclectic collection of art. There are displays from over 70 locals artists all across Antigua, Guatemala and the rest of Latin America, including Hugo Gonzales Ayala, Dulce Gonzalez and Cesar Barrios. There’s far more than just paintings here, and visitors can admire the outdoor sculptures and pretty gardens too.
Casa Santo Domingo is a hotel with its own museum – five museums, in fact. The Archaeology Museum exhibits ceramic and stone objects from the Classic Period (200-900 AD) of Mayan Culture. The Colonial Museum contains paintings, silver pieces and sculptures from the 16th-18th centuries, and the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art showcases a sample of Pre-Hispanic objects made from ceramics and stone. There’s also the Silver Museum, displaying traditional handcraft objects such as ceramics, candles, cabinets and textiles, and The Pharmacy Museum, which contains furniture that once belonged to the “Farmacia Oriental” of Guatemala City.
Housed in the City Hall (which dates from 1743), the Museo de Santiago de los Caballeros is a must-visit, yet many visitors walk right past. Located within a cluster of museums, churches and ruins, Museo de Santiago is somewhat shabby and under-funded, but still showcases some of the best exhibitions in the country. The museum is best known for its collection of antique weaponry, from the beginning of the colonial times to the start of the 20th century. The displays explore what happened in Guatemala, and you’ll get a good sense of the country’s history by examining the weapons, which include original bows and arrows.