It is either impossible or highly unlikely that any traveller would pass through Guatemala and not visit Antigua, the country’s enchanting, tourist-friendly and volcano-surrounded settlement south-west of Guatemala City.
Its name – translating to ‘antique’ in English – is befitting of a town containing so many colonial-era buildings, crumbling churches and ruins. The place is further enriched with a bustling street culture scene and colourful lively markets in central Plaza Mayor. English is widely spoken and accommodation options are aplenty. It’s also a great place to relax and regain a little energy after a few days in the Guate jungle or a day’s hiking up Volcano Acatenango or Volcano Fuego. It’s safe and it’s clean. In fact, it’s a perfect tourist town.
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What to do in Antigua, Guatemala
The layout of Antigua is grid-like, with Plaza Mayor at its centre. This is a great starting point to begin an afternoon of wandering the streets and taking photos to your heart’s content. Plaza Mayor is full of colour and life, and the Arco de Santa Catalina (heading north) beneath which can be seen the towering Volcano Agua if you get the angle just right, provides that postcard-perfect picture. However, it’s the brief magical moments you encounter on the streets which really capture Antigua’s amiable character. For that you need patience.
Just outside of town, you can visit coffee plantations and nut farms for the day either through tour companies or by taking the chicken bus out there yourself.
Antigua is perfectly situated for thrill-seekers. Looming over the city are volcanoes Agua, Fuego and Acetenango. The latter is open to the public and offers stunning panoramic vistas from its summit of 3,976m. Volcán Fuego – the only active volcano of the three – is right beside Acetenango and in near constant eruption. On a clear day, there isn´t a better view in Guatemala.
Antigua Eats. Where to eat in Antigua?
You can usually find something tasty by a park or church any day of the week but on Sunday Plaza Mayor’s food market explodes into life. From freshly baked chicken and pineapple empanadas to grilled cheese steak sandwiches, you can dine at this market for around $3.
There was, however, one place I kept going back to:
Café Boheme: The chicken/avocado croissant-sandwich is the bomb and their smoothies are textbook. You can get lunch here for $5.
Bagel Barn: Great for breakfast. Offers free Wifi and wide selection of toppings for your bagel!
McDonald’s: I can’t believe that I am actually going to say this, but Antigua’s McDonald’s is actually worth a visit. If not for the food then just for the design and décor, which it has to be said is quite impressive! The courtyard is very chilled and comfortable.
Going out in Antigua. Where’s the party!?
You’re never short of options if you’re looking to party in Antigua, Guatemala. There are plenty of bars and a couple of clubs too. The liveliest of these are south of Plaza Mayor and stay open until late. Here are some of the most popular:
Reilly’s Irish Tavern (5a Avenida Norte, #31): Popular among gringos and Guatemalans, this place always fills up at the weekend and for big sporting events. There is a pub quiz on Sunday which can get pretty rowdy!
Hops & Tales (3 C/ Oriente #19): One for craft beer lovers, this place, which is hard to miss, boasts a wide selection of both artisanal and micro-brewery beers that have been loaded up with hops and barley wheat. The owners are very warm people and eager to get to know their customers.
Lucky Rabbit (5 Avenida Sur #8): Many a night out will end at the Lucky Rabbit, a nightclub which doubles as a games room. Beer pong is taken seriously here, as is oversized jenga (rarely completed due to middle-of-dancefloor positioning). They do good cocktails and cheap shots. Gets busy but fun if you are with competitive friends!