Our guide to Antigua
During our initial 15-minute walk from the bus station to our Airbnb, we already knew we loved Antigua. It's hard not to fall for this small city surrounded by volcanic views. Walking down Antigua's cobblestone streets, it feels like its history is revealed through the peeling paint and crumbling walls.
Once the capital of Guatemala and the most important Spanish colonial seat between Mexico City and Lima, this beautiful city was forged from a violent past. After the enslavement and near extinction of the Kakchikel-Maya indigenous population, the old city of Antigua was destroyed in 1527 when Volcán de Agua (the iconic volcano that dominates the city's horizon) erupted. The Spanish relocated just a couple of miles away to the its present location, but as if it were cursed from original sin, the city was leveled in an earthquake in 1773. The Spanish relocated the capital, again, to modern day Guatemala City, just 28 miles away. While no longer the political seat of the country, Antigua remains one of the most important metropolises in Guatemala.
Antigua is a pretty perfect destination for just about anyone, from solo travelers to couples to families and groups. With adventure activities like volcano hikes to decadent spas to restaurants for every type of eater, there's a little bit of something for everyone. We spent two weeks in Antigua and enjoyed a good mix of adventure and relaxation. Here are our top things to do while visiting this charming city.
Hike and camp on a volcano
Along our journey in Central America, we've been told time and again that Guatemala has the most impressive volcanoes in the region. And after hiking and camping on Acatenango, we can absolutely say we agree. More than 13,000 feet tall, climbing Acatenango was a challenge with the volcanic terrain and thin air. But getting to watch its neighbor volcano, Fuego, erupt for the first time in 2018 from our campsite, was one of the best experiences in our lives. Read all about our experience on Acatenango here. If you aren't keen on doing such a difficult hike or sleeping in 25 degree weather, you can do a day hike on Volcán Pacaya, an active volcano that erupted violently in 1965 and has had smaller eruptions since. You can even toast marshmallows with the heat radiating from the volcanic rock.
Visit a macadamia nut farm
We almost always have a bag of nuts on hand to keep us from getting hangry, but it's an extra special treat when you can swap out peanuts for macadamia nuts. Across Guatemala, these buttery morsels are sold everywhere and they're really cheap compared to buying them in the US! But you can do more than just snack on them on a park bench in the central plaza (although that, too, is pretty nice). Just outside of Antigua is a macadamia nut farm that uses sustainable practices to grow and harvest these nuts to economically benefit indigenous communities. Take a free tour, eat some pancakes made from macadamia nut flour (and topped with rich macadamia nut butter), and enjoy a spa service using the pure oil from these fatty nuts. Our guide to visiting the farm is here.
Do a coffee tour
Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world, and opportunities to taste it are plentiful in Antigua. While we didn't do a coffee tour due to costs and the fact that we're traveling through coffee region for quite a while, if you want to see how these beans are grown, harvested, and roasted, you can tour coffee groves just outside of Antigua. Two tours that came recommended to us are Filadelfia Coffee Resort and De La Gente. If you're like us and are looking to predominantly just taste the coffee, stop by any of the cute cafés that dot the city's streets.
Climb Cerro de la Cruz
Strolling Antigua's streets with volcanoes on the horizon will probably stoke your interest in seeing the city from above. Luckily, you can hike Cerro de la Cruz to get a sweeping panorama. Located off 1a Avenida Norte, this easy 40-minute hike will take you up to a giant cross that overlooks the city. Bring a picnic or a few beers to enjoy with the view. But be a little cautious and only do the hike during the day time when other people are there, since robberies are known to happen on the trails and at the top.
Photograph the city
We spent several days with the camera in hand just wandering around the city. Crumbling churches, a lively central plaza, peeling paint facades, and a sprawling market are just a few of the things that make this one of the most picturesque cities. For the best lighting and fewer crowds, wake up for sunrise and soak in the serenity and gold-drenched light.
Grab drinks at a rooftop bar
Beautiful sunset views and drinks are our ideal way to end a day, and Antigua has a few rooftop bars where you can get the best of both. Our favorite was the lively Cafe Sky (1a Avenida Sur 15), which has a terrace that sits about a story above the other rooftops and offers unrivaled views of the city. Just make sure to get there early if you're planning on catching the sunset (which you should absolutely do), as other people will undoubtedly have the same idea.