Antigua Guatemala with Children: Best Activities Guide

Guatemala with Children

If you’ve ever thought twice about visiting Antigua Guatemala with children in tow, don’t fret. It’s a safe place to visit, with plenty of activities for the younger ones, especially the more active ones.

As a father of a nine-year-old girl, I know kids become restless when they’re unable to release pent-up energy. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to do just that in Antigua. Here are our choices for kid-friendly places:

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Playgrounds for children

The parks in Antigua are a relic of bygone eras. During colonial times, parks – or squares – were places to meet, socialize, see and be seen, and in the case of Antigua, to get your shopping done. Antigua’s Mercado (the food market) is long gone from the park, but Parque Central is still the best place for locals to socialize and people-watch, though you won’t find many children running around here. Free.

braiding kids hair at Parque Central

Getting hair braids at Parque Central is always popular with girls.

There are, however, a couple of public parks you can take children to and let them run wild. Plaza Belen (Calle del Hermano Pedro and Calle de Belen) is a good place to let the young ones ride their bikes/use roller-skates/ kick a ball around.

Another park can be found in front of the ruins of the church of San Sebastian (Calle del Chajon and 7ma Avenida Sur). This park, like the one above, is popular with young children. Next to the church’s ruins, there’s a small fenced in park with metal swings and other playground standard toys. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. You can tip the attendant(s) that are in charge of keeping it clean one or two quetzals if you wish. Free

There’s also a tiny, no-name park just outside Antigua (go up a block on the side-street across from of the Nestle factory) that has a small playground if that’s what you’re after. Another interesting spot is Cerro de la Cruz, the hill overlooking the city, which has green areas for children to run amok in. Free.

For the typical playground experience, you’ll have to head indoors. McDonald’s (4ta Calle Poniente) and both Pollo Campero locations (Calzada Santa Lucia and 5ta Avenida Norte) offer big playgrounds. Get a dessert and bring a laptop/tablet (free WiFi!) to entertain yourself while the kids play, which is not a horrible way to spend an afternoon. Cost: meal/dessert, free if you’re shameless.

Another interesting place – though not so much for very young toddlers – is to go and explore Santo Domingo del Cerro. Part art gallery, part garden, this is an interesting place for children to wander around in within sight. Their small aviary is worth a look. Free.

If your children are the type who love climbing over anything and everything, Antigua’s ruins are great places to let your little explorer have a field day. Favorite ruins to explore due to size and interesting nooks and crannies are La Recolección and Capuchinas Convent. Cost is Q5 for locals, Q40 for foreigners, free for children.

climbing on of antigua's many ruinsExploring awesome La Recoleccion

Educational activities

Antigua is a living museum and just walking down the street offers all kinds of opportunities to educate your children about Guatemala’s indigenous culture. Encourage them to participate in fun events, if invited by the locals. Free.

things to do with kids in antigua guatemala

Having fun at Antigua’s Patron Saint celebrations

For educational aids, visit the colorful children’s library inside the old Compañia de Jesus Convent (6ta Avenida Norte & 4ta Calle Poniente), run by CFCE, which is open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you bring your current address and a copy of your passport, you can even get a library card. Free.

For an offbeat option, check out Antigua Exotics, a reptile, and amphibian rescue center. Here, you can learn all about snakes and reptiles are endemic to Guatemala and which ones are safe – and which not – to handle. You can even earn a certificate that you’re capable of handling reptiles safely. That’s way cooler to take home than any travel selfie you can come up with. Q15 entrance fee.

A pricier option is Choco Museo (4a Calle Oriente), a chain of chocolate-making stores/workshop. Children can get their hands “dirty” making and taste their own chocolate creations in the process, which is a lot of fun. Cost varies by tour/workshop.

Entertainment for kids

CFCE (mentioned above) devotes Saturdays to children. They often have interesting workshops – you must register ahead of time, puppet shows, theater plays, and other entertaining activities for children starting at 10:30 a.m.

Occasionally, they’ll also have toddler-friendly activities in the rear courtyard. They also show children’s movies in their private theater, most Saturdays, starting at 4 p.m., though keep in mind that they’re often in Spanish.

Check the “Mininos” section of their activities calendar, which is posted by the entrance on 6ta Avenida Norte. Oh, and did I mention that all CFCE activities are free as well? Gloriously free.

children's puppet shows at CFCE

Puppet show at CFCE

Another option is to buy movies at the Mercado (starting at Calzada Santa Lucia). Yeah, movies are pirated – good luck finding legit copies in Antigua. DVDs cost Q5 – may be Q10 or more if you’re still stuck in “haggling is awkward” first-world mode. Depends on your bargaining skills.

An even more super-cool option is to rent a whole theater for yourself! Casa del Rio has a cozy theater, which they rent out for Q50 for up to four people, Q10 per person for bigger groups. They also offer nachos, popcorn and other movie-dining fares at 1960’s US prices.

Bring your own movie or choose one from their limited selection of Guatemalan-made movies. Just make sure you book ahead, as they often have workshops and other ongoing activities. By the way, the seats in the movie theater are relics from the 1960’s, belonging to Antigua’s last movie theater – now El Portal coffee shop and handicrafts market across from Parque Central. Q50 for up five people, Q10 for each extra person. Snacks extra.

If you’re not afraid of rusty mechanical rides, then your kids can have lots of fun at local carnivals. When Antigua has its month-long patron saint celebrations, the town opens a small theme park behind Antigua’s bus terminal (Avenida de la Recoleccion) with the requisite Ferris Wheel, cotton candy stands, and other carnival-type food.

Each town around Antigua will have its own patron saint celebration, so check out our Free Antigua Guatemala Visitor’s Guide for dates. Rides anywhere between Q5-Q10.

Pools and Water-Based Fun

If Antigua’s heat is getting to you – rare, but it happens – good luck finding a beach. The closest one is 2.5 hours away and not kid-friendly. However, there are very nice pools to jump into, though it’ll cost you.

The nicest kid-friendly pool belongs to Porta Hotel Antigua, which you can use for a fee (Q80 for adults, Q50 for children ages 5-10, under five years enter free). It’s not necessary to purchase a meal, as pool use is separate.

The pool is open to the public Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday are for hotel guests’ use only. They do have a very nice playground, which is available all week. They also offer a Sunday buffet (Q170 per person, 12pm-4pm). Pool fees separate.

Porta Hotel Antigua Pool

Porta Hotel Antigua Pool

Antigua Exotic (mentioned above) also has a small pool, which you can access for Q20. Pool fee is in addition to entrance fee (Q15). Pool fee.

Finca Colombia is a nice alternative, though you’ll have to take a bus/tuk-tuk/taxi to get there. They’re only five minutes away from Antigua, on the road to Ciudad Vieja (Km. 48). They offer swimming lessons for toddlers up to adults, which you can buy as a lesson package deal. If you want to just use the pool, it costs Q30 per person. Pool fee.

Another pool you can check out, though that one is even further away, is the one at Parque Ecologico FlorenciaOnly a 10-minute bus ride from Antigua – just get on a Guatemala City-bound bus and ask to be dropped off at Florencia, which is halfway to San Lucas. The pool is barely OK and they have walking trails and huts in which you can sit and grill food if you wish.

The cost is Q20 for adults, Q10 for children under 10. Parking is another Q10. If you wish to camp onsite, it’ll cost you Q30 per person. No fee for pool use.

Parque Ecologico Florencia playground

The playground at Parque Ecologico Florencia

Zoos and Museums

This is beyond the scope of this article, but we thought it was worth mentioning since they’re easy day trips from Antigua. To visit a very nice zoo, head to Zoologico La Aurora, in Guatemala City. It’s next to Museo del Niño, a hands-on, interactive children’s museum.

Theme Parks

For a cool theme-park experience at a sixth of Disney’s prices, head to IRTRA Petapa. There are other locations throughout Guatemala, but this one is the closest to Antigua. Very nice park, with a zoo and Olympic pool to boot.

A Real Safari

Another favorite with a “wow” factor is AutoSafari Chapin, a drive-through safari adventure that’s a hit with kids. Don’t worry about bringing your own vehicle – they have vans that will drive you through the safari circuit. They also have a decent restaurant with a nice kiddie pool and another pool for adults. You can make a day of it and it’s worth every penny.

Malls

Additionally, there are traditional movie theaters in Guatemala City, all within easy reach. We like the one at Miraflores Mall. Tikal Futura Mall is next door and a bit grungier, but it offers cheaper movie tickets and food options. A taxi will take you there for about Q250, though a chicken bus from Antigua will drop you off right in front of Miraflores Mall for only Q10.

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Other cool things to do: https://www.okantigua.com/things-to-do-in-antigua-guatemala/

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Have I missed any children friendly-attractions in Antigua?

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Advice on Buying Guatemala Real Estate

House in Antigua Guatemala

Last week, I talked about the recent security problems that have cropped up in our neighborhood. You can read all about it here (Is Guatemala Safe?). I tend to avoid these meetings since they go on for hours and rarely much of anything gets accomplished. I changed my tune when I heard that some neighbors had proposed home searches to root out any thieves living in our midst. Being intensely private about my home, I was set on fighting it tooth and nail at the next meeting. The last thing I wanted was a stranger inspecting my house and taking note of my computer equipment and a few other valuables I had in my possession – I take good care to lay low and not flaunt anything I own.

Why Bullies Have a Field Day in Guatemala

It turns out the neighborhood is very divided about what to do, something one wouldn’t know just by sitting in on a meeting. Something you should be aware of is that Guatemalans dislike confrontation. Even when they disagree about something that’s being proposed, they’d rather go with the flow, say yes to everything and avoid making waves, even if they decide to do exactly the opposite afterward.

I learned all this at the “pre-meeting” meeting that happened last Thursday. Ahead of Sunday’s meeting, some neighbors had asked us to meet to devise a strategy of attack. Attack? Yes, attack. Since they agreed with each other, they had no problems voicing their displeasure as to why they objected paying the extra Q200 to buy additional cameras for the neighborhood.

The source of their animosity? The previous President of the Homeowners Association (HOA), who many had suspected of stealing funds and the brainchild behind the security camera proposal. He stood to collect Q18,000($2,250USD) – or Q200 from each of the 90 houses in the development – to purchase security cameras many suspected were worth far less. Not only that, he claimed during his previous administration that owners stood to receive Q8,000 for improvements from the builders, though it was later discovered the amount was Q16,000. He had also failed to provide a full accounting of all the money he had received during his term as President – many of the bills owed by the HOA remained unpaid when his term ended last year. It’s worth noting here that something similar happened with the treasurer of a previous gated community I lived in, so I’m 2 for 2 when it comes to living in places where HOA treasurers are corrupt individuals.

Despite all this, no one had brought any of this up during any of the meetings. Again, confrontation is not something in which Guatemalans are willing to engage. I spoke to a neighbor at length about this, and she was at a loss to explain it as well. I theorized that maybe it had to do with all those years living with a repressive government – which could easily get you killed, as is sadly happened with the father of my mother-in-law. Maybe it had to do with deeply ingrained politeness. Underneath it all, it seems most people here are afraid of possible repercussions – the “what might happen if I disagree,” something my wife brought up (read my last post).

Buying in a Residential Development

For all their bluster and encouragement during the “pre-meeting” about how they would band together and speak up against the ex-President, Sunday’s meeting was a flop. Nobody at the pre-meeting confronted the bully. Not even when the bully brought a representative of the security company to show off the cameras. When a neighbor asked how much the cameras would eventually cost, the salesperson hemmed and hawed and said a price quote had been submitted, completely dodging the question and slinking off with his cameras as fast as he could. Oh yeah, the fix was in, and it was apparent someone was going to get a fat commission for their trouble. Because the owner – not renters – would be liable for any extra payments – I decided to keep my mouth shut and hang back, knowing full well nobody would have my back should I engage the bully. That much was evident.

The meeting lasted about three hours, and many of the same points made and remade over again, without ever reaching a consensus. If you’ve ever heard a Guatemalan Congressional session – or US Senate debate on C-SPAN – you have an idea how the meeting went. Lots of talks, very little in the way of actionable ideas.

What I did learn was that if I ever decided to buy property in Guatemala, there was a slim chance to none that it would ever be in a new residential development. Based on all their griping about the construction company – of course, there wasn’t a representative present, so they felt free to complain – it’s obvious one should never buy based on promises made to add this or that improvement to the property. It’s very likely that whatever you get when you buy in, that’s what you’ll be stuck with. Of course, this probably doesn’t apply to long-established residential areas, though I’d still make sure to ask around how well-managed the HOA is. If it’s not in writing and signed by a legal representative of the company, don’t believe a word any real estate agent or seller says.

About Being an Absentee Landlord¡

Speaking of property here, I’d also caution you against being an absentee landlord. Last year, a band of 47 people (which included attorneys, land registry employees, notaries, and others) was dismantled. One of the lawyers connected to the fraud? The son of the former judge of Guatemala’s Supreme Court.

They targeted empty lots and houses in areas popular with expats (Sacatepequez and Izabal). With the help of government employees, they were able to determine who the owner was. Their favorite target? The elderly living in the US.

Once an absentee owner was found, they forged signatures on all paperwork and took possession of the property, to the surprise of returning owners. In some cases, the owners were murdered to discourage legal prosecution – read an article in Spanish here. One of the homes was located in Antigua, according to this article.

House in Antigua Guatemala

Abandoned house? Not yet, since the electric meter is still in place.

It’s not my intention from discouraging you from buying property in Guatemala. In fact, there are a lot of deals to be had, as long as you do your due diligence and hire a competent attorney. And be especially wary of fast-talking expats offering you the sweetest of deals. Chances are they’ve already sold that same deal on the same exact property more than once.

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What has been your experience like buying real estate in Central America?

Any horror stories/advice you’d like to share?