For a small city, Antigua Guatemala has a lot of attractions! But how do you make sure you visit the top sights and avoid the tourist traps? Get the answer straight from the locals. Check out our Top 10 list of the best fun things to do in Antigua Guatemala – we give you prices, directions, and tips.
***Will you be visiting Antigua with children?
Look at our list of top things to do in Antigua Guatemala with children (click the link to open a new window).***
Top 10 Things to Do in Antigua Guatemala:
Where: Bordered by 4a and 5a Calle and 4a and 5a Avenida
The place to people watch. If this is your first visit to Antigua, it’s a required stop.
As with most Spanish-era colonial towns, the plaza was known as the hub of activity and Antigua is no exception. Livestock and produce were sold here and official ceremonies performed – even executions!
Today, Parque Central boasts beautiful trees, benches, and it’s constantly patrolled by Antigua’s Tourism Police, making it a safe place to visit at all hours. Plus, it makes for a convenient meeting place. An oasis during the week, it becomes crowded on the weekends with visitors from Guatemala City.
TIP: Don’t forget to take a picture standing in front of the Fuente de Las Sirenas (Fountain of the Sirens – not mermaids), a must-do for tourists, both local and foreign alike. Also, look for the curiously out-of-place Ron L. Hubbard plaque on the east side of the park.
Where: 5a Avenida Norte, between 1a and 2a Avenida Poniente
The iconic landmark in Antigua and a treat for photographers of all skill levels. Originally, the building – now a hotel/restaurant – to the west side of the arch was used as a convent for nuns.
Eventually, the convent outgrew the building and the nuns, not wanting to relocate to another site, decided to buy the property across the street. The problem was that the nuns were supposed to live in isolation, with extremely limited contact from the outside. And that’s why the arch was built, as a safe passage between the convent on the western side of the street and the religious school across it.
The arch is a great photo-op, especially on a cloudless day, where the arch gracefully frames Agua Volcano to the south.
TIP: The street is busy with vehicular traffic during the week. On weekends, go early mornings for best pictures, as it tends to get crowded in the afternoons.
Entrance Fee: FREE /Q5 Parking Fee if driving up and parking in their lot.
Where: Access via footpath/trail at the end of 1a Avenida. Alternatively, drive by following the road to El Hato.
This hill is a magnificent place to take in the view of Antigua and its buildings and of the three volcanoes within viewing distance of Antigua (Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego – the last one active). While there isn’t much to do at the top, the view makes the trip worth it. To see a detailed trip report, click here.
TIP: Go during daylight hours, when Police patrols the footpath to the hill. Also, make sure to schedule your trip during days when Volcan Agua is visible to make sure you catch stunning views instead of cloud cover.
Entrance Fee: FREE
Where: Access via steep road next to the town of Santa Ines, at the entrance of Antigua.
Amazing open-air art gallery featuring works by Efrain Recinos, dubbed by some the Guatemalan Picasso. Owned by upscale Hotel Santo Domingo, this place is immaculately kept, as are the grounds, which are decorated throughout with artwork from well-known Guatemalan artists. Cerro Santo Domingo also features a small aviary, canopy rides, a tiny museum commemorating Pope John Paul II’s last visit to Guatemala, and a restaurant (Tenedor del Cerro). I still can’t believe entrance is free. See a detailed trip report here.
TIP: The road up the hill is long and steep, though well paved. Don’t have a vehicle? No problem. Hotel Santo Domingo (3a Calle Oriente #28) offers free shuttles every hour. Closed Mondays.
#5 – San Francisco Church
Where: 1a Avenida Sur and 7a Calle Oriente
Antigua is full of churches and church ruins, but as far as significance it’s hard to top San Francisco Church. Built in 1542, it is the oldest functioning church in the city. It features a big courtyard and the tomb of Santo Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancourt, a Spanish missionary that came to Antigua in the mid-1600s. Hermano Pedro is revered here and has been named Antigua’s eternal Mayor and is Guatemala’s only canonized saint.
San Francisco Church also boasts the ruins of its monastery and a museum that houses Hermano Pedro’s former clothing and personal effects. Of interest is the section devoted to housing all sorts of relics, like wheelchairs and crutches, donated by faithful who claim Hermano Pedro heard their prayers and performed miracles to heal them. Well worth a visit.
Tip: Stroll towards the back of the monastery’s ruins, towards the small hill, and find the Lovers’ Tree. Find a spot to carve your name and that of the person to whom you swear undying love.
#6 – La Merced Church
Where: 6a Avenida Norte and 1a Calle Poniente
A favorite of locals and tourists because of its distinctive yellow façade. Unlike most churches and ruins in the area, La Merced is run independently from the others; therefore conservation efforts have depended on donations for maintenance and restoration efforts. Efforts to make its convent ruins more appealing to the public have led to the creation of display stands which work very well in explaining the mission of the convent, its history, and life of former inhabitants. Signs are both in English and Spanish, a welcome surprise.
Informative and inexpensive, La Merced Convent offers marvelous views of all three volcanoes, a visit is highly recommended. Click here for a visitors guide to La Merced.
TIP: For the best experience, go early in the morning because it’s more likely that the convent’s fountain (largest in Central America) will be in operation. Check the cloud cover on Volcan Agua and Volcan Fuego before you go in, so you’re guaranteed an excellent view from the top of the convent.
#7 – Handicrafts Markets
We here at OkAntigua believe in the value of community, appreciating the local flavor and supporting local artists whenever possible. But we also understand that not everybody can meet local artisans and develop relationships with them. Sometimes you just need to grab a few trinkets to show the folks back home that you were thinking of them even while having the time of your life in Antigua.
In well-developed tourist spots, such as Antigua, there’s an already established marketplace for “authentic” goods. But it’s likely you’ll suspect something is amiss when the same trinkets keep showing up on every stall. If you want something truly unique – and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it – you’ll have to shop around. Here are four great places to start your search, all within walking distance of Parque Central.
The first place you should visit is Nim’Pot (5a Avenida Norte #29 – very near Arco Santa Catalina). This store is a consignment shop for local artists. Here, you can find nearly every type of craft you may be looking for at excellent prices. Well laid out and organized, it’s a great place to window shop. The drawback? It’s a retail store, which means it’s not possible to bargain, which is half the fun of market shopping. Still, come here to get the fair baseline price of items and see if you can beat them by going to the other markets.
Up next, is the Mercado next to El Carmen Ruins (3a Avenida Norte and 3ra Calle Oriente). While the indoor market is open every day, sellers typically display wares in front of the scenic El Carmen Ruins on the weekend.
Be ready to bargain, as the first price you’re quoted for any item is likely to be almost double than the real price they’re willing to sell it for. The quality of the articles varies.
To start meeting some of the artisans, head to the Mercado de Artesanias (Handicrafts Market) The handicrafts market is located at the end of 4a Calle Poniente and past Calzada Santa Lucia, behind Pollo Campero. Keep in mind this is separate from the main Mercado, which we’ll discuss next. At the Mercado de Artesanias, you’ll find various shops. Artisan or relatives tend to their stalls. The quality is very high, but so are the prices – at least at first. Bargain hard and don’t be afraid to walk away. Prices previously set in stone miraculously start dropping with every step you take away from the stall.
TIP: There are other markets on the outskirts of Antigua (like the ones in San Felipe and San Antonio Aguas Calientes) that are well-worth the visit. But sharpen your bargaining skills first if you want to make your money go further.
#8 – Mercado (Market)
Entrance Fee: Free
Location: There are various ways to enter, but it’s easiest via Calzada Santa Lucia, entry points located at the end of 3rd Calle Poniente and 4a Calle Poniente.
We love this place for grocery shopping – you can find nearly anything you need here. A sprawling mess at first glance, the Mercado is organized into sections (produce, clothing, cafeterias, fruits, meat market, fish market, etc.). It’s a given you’ll be lost the first time you dive inside, but no matter, it’s worth it. You’ll be amazed at the odd fruits and weird animals for sale (roasted armadillo, anyone?).
The market is tidy, mostly safe, and open every day. It does get crowded during “official” days (Monday, Thursday, and Saturday), so it’s best to explore on off days, where the merchandise is just as varied, but the crowds lighter. Stick to shopping hours (7 am to 2 pm) when on the inside, as Police presence is visible then. Not recommended late afternoons, when many sellers are gone for the day, and Police presence is nonexistent.
TIP: I wouldn’t recommend buying prepared food at the market. Many locals will warn against it, as food prep and handling isn’t always the most sanitary and quality lackluster. Also, wait until you get back to your place to wash fruit/produce/meat before you eat it, no matter how tempting it is to take a bite of that fruit.
#9 – Paseo de Museos (Museum Promenade)
Entrance Fee: Q40
Location: Inside Hotel Casa Santo Domingo (3a Calle Oriente #28)
There are various museums inside Antigua, but none more well-displayed and kept than Paseo de Museos. Part of Hotel Santo Domingo, the museums and ruins are open to the public (for a fee). Scheduled at least an hour and a half to explore everything the museums and cloister ruins have to offer. There’s a Colonial Museum, Archeology Museum, Pre-Columbian Art and Modern Glass Museum, Artist Halls, Sacatepequez Arts, and a Pharmacy Museum.
Location: 2a Avenida Norte and 2a Calle Oriente
One of the most popular ruins in Antigua due to its quiet gardens and unusual architecture, which is perfect for a game of hide-and-go-seek. Enjoyable on its own, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you hire a guide to give you a private tour. Because of the arrangement of the living quarters, it is thought to be the first apartment complex ever built in the continent. These ruins are also a very popular locale for weddings.
TIP: Don’t miss taking a peek at the circular tower and the nuns’ private cells. Reportedly, paranormal activity has been detected here, which definitely will add to the excitement.
More to see and do in Antigua Guatemala can be found here:
How many attractions on the list have you visited?