Top things to do in Antigua, Guatemala

Jurg Widmer Guatemala

It really is no surprise that Antigua is one Guatemala’s most popular destinations. It was named as a UNESCO World Heritage site way back in 1979, mostly due to its spectacular Spanish baroque architecture and some stunning colonial churches. So, Antigua is beautiful – but is also a vibrant, creative and in many ways very modern city. With that in mind, we thought that we would take you on a tour of this gem of a city, with a pick of some of our favourite things to see and do.

  1. Get a lay of the land

It’s a great idea – in any city – to try and get some sense of how it is all laid out before you start to explore. Fortunately this is fairly straightforward in Antigua. The city itself was extensively rebuilt after the devastating earthquakes that hit the area back in the 17th century. Even though much of the Spanish-style buildings were destroyed at the time, the city took the opportunity to rebuild many of them. The city planners also had the foresight to lay the city out in an easy to navigate grid pattern, and one of the best places to get a sense of this (and a fantastic view of the town laid out below you, as well as the surrounding volcanoes) is to head up to the Cerro de la Cruz park high above the city. It’s a steep climb, but it’s only 15 minutes and the views are well worth the effort.

  1. Soak up the remarkable architecture

When you are in Antigua it is hard to believe that this place was once ravaged by catastrophic earthquakes. Over the years, the city has done a remarkable job of rebuilding many of its most beautiful Spanish-baroque style buildings, and we really recommend that you spend some time just exploring. A formal tour is a great way to do this, but it is also the kind of city that repays the curious – just follow your nose, ask locals about the buildings you see and just try and soak up the city’s unique atmosphere. It is the colours that will strike you first – the stunning yellows and the deep blues of the buildings are a gorgeous backdrop to the quaint cobbled streets and the purple jacaranda trees. There really is nowhere quite like it.

  1. Invest in some local arts and crafts

It will come as no surprise that a city as beautiful as Antigua also has a booming arts and crafts scene. The local shops around the Catalina arch in particular are huge and are absolutely packed full of wonderful items. It is easy to lose a few hours (or even a whole day) browsing the yards of multi-coloured handmade textiles or the intricately made local handicrafts in the various stores here, and we really recommend you set aside some time (and a few spare quetzals) for buying up some local treasures.

  1. Learn to dance!

It’s hard to imagine coming to Latin America and not learning to dance, and there are few better places on the planet to do it than Antigua. It’s all about salsa here, and while there are plenty of places to pick up a few steps, we really recommend you take the plunge and sign up for some lessons at the New Sensation dance studio. Once you’ve got the basics, then head out on the town to show off your moves – Antigua is famous for its fantastic nightlife and you’ll be spoiled for choice. We recommend the beautiful Las Vibras de la Casbah or the vibrant Las Palmas bar to dance the night away.

  1. Head up a volcano

If you need to clear your head after a night of salsa then a trip up one of Antigua’s nearby volcanoes is a great option. The one that dominates the skyline – Volcan Agua – is climbable but is not so easily accessible – but there are plenty of other options. If you are looking for something really special, then we recommend an overnight hike up the nearby Volcan Acatenango – while it is a tough walk, it is a spectacular experience (especially if Volcan Fuego is erupting at time) and seeing the eruption at night is truly incredible.

Jürg Widmer 

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