Is Antigua, Guatemala on your bucket list?
As part of our “City Guides” series, we interviewed Marina K. Villatoro who has been been living in Antigua since 2009.
Marina shares with us her insider travel tips and knowledge on what to do in Antigua, Guatemala for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Take it away Marina…
Why Visit Antigua?
So many reasons…
- It’s the last true Colonial City remaining in Latin America.
- You can have the cheapest Spanish lessons in the world here.
- Antigua is surrounded by three gorgeous volcanoes (one which is VERY active and gives off smoke daily).
- The cobblestoned streets, colorful houses and huge Central Park to watch the local life go by.
- The Mayan culture and people which intermingle with the foreigners.
- Exquisite, international restaurants.
- You simply get SO much more for your money with hotels, restaurants, souvenirs and other stuff.
What to Do in Antigua
Antigua experienced two severe earthquakes. You can visit hundreds of ruins all around the city that are preserved to bring you back to those moments.
I’m not a huge church goer, but Semana Santa – Holy Week – is without a doubt one of the most unique, colorful and traditional celebrations you will ever experience any where in the world.
The whole city transforms into building huge, intricate alfombras (carpets) along the streets as processions with hundreds of people pass over them and finish at the churches. This is a site not to be missed.
Along with the ruins of churches that once were, there are still 35 active churches in Antigua as well. The most popular one stands along Antigua’s famous Central Park.
Coffee is one of Guatemala’s most priced commodities and some of the best coffee plantations are a few minutes outside of Antigua.
Jade – Antigua is world known for the best jade. This was a sacred stone to the Maya and is sold in stores all over the city. You can visit the museums for free that are attached to shops. One word of advice, for good quality Jade get it in the stores, not at the markets.
Markets, markets, markets…I love outdoor markets with local handicrafts and there are three in Antigua to walk around and shop to your heart’s content.
Antigua is one of the main reasons why visitors come to Guatemala!
- Combo Tour: Colonial Antigua & Guatemala City Explorer Tour: Enjoy 2 wonderful cities, ancient colonial city of Antigua, a UNRSCO World Heritage Site, and Modern Guatemala City at the same day. Learn more here
Where to Eat in Antigua
Antigua is probably one of the best places in Central America for restaurants. You can find everything from typical Guatemalan restaurants to internationally known chefs cooking up gastronomical masterpieces.
However, it’s the street food that will give you the best flavors and is so cheap. There are street vendors all around Antigua, mainly by the parks and churches.
Where to Drink in Antigua
Antigua is a party town – at night. The best bars are closer to Central Park, they change often so just follow the crowd.
Best Place for a Night on the Town in Antigua
I’m not a party girl anymore, so my night out on the town is different for those without kids. However, for my husband and I an ideal night out would be:
- Romantic restaurant – which is almost all of them with either courtyards or terraces.
- Walk to Arc Street – the most popular street in Antigua
- Get a drink at any of the little cafe’s or lounges around Antigua Center
- Some people like to hire horse carriages – I think it’s a bit cheesy, but you only live once – so why not.
Where to Stay in Antigua
Antigua has some of the most gorgeous colonial hotels this part of the world. You can stay in a luxury hotel for less than $100. Although, there is no shortage of the hundreds of hostels for backpackers.
But one hotel, stands out above all else Santo Domingo. Staying here is more of an experience rather than just a place to sleep. Chances are if you don’t stay here you will definitely visit it at one time or another during your visit to Antigua.
Best Markets and Shopping in Antigua
Definitely the markets. There are three main areas to shop:
- Arc Street where all the best Jade is sold
- Central Market which is close to the bus terminal – this is more of a local market with a handicraft market attached to it
- Capuchinas Ruins market – this is a year round market of great handicrafts – during the week it’s only indoors and on weekends they have more vendors sit outside
Events and Festivals in Antigua
Antigua, Guatemala is known for two of the most unique festivals in the world:
November 1 – Day of the Dead Kite Festival
On this day Guatemalans set out kites that are between 10 – 30 feet in diameter. They are huge. They believe that the kites they send soaring are talking to the spirits of their loved ones.
Semana Santa – Easter/Holy Week
No where in the world will you see alfombras (carpets) and processions as you would in Antigua. The two main days are the Thursday and Friday before Easter Sunday.
Getting around in Antigua
Antigua is small enough to be able to walk everywhere you have to. However, if you want to get somewhere fast or are tired there are hundreds of Tuk Tuk’s and taxis.
The public buses take too long and are more for the surrounding areas rather than Antigua center.
Is Antigua WiFi friendly
Everywhere you will find wifi and it’s FREE.
Read more: How to stay internet safe and private when using free Wi-Fi [/ybox
Best Time of Year to Visit Antigua
It depends. If you want to come for Semana Santa, then Easter week is the best time.
But high season which is also the best weather of the year is mainly November through April and June – August
Low season is May (the weather is still great) and also September and October (but it can get rainy).
My advice, if you’re not coming for the major festivals, coming off season is the perfect time to be here. It hardly rains, certainly not enough to put a damper on your trip. And you have Antigua for yourself!
Getting There and Away?
To get to Antigua, Guatemala you need to fly to Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City which is about 45 minutes from Antigua itself.
To travel within Guatemala you will need to do either private or collective shuttles to other destinations such as Lake Atitlan, Chichicastenango, Tikal and other areas of interest.
Best insiders Tip for Antigua
Antigua has tons of NGO’s, but one has a really fun experience giving travelers a chance to meet local kids but in a most unique way.
It’s called Kids Restaurant. Every Friday the kids of this NGO open the doors to their house and make it into a restaurant. They cook, serve and hang out with you.
They practice their English and all the money they make (after the food costs) goes to them and to the program the NGO is running for surgeries for children born with Cleft Palates.
I Love Antigua Because…
It’s home. I’ve lived in so many cities and countries all over the world but I have to say, this place is so special and unique on every level. It’s small enough, yet big enough to have everything you need.
The people are humble and kind and they love kids. The food selection is amazing. And there is always something new to do.
Thanks so much for the fun interview!
Do you have any tips on what to do in Antigua Guatemala?
More Resources for Guatemala
- 10 Reasons why you need to visit Guatemala
- Experiencing the Best and Worst Guatemala Has to Offer in One Weekend
- How to choose a Spanish speaking school in Guatemala
- More posts on Central America here
With all their miles under their belts, she’s written a useful family guide book for traveling to Guatemala with kids – tested and approved by her family. Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more fun Central and Latin American fun.