60 minutes from Guatemala City and 2 hours from Lake Atitlan, the city of Antigua is another stunning destination showing the versatility of Guatemala.
Antigua is straight up Spanish colonial filled with colourful streets and stone houses, clean cobbled stone roads, and a traditional and modern market to satisfy any visitor.
Much different to the feel of rural Guatemala in the north and east, Antigua is becoming a hot spot for gringo weekenders and backpackers alike. The rising interest in Antigua has resulted in prices and costs being a little higher than surrounding Guatemala, but don’t let this dismay you! Antigua is a must visit in Guatemala and here’s a little info on what to expect.
A little under an hour from Guatemala City, Antigua is easily accessible by chicken bus, shuttle, or taxi. There are hundreds of connections to the town from Guatemala City itself, and also from other popular destinations including Lake Atitlan to the north.
Antigua is planted in a valley and surrounded by dormant and active volcanoes, where the 360 degree views alone will take your breath away! In addition, there is a western influence with the streets being filled with boutique bars, cafes and markets. So the best advice for this place would be to wander away! The stunning main square “Parque Central” is filled with locals playing music, selling jewellery, bags, and local fresh fruit vendors.
The market at the West end of town is a must go. It is split into two – on the right you have the local market, filled with anything and everything – there’s miles and miles of delicious cheap street food, and second-hand used clothing markets. This second-hand clothing is piled up between local stalls, providing ample opportunities to find bargains, especially for winter clothing that could be useful for an overnight trek up Acatenango Volcano (read more HERE to be prepared for this).
The market on a the left is the tourist market, packed to the brim of Guatemala’s best souvenirs! Jewellery, textiles, Mayan themed artwork, traditional clothing, shoes, wallets and bags, bags, and more bags made from the stunning rainbow colours of Guatemala.
If souvenirs are your thing (and you must buy for all of your friends), a must do is to visit Nim Po’t Centro de Textiles Tradicionales market, just past the bright yellow Santa Catalina Arch (another must see), on Avenida 5a, North of Parque Central. This market is for the serious bargain hunter. It is located in a huge warehouse building stocked with bulk souvenirs. Here you are able to buy anything from traditional Mayan clothing, textiles, books, paintings and art, coffee, cacao, (more!) jewellery and ceramics for heavily discounted prices!
Fancy a night beverage? A place for the evening to please any culture and generation is Cafe No Sé located on 1a Avenida South. This secret little locals den is a must see! After 10pm each night, the cafe turns into a bar and is completely lit by candlelight only. An amazing folk and fiddle band start the music, and the singing and dancing begin! While dancing in the dark is all fun and games, there are secrets and history that lie within Cafe No Sé to be discovered!
The back story to this is that it was once illegal to drink/important Mexican mescal into Guatemala and so bars such as Cafe No Sé came about selling ‘illegal mezcal’ to keen boozers. Spoiler alert: inside Cafe No Sé there is a ‘Mezcal only’ bar which is accessible through little hobbit doorways through the walls. Inside this medieval style room you have a simple bar selling mezcal by the shot with many flavours and styles to choose from. The mezcal bar has a 2 shot minimum to enter, so be prepared for a fun night!!!
After a night out in Antigua drinking mezcal, why not walk up Cerro de la Cruz, a mirador that overlooks the town of Antigua. This is free to enter and is only a 10-15 minute walk from the city centre. Once up the hill you’re greeted with stunning views of Antigua, nested nicely between Volcano Agua, Acatenango Volcao, and Volcano Fuego.
Speaking of volcanoes, lastly, the main attraction of keen adventures of Antigua is battling the hike of the Acatenango Volcano. This is a pretty serious trek, and requires a decent amount of preparation so if you’re keen for a decent walk with 4000m volcanic erupting views I can’t recommend it enough! Once again, you can read more about ascending Acatenango HERE.
If you’re searching for something a little more relaxing, I couldn’t recommend Antigua more for rest and relaxation. My time in Antigua was perfect, attending yoga classes and massages offered all around the town.
Antigua – a cultural beauty to shop, drop and flop.