Antigua, Guatemala: The ultimate to-do list
The beautiful city of Antigua, Guatemala sits cosy beneath fabulous mountains and on a clear day you can see the three volcanoes – Agua, Fuego and Acatenango – set against a blue sky. From strolling around the city to the infectious atmosphere and vibrant nightlife, Antigua has something for every traveler!
What to do in Antigua
For a wonderful view of the city, walk to the top of Cerro de La Cruz where, on a clear day, you’ll have Agua as a backdrop. The hike isn’t difficult and is certainly worth it!
For something more scenic, head outside the city to the active volcano, Pacaya. The shuttle will take about an hour and you can roam around the volcanic rock and roast marshmallows near the base of the volcano on the warm rocks (you’ll also see stray dogs lounging about, taking in the heat). The views are stunning and you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the countryside. The final stretch of the hike is all rubble and your tour guide will tell you to run as fast as you can downhill; it’s so much fun!
A popular activity in Antigua is hiking Acatenango, an overnight trip that brings you to almost 4,000m elevation. In the morning you wake at 4am for the sunrise and to watch nearby Fuego erupting. The sounds and sights are breath-taking and will leave you speechless. The hike is difficult and some travelers get altitude sickness, but it’s rare. It’s worth the effort for the stunning views!
When you need to chill out head to El Pilar, outdoor swimming pools of natural spring water. On a fine day it’s wonderful to relax, listen to music and take a dip to freshen up.
Visiting the Central Market in Antigua is also recommended and you’ll find a variety of stalls. However, a local tip is to check out Paca, the thrift section. Finding Paca can be difficult and we had to be shown how to get there but it’s an amazing experience. Paca is primarily full of clothes ranging from 1Q ($0.13) upward and you never know what you might find. You’ll be treasure-hunting for hours!
Where to eat in Antigua
Antigua has a variety of places to eat that will fit any budget, many of which are centred around the Parque Central. For an inexpensive and local-style meal, check out Rincón Típico. Meals range from 20Q ($2.60) upward and are absolutely fantastic! Highly recommended!
For something a bit more classy, Por Qué No? has a fabulous menu ranging from pizza or burritos to more traditional Guatemalan cuisine. Graffiti covers the walls and the atmosphere is very relaxing. While you’re waiting for your bill you’ll be offered markers to cover the walls in your own graffiti!
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If there’s one thing Antigua is known for among backpackers is its nightlife. The whole city is alive every day of the week and there are countless places to choose from to party. Whether it’s a quiet game of pool or an all-out rave, you’ll have no trouble finding your spot.
For a relaxing atmosphere early in the night that gradually changes to a crazier “let it loose” vibe, head to Tropicana Hostel. Locals often fill the bar and the many travelers mean there’s always a vibrant atmosphere. You’ll also have a chance to spin the infamous wheel! The bar closes at 10pm meaning you can grab some cheap drinks then head out on the town.
If you like a chill atmosphere, check out El Barrio or San Simon, both located near the Parque Central. In essence, the two are collections of about 6 bars in one complex. The atmosphere in both these places mean they’re great for meeting other travelers or locals. Whether it’s cocktails at Rama or watching a game in Bullseye, you’ll love the vibes!
For something more up-tempo, the two popular nightclubs in Antigua are Las Vibras de la Casbah (Vibras for short) and Lucky Rabbit. Vibras plays mainly reggaeton while Lucky Rabbit has reggaeton and a smaller room dedicated to house and techno. Both are fabulous places to spend a weekend night.
Reilly’s is another nightclub worth visiting if you like reggaeton and on a quiet weeknight you’ll find the best pool table in the city!
If you’re looking for a hole-in-the-wall, Snug is highly recommended. The local “Irish bar”, it’s a place to sit and chat over a couple of beers. It’s small, cosy and cheap, and a great place to get to know people who live in the area.
Places near Antigua to visit
Antigua is fabulous but should you wish to move onward, most hostels offer shuttles. From Antigua, why not head to Lake Atitlan, a fabulous lake situated between Antigua and Xela? A couple of days here should suffice and you can easily travel between the many towns on the lake. I also recommend getting up for the sunrise; it is spectacular to watch the sun spill over the mountains.
Also close to Antigua is El Paradon, a small coastal town on the Pacific. It’s warm, the sea is sparkling and there’s always a party to be found. Here you’ll have a chance to lounge about all day in the heat, have a couple of drinks at night, and every morning during the right season, you can watch baby turtles being released into the ocean!
Where to stay in Antigua
There are a variety of hostels in Antigua ranging from all-out parties to something more relaxed. Most are within a couple of blocks from Parque Central and are relatively inexpensive. I initially stayed at Tropicana Hostel for five nights but it turned into two months. So many backpackers pass through and end up volunteering, and I can’t recommend Tropicana enough. It didn’t feel like a hostel; it felt like home. It’s a wonderful experience with a fabulous view of the three volcanoes (especially on a clear morning before the clouds roll in), and if it’s a party you’re looking for, you’ve found the place!
Getting around Antigua
Everything in Antigua is within walking distance. If you end up walking past the cobbled streets, chances are you’ve walked too far! Strolling around is fabulous and you can truly soak up the city’s atmosphere. However, should you need them, there are many tuk-tuks available.
For anyone traveling through Guatemala, I highly recommend stopping in Antigua for a while. Don’t be surprised if your two days turns into a month or longer! It happens to so many travelers I’ve met along the way. Antigua will leave its imprint on you, no doubt. Whether it’s the fantastic food, the incredible atmosphere or the vibrant nightlife, it truly has something for every traveler!