With just 13 nights in Guatemala, we chose to visit “the big three”: Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Tikal. We have a friend (yay Amanda!) going to Antigua in a few weeks so instead of just sending recommendations to her, I’m publishing it for anyone else to read! She will be traveling with 2 small children, so I wrote this with that in mind. Note that this is not a holistic guide to Antigua and you should check out some other blogs or guidebooks.
Antigua is the former capitol of Guatemala. It is located at 8888’ elevation, about an hour drive from Guatemala City (where the only international airport is), and the only location in Guatemala with Spanish colonial architecture. This means beautiful colorful buildings and a lot of old churches/cathedrals/religious buildings. It is surrounded by volcanos, with the giant Volcan Agua to the south of the city, always helping to orient you in their convenient grid street system.
Things to Do:
We enjoyed a cooking class with La Tortilla Cooking School. It’s a great way to learn more about the food and culture. It needs to be booked at least 24 hours in advance and translation to English is available.
It’s pretty nice to just wander around. There are a variety of historical buildings and churches to wander into. We stumbled into Las Capuchines, which was fun to wander around and would be fine for kids to wander around, but not a must-see.
Cerro de La Cruz (“Hill of the Cross”) is a lookout where you can see the whole city, with the volcano looming in the background. We took Uber up and walked back into town but you could do transport each way. It’s hot in the sun and nice but not a must-do.
We did the strenuous overnight hike of Acatenango. It was both difficult and incredible. This deserves a blog entry of it’s own, which we may or may not ever write. Our friends Kayla & Silas wrote a pretty extensive entry about, so check that out if you’re looking for info on that.
An easier hike is a hike up Pacaya, which is an active volcano that you can roast marshmallows on. We did not do this but got recommendations for friends to do it, especially if you’re not doing the more strenuous Acatenango. It is a 2-hour uphill sandy hike and really spectacular to be that close to an erupting volcano which you can experience with all five senses. Tour companies offer 6am or 2pm departures, except Wicho & Charlie’s will provide a 2am departure with a minimum of 4 people.
Coaba Farms – This is an organic farm-to-table restaurant in a great garden setting. The food was tasty – pizza and a variety of fresh hippie type of food. It is very family friendly, with high chairs, a fun playground, gardens to wander around, and sometimes live music. A great place to just hang out for a few hours. This place is a little outside of town – a 5-10 minute tuk-tuk/Uber ride or a 25 minute walk. We opted to get rides in each direction since we had enough other walking to do. The hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 8-4p.
Los Tres Tiempos – This restaurant has a variety of food, including typical Guatemalan food, in a well-decorated setting. We went to the upstairs terrace, which overlooks a courtyard with a fountain and lots of flowers. The food was deliciuos and the setting was great – perfect for later afternoon/catching a sunset! It gets crowded on weekends. Bonus: It’s in the heart of town, right near the arch and the yellow church (La Merced).
Frida’s: This is a Mexican restaurant right near Los Tres Tiempos; we enjoyed it.
Bella Vista Coffee: has a rooftop terrace with good food and a view of all three volcanoes. Go for breakfast when the sky is clear to watch Volcan Fuego erupt.
A friend told me that one of the breweries (maybe Antigua Brewing Company?) has a very fun secret cocktail bar that might be worth searching out.
All of the streets are cobblestone, which makes it harder to walk on and they have pretty narrow sidewalks without any ramps. It would be virtually impossible to use a stroller here, so bring the things to carry the kids.
Weather: Go out in the morning and later afternoon and rest in the middle of the day. It gets pretty hot with the sun between 11/12-3ish. It’s always pretty cool in the shade but very hot in the sun, which is extra strong because you’re at mile-high elevation. The days vary between high 50s and mid-80s.
Getting there/around: We hired a private shuttle through our hostel to pick us up since we arrived a bit later in the evening. It’s only about an hour drive from the airport. Within town, tuk-tuks are very prevalent. We also used Uber (which you can flag while on wi-fi or get a cheap sim card at the airport so you have data).
We stayed at Maya Papaya, a “boutique hostel” and really liked it.