Antigua has come to be one of my favourite places in the world. It’s a beautiful, friendly city that will leave a mark on your heart. There are a lot of options when it comes to entertainment, and for the most part, its a very safe place to be. Seriously, just don’t carry your passport, large sums of money, or travel down dark alleyways at night, and you really should be just fine.
I’ve travelled to Antigua twice now, and I’m preparing for a third trip in the spring. I’ve gone as a medical volunteer and really enjoyed the experience both times. If you’re interested, I volunteered through International Volunteer Headquarters. If you ever decide to try it for yourself, you can enter the code A4872 and you’ll get a 10% discount!
In no particular order, here are a few things you can do in and around Antigua that I’ve done and really loved.
If you’re a fan of chocolate (who isn’t?) you might be interested in taking the chocolate class at the Choco Museo. We learned all about where chocolate actually comes from, it’s history, and how to actually make it. You get to try shelling, roasting, and grinding cacao beans into a paste, and making it into various things. I think my favourite was the Guatemalan hot chocolate. SO creamy and delicious.
At the end, you can create your own chocolates, adding whatever you like to them, pouring them into moulds and setting them. You get to take these home at the end, if you don’t devour it all right away.
The building where this takes place is also a little museum, has a couple of little shops in it, and has a restaurant. The pizza is pretty good, in case you’re hungry!
2. Explore the City.
Honestly, this is the thing we always spend the most time doing. The city itself is absolutely stunning. There are a ton of places to see. Where should you go? I’ll give you a list of a few good places but really, just go get lost. It’s great. You never know what you’ll find.
Some of my favourite places around Antigua are:
- Cerro De La Cruz – It’s a bit of a hike but it’s worth it! There will be tuk tuks driving up, if you want to do that, or just take the path.
- Mercado de Artesanias – Lots and lots of local artisans. Many selling the same old same old but you may find some cool souvenirs. Make sure your money is in Quetzals and not American, and I’d advise against using your credit cards here. There is another market right next door to this, that sells literally anything from knock off hand bags, to lace undies, to pineapples. It’s a pretty cool place to explore. All of this is directly beside the bus stop, so if you want to go see the infamous Chicken Busses in action, that’s where they stop to pick up passengers.
- Convento de Capuchinas – A convent that was built in the built in 1736 and was ruined in earthquakes in 1751 and after. You pay to get in (minimal fee) and you can walk around. It’s pretty cool to see.
- Arco de Santa Catalina – This is the iconic arc that you see on almost any photo of Antigua. It’s actually a way for the nuns (I think) to get across the road to ring the bells. This area is really busy with tourists and street vendors and performers. Weekend nights there are usually a ton of things going on here. There isn’t any traffic allowed down at this time so you can walk. Just make sure to be smart about your personal belongings. There are a ton of great little shops around this area as well, they are boutique shops so you’ll see prices MUCH higher than at the markets, but the quality is also better for the most part. Lots of good restaurants here too.
- Parque Central – During the day this park is a hoppin spot. There are a ton of good coffee shops and restaurants around this area, and you can sit in the park and people watch too. I would avoid this place at night.
I think this might have been one of the coolest places I’ve ever been…but I’m a pretty big Lord of the Rings fan. It’s an eco lodge up in the mountains outside of Antigua. If you’ve taken a walk up to Cerro de la Cruz, you’d have walked past the little shop that you can book your drive up. It’s right across the road from a little soccer field, on the way up the hill to the trail.
I THINK you can only go up and fully tour the place on sundays. The first time we went in, we tried to book for an afternoon, but the little hobbit houses are rented out during the week, and only open to the public on sundays. So we booked a trip up on a sunday.
You have to take a shuttle up the mountain to the base parking lot. When you get there, you can wait for the truck to take you up the last leg. I want to emphasize how difficult the treck up the mountain was. When I went there, my Spanish was lacking and the guy in the parking lot that was in charge of shuttles didn’t speak a word of English so I took his sign language directions and we walked up the hill. It. Is. STEEP. And because you’re so high up (as in, in the clouds), it’s not so easy to breathe. Anyway, we made it, but we figured out on the walk that if we had waited we could have gotten a lift.
There are a few little cottages built into the mountain side, made to look like hobbit houses. You can actually rent and stay in them. Someday I’m going to do that. They have little activity places to play games, a rope swing out over a ledge, and lots of trails to explore high above the villages below.
They’ve got a bar, restaurant, and live entertainment as well. We sat and enjoyed a drink and the music for a while before we went back to the city.
4. Take a Coffee Plantation Tour.
If you walk around the city at all, you’ll see travel agencies everywhere. If you want to book a tour (or even a shuttle) anywhere, just shop around for prices and pick which one you’d like to do. Many times you can find a better price this way.
We booked a coffee plantation tour on a weekend after our volunteer time was done. We went to a Plantation just on the outskirts of Antigua called Filadelfia Coffee Plantation. You get to go on a pretty cool tour and learn how they grow and pick coffee, and then see where they process it and then roast it, then you get a cup of coffee and you can do some shopping in their little shop or stay and go to the cafe. It was a pretty cool experience.
5. Book a Tour of Pacaya Volcano.
Again, shop around and find a tour you want to take. We were able to actually do this tour on a weeknight, leaving in the afternoon and returning after dark. It was great. I went into it knowing I was NOT hiking up that puppy. I had read that there are local kids at the bottom of the hill selling walking sticks and horses. If you don’t rent a horse, they’re going to follow you up the mountain anyway until you eventually give up and can’t go any farther. I opted to ride from the start because I love riding horses and I never get a chance to…and theres no way I’d make it up the mountain on foot at that altitude. My horse was named Tequila. Which was not overly reassuring, but she was a good horse and for a mere 150Q, her little family took home some money. Win win in my books.
The view from the top is incredible, and you can usually see lava coming down the side of the volcano. It was my first time seeing lava that close (or at all actually). After a stop for a rest and photos, you hike down closer to the base of the volcano (not on horseback), and you can cross the lava field and roast a marshmallow on a vent that goes down into the lava about 50 feet underground. Pretty cool!
I opted to walk down the mountain to our shuttle, which wasn’t as far as the trip up, but it was a little slippery, so watch out for that. Our shoes were covered in dust when we were finished. Our guide stopped to show us the best places for sunset photos.
Quite possibly my favourite thing about Antigua…the food. You can find just about anything to eat, and it’s all at a pretty low price. There are so many great restaurants to choose from, it’s like you’d never try them all in one trip. I wrote about my favourites in another blog post, if you’re interested, you can read it here.