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Some of the best things to do in Antigua, Guatemala for budget travelers.
Very few travelers visit Guatemala without stopping in Antigua.
This charming, colonial city has all the authenticity of Latin American culture, but it is also quite touristy and therefore very accessible for first-time travelers.
Antigua used to be the capital of Guatemala until a massive earthquake devasted the city in 1773 and the capital was moved to Guatemala City.
Though the earthquake destroyed much of the area and Antigua lost its capital city title, many beautiful monuments survived and the remaining ruins have become famous landmarks that commemorate how great the city once was.
Antigua is also a popular base for volcano hikes, which is an unforgettable experience to have in Guatemala.
So if you are traveling to Guatemala, check out this list of the best things to do in Antigua for inspiration!
How To Get To Antigua from the Airport
Antigua is located just a short, 1 hr trip away from Guatemala City, which is very convenient for those arriving on international flights into the Guatemala City Airport.
There are a few ways to get to Antigua from Guatemala City.
This is the fastest and easiest way to get to Antigua. Just catch a taxi outside the airport and they can drive you straight there in about 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic.
This is also the most expensive way to travel, but it is still pretty affordable compared to other countries. A taxi from Guatemala City to Antigua should cost around 200-300Q, which is about 25-40 USD.
If you are nervous about taking public transport in Guatemala, it may be worth paying for a comfortable, easy taxi ride.
You can also take an Uber if you have the App, which is roughly the same cost.
A shuttle bus is a bit cheaper and takes a bit longer than a taxi to Antigua.
Visit GuateGo to book your shuttle in advance, and the journey from the airport to Antigua takes about 2 hours and costs 18 USD.
This is another safe method of transport, as you will most likely be sharing the shuttle with other travelers and traveling in small groups.
I personally didn’t use this method of transport and was advised against it from many people. But it is still an option for those who want to save the most money and have a classic Central American adventure.
Chicken buses are old American school buses that have been painted in crazy colors and designs and now serve as public buses in Central America.
A ride is super cheap, only a couple USD, but the ride can get very cramped, hot and uncomfortable.
If you aren’t a confident Spanish speaker, I’d recommend skipping a Chicken Bus ride because the driver and all the local passengers may not speak any English.
The Best Things To Do In Antigua, Guatemala
Now that you’ve figured out how to get to Antigua, here are the best things to do.
1. Photograph the Arco de Santa Catalina
Probably the most iconic landmark in Antigua, the Santa Catalina Arch is the beautiful yellow and white arch that curves over Avenida Norte.
Tourists flock to this spot to take photos of the arch with the colorful buildings next to it and Volcán Agua behind it.
So if you’re after the best photo, try to visit early in the morning before the crowds arrive.
It is said that the buildings next to the arch used to be a convent back in the 1600s, so the arch was built as a safe passageway for the nuns to walk through without having to go into the street.
2. Shop for Local Produce at El Mercado
Most Latin American cities have a mercado, or central market hall.
Antigua’s central market is huge; most of the vendors sit inside a dark and crowded market hall but there are a few vendors outside on the outskirts of the building.
Here you can find the cheapest local produce as well as meat, fish, bread, spices, packaged snacks, and other random bits and bobs.
The market is located at the western end of 3a Calle Poniente, and is open every day from 7 am to 2 pm.
3. Admire the Churches
Though many religious buildings were destroyed in the 1773 earthquake, plenty of churches survived and some have become ruins that still attract tourists.
Antigua has roughly 30 churches, so you could spend all day admiring these majestic religious buildings.
Some of the best, well-preserved churches are Iglesia de la Merced, Antigua Cathedral, and the San Pedro Church which also doubles as a hospital for the poor.
Some of the most popular ruin churches are Iglesia Del Carmen, Convent de las Capuchinas, and Iglesia De San Fransisco.
4. Wander The Streets
Honestly, one of the best things to do in Antigua Guatemala is just wandering around the bumpy cobblestone streets.
In addition to all the cool churches and monuments, there is just so much intangible beauty and antiquity in Antigua. All you have to do is walk around and soak it all in.
Every building is slathered in a different color of paint.
Locals stand on street corners selling bags of fruit.
Volcanoes tower in the distance. Church bells ring.
Coffee aromas drift out of cafes and chicken buses barrel through the alleyways.
Some streets are crowded and some are completely deserted. Walking around Antigua can be magical, so grab your camera and just stroll around.
5. Visit Parque Central
As most classic Latin American cities do, Antigua has a central park that sits right in the center of the square-shaped city.
The central park isn’t the cleanest park, but it is nice to relax in the shade on a park bench and people watch.
Sometimes at night, there are street vendors and musicians, and a beautiful fountain sits in the middle of the park.
Parque Central is the heart and soul of Antigua, and it makes an easy meeting spot to begin a day of sightseeing.
6. Enjoy the View from Cerro De La Cruz
Cerro De La Cruz translates to “Hill of the Cross”, and that is exactly what you’ll find here.
To get to the viewpoint, walk about 15-20 minutes outside the city center. Then, you’ll find a short path of steps and that will bring you directly to the hill.
From here you can enjoy a lovely view of the city below with Volcán Agua in the background.
This attraction is completely free, and a great way to get some exercise.
7. Hike a Volcano
Antigua is surrounded by lots of volcanoes, so this is a great starting point for an unforgettable hike up a volcano.
For a short but challenging half-day volcano hike, book a tour to Volcán Pacaya.
After a 1 hour drive from Antigua, you will embark on a 2-hour hike to the summit where you can soak in the views and roast marshmallows over the lava.
This day trip is one of the most popular things to do in Antigua, Guatemala!
Hiking Volcán Acatenenago is not for the faint-hearted; for those who want a real challenge with some mind-blowing scenery, book this overnight trek.
You’ll spend the first day on a super steep hike to your campsite, but once you arrive you can spend the evening watching Volcán Fuego shooting red hot lava into the night sky. It is a truly amazing sight.
Then you’ll wake up early to hike 1 more hour up to the summit of Volcán Acatenango for sunrise.
Where To Stay in Antigua, Guatemala
Antigua has so many affordable accommodation options for budget travelers that it can be hard to choose the best one.
Here are three hostels that I’ve stayed in that I highly recommend to travelers.
As far as prices go, they are all standard for Antigua. The cheapest hostels here go for around 7 or 8 USD, and the pricer ones are around 14-15 USD.
9-10 USD is the best price range, as the hostels are very nice and they are still relatively cheap.
Here are the three best hostels in Antigua, from my personal experience.
Located on the southeast corner of the city square, Froi Hostel is comfy and relaxing.
The beds are cozy and the atmosphere is pretty quiet, though there is a nice outdoor area and common area with a kitchen, TV, and couch for socializing.
It costs $10 per night for a mixed dorm room.
This is the best hostel for socializing and partying. The vibe here is fun and energetic, with theme nights and discounts on parties.
It costs $10 per night here as well for a mixed dorm room.
This was probably my favorite hostel in Antigua, located on the main street that you drive along when entering the city.
They offered lots of cool tours and activities with discounts for guests, and there is a hot tub, bar, and local masseuse giving great massages for tips.
The beds here are also super comfy and cost only $9 per night.
To read some of my other articles from Guatemala, check out these articles: