Guatemala’s former capital city of Antigua is full of beauty, history and culture. A place of historical significance, it has held on to its vibrant culture over the years. In 1979 it was added to Central America’s list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites back. It has a stunning backdrop, created by the three dramatic volcanoes that encircle the city. With so much to see and do, we look at how to spend a day in Antigua.
In the morning
Head to Doña Luisa Xicotencatl for breakfast, claimed by many to be the best bakery in Antigua. Load up with freshly baked banana bread and coffee and wander over to the Plaza Central. The beating heart of the city, it has a park in the centre surrounded by picturesque colonial buildings. The Catedral de San Francisco stands on one side and market stalls are spread out on the other. The stands sell many enticing goods, from handcrafted jewellery to coffee beans.
The park is a great place to find a bench, enjoy your breakfast and take in the atmosphere of the busy colourful plaza. Enjoy people-watching, observing the ladies showing off their vibrant textile wares, men selling sticks of multi-coloured cotton candy and young boys taking their wheelbarrows of un-shelled peanuts across to the market.
From the Plaza Central head west along 5a Calle Poniente, passing colonial buildings, ancient churches and a bus station, to arrive at the Cementerio de San Lázaro. The Cementerio de San Lázaro is more than just a burial ground, it’s almost reminiscent of a small town.
The main avenue lined with lush trees leads to hundreds of small whitewashed buildings, crypts holding the remains of generations of families. There’s nothing morbid about the cemetery. It’s easy to spend hours walking the narrow lanes and appreciating the respect Guatemalans have for their deceased family.
Retrace your steps back past the bus station to make your way to Antigua’s main market. This lively outdoor marketplace is where travellers and locals alike look through the different merchandise on offer.
Located next to the marketplace is the Mercado de Artesanías. The indoor web of alleyways is full with every kind of Guatemalan handicraft imaginable. This is the best place to pick up souvenirs for a great price. Browse through the colourful clothing, woven bags, leather wallets, and the Chichi-style masks.
Close to this shopping haven is La Casa de las Sopas, the perfect choice for lunch. Revive yourself with the caldo tlalpeño, a traditional dish of chicken soup, or the caldo de res, a hearty beef broth.
In the afternoon
Dedicate your afternoon to an ancient ruins walking tour. The city is full of them and with the assistance of a map it’s easy to do on your own. Each ruin costs 40 Quetzal (USD $5) so be prepared with small notes to pay the entrance fees.
First head to La Recoleccion in the western part of the old city. In 1717 this monastery and church became an Order of the Recollects, however, by the end of the 18th century it mostly lay in rubble due to a series of devastating earthquakes. Today the ruins of hidden rooms and abandoned staircases are a protected national monument.
From here walk four minutes down the road to San Jeronimo, which was a friar school in 1757. With a pretty green courtyard and a fountain at its centre, it has the feel of a public garden. It’s excellently preserved and is often the setting for outdoor performances.
Next head east, walking for about 15 minutes to the Capuchins Monastery. One of Guatemala’s finest examples of an 18th-century convent, explore the numerous rooms from the grand halls to the crypts and bath houses.
Hidden behind the facade of the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel, six minutes away, is the Church of Santo Domingo with ruins of a picturesque church, fountain and underground crypts. Nearby is the Church of Candelaria. It’s only viewable from the outside but the ruins of the façade and the ornamental details are impressive nonetheless.
After a long day exploring, it’s likely you will be in need of a good dinner. Head to 7 Caldos along Calle de los Carros. Walk up the winding wrought iron staircase to the rooftop terrace for spectacular views of all three volcanoes surrounding the city.
Join the locals in enjoying the delicious fresh menu. Dishes include ceviche, subanik (a meat stew), mole (a spicy dark sauce served with chicken) and three leches (a sponge cake soaked in three kids of milk). Of course, nothing beats a good old fashioned plate of tortilla chips loaded with guacamole accompanied with a cold Cabro beer.
Want to explore Antigua before heading out to discover the rest of Guatemala? Have a browse of our Central America group tours.