Antigua, Guatemala (1/14- 1/18, 1/21)

Welcome to our five day tour of Antigua, Guatemala. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.

Exploring Guatemala’s original city center and hiking alongside deadly Volcán de Fuego

Epic view of Volcán de Agua, atop Acetenango, just miles away from Volcán de Fuego

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Why Antigua, Guatemala?

Ahhh! Attractive, gorgeous Antigua, a colonial city that is overlooked by 3 stratovolcanoes: Volcán de Fuego (one of the world’s most active volcanoes), Volcán de Agua, and Volcán Acatenango.

Antigua is a city full of history, charm, and Spanish architecture with plenty of activities and sights to keep you busy. You can barter in the local Mercado, enjoy relaxing in Central Park, or go strolling through the cobbled streets of this grid city in search of your favorite colorful church or house. There is an amazing backdrop of active volcanoes and hikes of these volcanoes can be arranged to experience them up close and personal. With so many things to enjoy, it is no wonder that the tourist infrastructure is stronger in Antigua than in other parts of Guatemala. And that’s not a bad thing. You can still enjoy the history, beauty, friendly locals, and some great eats. Antigua’s restaurants cater to all palettes. 

While it was a long 12-hour drive from Flores, we knew Antigua had to be our next destination. We were on a mission to see some volcano eruptions. Luckily an overnight bus from Flores to Antigua was available that allowed us to not lose a day to travel.

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How Long to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua is a grid city with several key destinations only a short 5-10 minute walk from each other. If you are looking to just see the sights of the town you can hit all of the main spots in one day and be able to enjoy limited time at each of them. If you want to travel at a more leisurely pace and spend more time at each destination, a couple of days would suffice. We spent four days in Antigua and it was a great decision.

We spent one day walking around the town and the next day we went to a Macadamia farm. The following day we did an overnight hike of Volcán Acatenango which required the full day and the following morning. On our final day, we returned from the hike and enjoyed a much need recovery day, relaxing and enjoying the main sights again. Spending the extra days here was well worth it. We were able to try more restaurants, relax in the park, and continuously enjoy the sites. We highly recommend spending four days here. Enjoy the town. Meet people. Relax. Go on some side trips. And you MUST GO on a volcano hike!…or two!

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Top things To Do in Antigua, Guatemala


1) Overnight hike of Volcán Acatenango to see Volcán de Fuego eruptions and sunrise the next morning


At the start of our hike of Volcán Acatenango. As the summit of this volcano is sitting at 13,045 feet, there was simply no way for us to not take on this beast.

This was a day-trip outside the city of Antigua. However, as this activity was one of THE MOST AMAZING EXPERIENCES we had on our 7-month trip around the world, we had to put it at the top of our list. If you have the endurance and desire to hike this volcano you will not regret it. Do not miss this adventure of a lifetime. You can read our full story of hiking Acatenango with tips by clicking on this link: What to Expect When Hiking Volcán Acatenango. Otherwise, here’s a summary:

The hike to the summit of Volcán Acatenango is about 10 kilometers (just over six miles) long with an elevation increase of about 1,525 meters (almost one mile). When hiking Volcán Acatenango you will go through four distinct microclimates; farm fields, a tropical cloud forest, a tropical dry forest, and barren rock/cold. Each zone takes a little over an hour to traverse. When we reached the campsite roughly six hours later, we had a breathtaking panoramic view of the daunting Volcán Agua, the highly active Volcán de Fuego, and a birds-eye view of Antigua and its neighboring cities. It’s here where we got our first full glimpse of Volcán de Fuego and were able to see some eruptions – actual volcano eruptions…. think spewing lava, smoke plumes, and launching boulders. We had front row seats to this natural powerful force only four kilometers (approximately two and a half miles away). What you see will depend on the day, but we had eruptions roughly every 30 minutes which ranged from low gurgling eruptions with small puffs of smoke to larger explosions with rocks and red lava spewing from the top.

Brrr. It’s cold up here. If only the heat from the erupting Volcán de Fuego reached us.

We can’t urge you enough to opt for the overnight trip rather than just the day hike. It amplifies the experience a hundred times over. At night, we got a tranquil view of the volcanoes and city being illuminated by the stars and the moon. We were also able to more easily discern the red lava spewing from the volcano with almost every eruption.

Epic shot we captured on the way to summit; around 4:30 a.m. The sights, sounds, steep climb, and elevation all took our breaths away.

The next morning, we summited Acatenango at 6 a.m. and watched the sunrise over Volcán de Fuego.


2) Walk around town


A great way to enjoy Antigua is to roam its streets and admire the architecture. Make sure to admire the Santa Catalina Arch, a beautiful bright yellow stone arch built in the 1690s. Stop by the Mercado, and bargain with street vendors. Perhaps pick up a handmade textile – the weaving process has been a Mayan tradition passed down for centuries. View La Merced Church, a bright yellow Baroque church in the city center with striking white pillars and ornamentation. Relax in Parque Central as tourists and locals buzz around the square bordered by another cathedral, a fountain, and trees. See pictures of these landmarks below as well as some other interesting sights you can enjoy during a walk around the town.

Santa Catalina Arch, Antigua’s Iconic Landmark
Antigua Guatemala Cathedral. The original church was built in the 16th century but was rebuilt in the 17th century after being damaged by several earthquakes.  
Iglesia de La Merced- a baroque church that is rooted with history. This distinctive yellow and white colored church is arguably the most iconic church in Antigua.
Las Capuchinas is a convent seen as a symbol of strength as it has withstood two earthquakes since being built nearly three centuries ago

More photos of inside the grounds of Las Capuchinas.

Street art for sale

3) Cerro de La Cruz


Head to the top of this hill for the most scenic, unobstructed, panoramic view of Volcán de Agua. The view is free, less than a 30-minute hike (one-way), and is a can’t miss spot. 


4) Food – Our Top Places to Eat in Antigua, Guatemala


Due to Antigua becoming more and more of a tourist hotspot, there are many highly rated restaurants in the city with various fares you can try. Some of the favorites we tried included:

Fridas

For some traditional freshly-prepared Mexican fare try Fridas, which has a variety of dishes to please all dietary restrictions.

Samsara

Stop by Samsara for a unique experience. This vegetarian restaurant also offers many vegan options and an array of health-conscious products with a relaxed “hippie” vibe.

Fonda de la Calle Real

Enjoy typical Central American cuisine located in the center of town. Fonda de la Calle Real is a romantic upscale restaurant with a beautiful courtyard. Oh yeah, Bill Clinton has dined here, no big deal.


5) Get “nutty” at the Valhalla Macadamia Farm


On our second day, we decided to visit a nearby Macadamia nut farm. Upon arrival, we went on a complimentary tour by one of the knowledgeable farmers where we learned the process of farming and harvesting macadamia nuts. Something really special about the Valhalla Macadamia Farm is their efforts in helping the local community and promoting sustainability. Valhalla has been donating hundreds of thousands of macadamia trees to locals encouraging them to sell and profit from these trees. In doing so, the local communities are given opportunities to earn additional sources of income while simultaneously preserving the environment and promoting sustainable agriculture. HOW COOL IS THAT?

We enjoyed walking through the charming gardens and even indulged in a facial massage at a mini-spa on the grounds. The massage is complimentary (tip highly encouraged) and only lasts a couple of minutes but is very enjoyable. They use 100% natural and organic macadamia oil, which is an excellent moisturizer and has been used by large cosmetic companies in their anti-aging creams.

Also, located on the farm is a delectable restaurant known as the Oxygen Lounge. We feasted on some of the most scrumptious cuisines including dark chocolate macadamia pancakes and a pizza made with macadamia pesto. Both dishes are made in-house and tasted and looked as heavenly as they sound. If you do “NUT” believe us here are pictures to prove it.

Our trip was topped off, when we had the pleasure of meeting Larry, the Founder of this admirable farm. He was quite the character. Full of a wicked sense of humor, Larry kept us entertained with all his stories and wisecracks. It was difficult to leave! From the second we walked in, to the sad moment of closing time we felt like family amongst everyone. They have something extraordinary here, a mission to help not only the local economy but the world, one tree at a time.

If you enjoy nuts and are looking for a unique experience to broaden your horizons and get nutty, you must go to the Valhalla Farm! To get to Valhalla, catch a “la camioneta”, (chicken bus) bound for San Miguel Dueñas – they leave every 30 minutes from the main terminal. The trip is about 15-20 minutes and costs four Guatemalan Quetzal (half a U.S. dollar) from Antigua. Just ask the driver to drop you off at the Macadamia farm.


6) Chicken buses (How to Get Around in Antigua)


Las Camionetas are commonly known as chicken buses because locals used to transport livestock on them. This doesn’t happen much anymore. We think they call them chicken buses because they drive around like chickens with their heads cut off! These drivers are straight LOCO (crazy). They zip around corners like maniacs but the buses are a super inexpensive way to get around.

Imagine a decked out painted school bus named after a woman (Norma in picture above) blaring Spanish music and people sitting four-five per seat. Imagine, locals routinely jumping on and off the bus through the emergency exit while it is still moving to sell local treats. Imagine going 20mph over what would be a normal speed limit whether you are in town or skirting the corners of a mountain road. Now you have yourself a chicken bus. Tip: As always, be aware of what the locals are paying the caller (the person who collects the fares) so you don’t get overcharged.

7) Coco Museu (Chocolate Museum)

We had some time to kill and decided to stop in to briefly learn about the history of cacao in Guatemala and learn the origins of chocolate. They do have tours available, however, we just walked around, enjoyed the complimentary samples, and enjoyed the aromas in the air.

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Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala


A Place to Stay Boutique Hostel


This was one of the most enjoyable of all our hostel stays. The room and amenities were nice but what made it stand out were the hosts, Raul and Kerry. They showed such passion and care for each guest. Kerry would prepare a small breakfast each morning, and on the morning of the big overnight volcano hike (Acatenango), she even packed a breakfast for us. Raul was also around most evenings and was quick to offer stories, local knowledge, and recommendations. Thanks to Kerry and Raul for a wonderful stay!

*Kerry and Raul have a special place in their hearts for animals as well, there are cats and even a bunny (Conejito) on the premises*

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Other Recommendations of Things to Do

These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:

  • What we will do next time we are in Antigua? As we are big Lord of the Rings Fans, we have to stay in Hobbitenango! Hobbitenango is a hotel on the side of the lush mountains in Hobbit-style cottages. How we missed this, we do not know!

For fairytale views, click here

The little houses on the side of the mountain (Photo courtesy by Charlie Orellana Juarez)
  • Hiking Volcán Pacaya: Volcán Pacaya was formerly know to contain “lava rivers” where visible streams of lava would flow down the volcano. The amount of lava flow can vary on the day/month/year you go, so be sure to ask locals or fellow travelers of the conditions.

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Questions for you

  • How does the overnight volcano hike sound to you? Would you do it?
  • Do you recommend any other experiences in Antigua from your travels?

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