Antigua

Central Highlands

The charming city of La Antigua is situated in a lush highland valley and surrounded by the cones of three volcanoes. As its name implies (Antigua means old in Spanish), this is a historic city. It was the former capital of Guatemala until an earthquake destroyed it in 1773. Following this disaster, the capital was moved to its current site at Guatemala City, but the ruins (and some of the people) of Antigua stayed put. These days, Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country’s foremost tourist destinations.

Climate and Location

Antigua is located 28 miles (45 km) west of Guatemala City. The 12,325-foot (3,750-m) Agua Volcano flanks the southern end of the city, while the massive 13,900-foot (4,235-m) Acatenango Volcano and the active Fuego Volcano are set to the west. The surrounding hillsides are lovely and provide excellent recreational opportunities, including mountain biking and hiking. Positioned just under 5,000 feet (1,500 m), the climate here is pleasant—the days are warm and the nights are cool (but not cold). **

History**

To truly appreciate Antigua, it’s helpful to understand its past. Antigua was the third capital of Guatemala, established after an earthquake and subsequent mudflow destroyed Ciudad Vieja. Antigua was officially established on March 10, 1543.

No stranger to natural disasters, the citizens of Antigua suffered an earthquake only 20 years after the city’s founding. Another earthquake, this one in 1717, helped fuel a huge building boom that allowed the city reach its peak during the mid-18th century—around 60,000 people lived here at this time. While under Spanish rule, Antigua had comparable economic, political and culture importance to Mexico City and Lima, Peru. It was a pretty impressive place—one of the hemisphere’s first universities was here, as was the first printing press in all of Central America.

All of this came to an abrupt end in 1773 when the city was hit by a series of earthquakes. The damage was bad enough that officials decided to move the capital the following year to its present location in modern-day Guatemala City. Many residents refused to leave, however, and occupied the ruins as squatters. As the 19th century developed, Antigua’s buildings were restored and the population grew, thanks in part to money made on nearby coffee plantations.

Antigua was declared a national monument in 1944 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The National Council for the Protection of Antigua Guatemala is working hard to conserve the city’s historic buildings and colonial architecture.

Sights and Activities

Antigua’s highlights – which include churches, parks, and museums – are fascinating and easy to visit. Many of the sights are reasonably close together.

Antigua’s central plaza, Parque Central, is a hub of color and activity. Ice cream vendors stroll alongside travelers and local children. Park benches beneath big, shady trees provide a nice place to escape the sun and watch the procession of people.

On the north side of the plaza is the Palacio de Ayuntamiento, which once functioned as a town hall but today houses the town’s municipal offices and a museum. The Palacio de los Capitanes Generales, which dates back to 1558 and was once the seat of government for the whole Central American territory, frames the south end of the plaza.

The large Catedral de Santiago dominates the eastern side of the plaza. The cathedral was originally built in 1545, but came crashing down in an earthquake in 1583 and had to be rebuilt in 1670. Portions of the church succumbed to the earthquake of 1773. The modern version consists of two restored chambers and some moss-covered ruins.

Three blocks north of Parque Central is the Santa Catalina archway. The remnants of a convent that was founded in 1609, the archway is now one of Antigua’s most recognizable (and photographed) sites. Peering south through the arch you can enjoy an unobstructed view of the Agua Volcano. The original arch allowed the nuns to cross the street to the other side of the convent without coming into contact with the general population. The original structure was damaged in the 1773 earthquake; the current version is a reconstruction that dates back to the 19th century.

A number of churches and monasteries are scattered throughout Antigua. The best of these is perhaps Iglesia y Convento de las Capuchinas. Established by the Capuchin nuns from Madrid, the church was destroyed in the 1773 earthquake and subsequently abandoned. Restoration began in 1943 and continues to this day. It’s one of the city’s more elegant convents and gives travelers a good look at colonial Latin American architecture. Other churches and convents in Antigua include the Santa Clara Convent, the church of San Francisco, and the church and convent of La Merced.

If you’re feeling inclined to learn a little about the city’s past, you can visit one of the several museums in town. The best is inside the Casa Santo Domingo hotel. Here you’ll find a colonial museum with Catholic relics, an archaeological museum, a monastery church that was restored in the 1990, and two crypts.

A good way to get a lay of the land in Antigua is to visit the Cerro de La Cruz, a hill to the north of town that’s fitted with a huge stone cross. There are sweeping views of the city and the Agua Volcano from up here. Robberies were once an issue, but the tourism police now escort visitors to the top and have effectively ended the hill’s crime.

If you’re looking to explore the surrounding area more fully, there are plenty of options. There are miles of trails in the nearby mountains that are perfect for hiking and mountain biking. The scenery is great and the views are fantastic. A majority of the hiking is done on the volcanoes that tower over Antigua. The Agua Volcano is one of the most popular hikes—it’s close to town, has steep slopes, and a nice crater. The Acatenango Volcano has two craters and has awesome views of the Fuego Volcano. **

Hotels, Restaurants, and Shops**

Antigua is well developed and has plenty of accommodation options. There are excellent budget hotels, spotless midrange inns, lovely boutique properties, and amenity-rich resorts.

As far as food goes, the city has a variety of excellent restaurants. The eclectic mix serves all manner of fare, including international, Mexican, Italian, Guatemalan, and more. There are several well-established fine dining options, as well as some tasty local joints.

Antigua is also one of the country’s best places to shop. The assorted shops carry quality items, some of which are hard to find elsewhere in Guatemala. Search for jewelry, clothing, textiles and more while in Antigua.

Nearby Activities

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Antigua Walking Tour Half Day

6-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

4.6 / 5.0
Starting At$36
Antigua Walking Tour Half Day

La Antigua is one of Guatemala’s most charming and historic cities. During this half-day walking tour you’ll visit some of Antigua’s best sites.

4.6 / 5.0
Tour Details

Unimog to Mirador & Cloud Forest Tour

4-in-1 combo|2 hours

Antigua

5.0 / 5.0
Starting At$30
Unimog to Mirador & Cloud Forest Tour

Explore the cloud forests above the Finca Filadelfia coffee plantation in Guatemala. This tour offers travelers a great chance to explore the outdoors and enjoy...

5.0 / 5.0
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Antigua Canopy Tour

5-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

5.0 / 5.0
Starting At$50
Antigua Canopy Tour

This tour includes a hike through the forest and a canopy tour. Set at the beautiful property of Finca Filadelfia, travelers will enjoy ample immersion into the...

5.0 / 5.0
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Cultural and Textile Half-Day Tour

3-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

5.0 / 5.0
Starting At$45
Cultural and Textile Half-Day Tour

During this tour, you’ll visit carpenters in Ciudad Vieja, weavers in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, and farmers at an experimental macademia nut plantation. It’s a...

5.0 / 5.0
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Mayan Cosmology and Archaeology Tour

5-in-1 combo|7 hours

Antigua

4.9 / 5.0
Starting At$95
Mayan Cosmology and Archaeology Tour

This tour brings travelers to the Postclassic Mayan site of Iximché. Iximché was once a Kaqchikel capital and today it’s still used in many Mayan ceremonies.

4.9 / 5.0
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Coffee Farm Tour

4-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

4.8 / 5.0
Starting At$43
Coffee Farm Tour

Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world. On this tour, you’ll visit a coffee farm outside La Antigua to learn about the history and production of...

4.8 / 5.0
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Filadelfia Coffee Tour

4-in-1 combo|2 hours

Antigua

4.7 / 5.0
Starting At$22
Filadelfia Coffee Tour

Tour Finca Filadelfia, a coffee plantation outside Antigua that’s been in operation for more than 140 years. You’ll learn about the cultivation and processing of...

4.7 / 5.0
Tour Details

Birdwatching Filadelfia

4-in-1 combo|5 hours

Antigua

4.5 / 5.0
Starting At$60
Birdwatching Filadelfia

Guatemala has wonderful birding. During this tour, you’ll get a chance to spot a range of colorful, tropical species at Finca Filadelfia.

4.5 / 5.0
Tour Details

Antigua Walking Tour Half Day

4-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

4.3 / 5.0
Starting At$22
Antigua Walking Tour Half Day

La Antigua is one of Guatemala’s most charming and historic cities. During this half-day walking tour you’ll enjoy an evening visit of some of Antigua’s best sites.

4.3 / 5.0
Tour Details

Challenging Zipline tour

Zip Lines|2 hours

Antigua

New Tour!
Starting At$147
Challenging Zipline tour

Day and night adventure, magic and adrenaline running through your veins

New Tour!
Tour Details

Circo del Aire Canopy Antigua-CS

5-in-1 combo|an hour

Antigua

New Tour!
Starting At$44
Circo del Aire Canopy Antigua-CS

Located in Santo Domingo del Cerro in Efrain Recinos Cultural Park, 500 meters before reaching the entrance to the city of La Antigua Guatemala . It is an...

New Tour!
Tour Details

Walking City Tour of Antigua

3-in-1 combo|3 hours

Antigua

New Tour!
Starting At$30
Walking City Tour of Antigua

Spend a half-day walking around Antigua and seeing some of the city's best sites. This tour is a great introduction to the history and culture of Antigua.

New Tour!
Tour Details

Nearby Lodging

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Casa Santo Domingo

Antigua

Bar

Cable TV

Jacuzzi

Restaurant

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5.0 / 5.0
From$188

Casa Santo Domingo

Casa Santo Domingo is truly a unique hotel. Set within the center of La Antigua, this hotel is built around the ruins of a 16th-century Dominican monastery and has...

5.0 / 5.0
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Posada de Don Rodrigo

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Cable TV

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4.7 / 5.0
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Posada de Don Rodrigo

Set within a restored colonial home, Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo has inviting rooms and a pleasant atmosphere. This hotel is located just a few blocks from the central...

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El Convento

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El Convento

El Convento is a boutique hotel in La Antigua, Guatemala. Located along a cobblestone street and set across from the historic Capuchinas Convent, this hotel combines...

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Quinta de Las Flores

Antigua

Cable TV

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5.0 / 5.0
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Quinta de Las Flores

Quinta de Las Flores is a small hotel in Antigua. The hotel has immaculate grounds and well-appointed rooms.

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Camino Real Antigua

Antigua

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Camino Real Antigua

The Camino Real Antigua is located near the center of La Antigua. This hotel has comfortable accommodations and a pleasant colonial feel.

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Hotel Euro Maya Suites

Antigua

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4.8 / 5.0
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Hotel Euro Maya Suites

Hotel Euro Maya Suites is located in Antigua, Guatemala. This hotel has charming rooms and serves up a hot buffet breakfast each morning.

4.8 / 5.0
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