Complete Budget Travel Guide to Antigua Guatemala

Streets of Antigua Guatemala with Arco de Santa Catalina arch and a yellow school bus.

Cobble stone streets, colorful colonial buildings, an active volcano and a blooming backpacker’s scene…enough to make my heart skip a beat! Antigua is a stunner and we can say with confidence that it is one of the most beautiful cities we’ve seen! It’s worth spending several days, not just for sightseeing but to get lost in the colorful streets, spend time in cafés and of course climb up Acatenango volcano.

We spent more than a week in Antigua, truly immersing ourselves in this gorgeous city and what it has to offer. An Antigua Guatemala travel guide felt like the right way to share our experience and help you plan your stay!

Volcanoes and history

Antigua, the third capital of Guatemala, comes into picture thanks to hasn’t been graced with a particularly easygoing past

The impressive Volcan de Agua volcano is a key player in the history of Antigua. In the 1500s after heavy rainfall, the rim of the caldera broke, destroying the then-capital of Guatemala in a flash flood. A new capital, Antigua is established, but doesn’t get spared from natural catastrophies either. After two severe earthquakes the capital gets moved one last time to Guatemala City. Hence the name Antigua Guatemala meaning ancient Guatemala.

Three volcanoes surround the city, Volcan de Agua, Acatenango and Fuego. Fuego is one of the most active volcanoes in Central America and watching the red glow of its erruptions at night is nothing short of spectacular!
It is possible to climb up Acatenango and Volcan de Agua, although the latter is not always recommended due to security issues.
Climbing Acatenango to witness Fuego’s erruptions from up close is a difficult but incrediblly rewarding experience and should be on your list if you are resonably fit and up for the adventure.

A day trip to Pacaya volcano is also a popular day trip. Be aware that you won’t be seeing the lava flow shown in older pictures. The tour price includes transportation and a guide, you must pay the entrance fee yourself.
Just make sure to shop around – we found it for as low as 55 GTQ.

Sunset over Fuego and Acatenango volcano, Antigua Guatemala
Sunset over Fuego and Acatenango, with the smoke cloud still clearly visible.

Exploring the Attractions of Antigua Guatemala

Obviously there is much history in the streets and we guarantee that you’ll find stunning colonial architecture on almost every block. Surprisingly, many church ruins  are still left standing with fallen pillars and faded facades. They are eerie and delightful at the same time, baring witness to the unforgiving natural forces that shaped the city. There are numerous churches and convents that should not be missed, although we felt that the churches were much more interesting on the outside than on the inside. There is so much to explore, and whatever you end up visiting make sure to get lost in the charming cobble stone streets for an afternoon. Here is our ultimate list of things to see and do in Antigua that should not be missed.

Arco de Santa Catalina

What used to be a passage way for nuns in the 17th century is one of Antigua’s most famous and probably most photographed landmarks today. The traffic is cut off on the weekends and your best bet for a beautiful picture without all the masses is in the early mornings and around midday.

Santa Catalina Arch in Antigua Guatemala with Volcan de Agua in the background.

Tanque la Unión

Skip the main Plaza and go straight to Tanque la Unión. Not only will you escape the very persistent street vendors, but also have a chance to mingle with the locals. The Tanque was built as a public washing place back in the day and is apparently still in use in times of draught. This is our favorite place to take a break from sightseeing!

Tanque la Union in Antigua Guatemala with VOlcan de Agua volcano in the background.

Convento de Santa Clara

Just around the corner from Tanque la Unión the convent of Santa Clara is very worth visiting. What you get to see are restored ruins of the convent. Although much is left to the imagination the setting is truly unique and you’ll probably roam the spacious grounds by yourself if you skip the weekends.

Inner courtyard of Santa Catalina Monastery with a fountain and beautiful flowers. Antigua Guatemala. Main chruch ruins of Santa Catalina Monastery in Antigua Guatemala.

Entrance Fee: 40 GTQ (20 GTQ for sudents)
We were offered to pay the students fee by the attendant, so don’t be shy and ask if he doesn’t offer.

San Francisco Church

One of the most visited places of worship not only in Antigua but whole Guatemala is still clearly marked by the earthquakes past. The remains of the only appointed Guatemalan saint, Santo Herman Pedro are on display inside the church. You can pay an entrance fee to see the adjacent ruins, which didn’t seem worth the in our opinion.

Detailed facade of San Francisco church iglesia in Antigua Guatemala.

Hotel Casa Santo Domingo

Although we were very sceptical about visiting a hotel, this place admittedly has the highest wow-factor on the entire list. There are several museums on the premises that require an entrance fee, but these can be skipped and you can roam the impressive inner courtyard to your hearts delight for free.Inside courtyard of Hotel Casa Santo Domingo with fountain and view of Volcan e Agua volcano in Antigua Guatemala.

Iglesia de la Merced

We stayed just around the corner from the church but never managed to actually see it from the inside. The small plaza in front of the church is great for people watching and is one of the few places with cheap street food on offer, especially on the weekends.Ornate facade of Iglesia de la Merced church in Antigua Guatemala.

Cerro de la Cruz

Head up the stairs to the mirador Cerro de la Cruz for the best view of the city. You can also take a tuk-tuk if you’re not keen on walking. There is security at the beginning of the trail and at the viewpoint as well. It’s best to visit during daylight hours. We went just before sunset to watch the city lights come to life. Ironically the path itself has no lighting so come prepared. Get friendly with the police officers on top and hopefully they’ll escort you down.

Cerro de la Cruz view point, mirador in Antigua Guatemala.

Iglesia del Carmen

One of the many impressive church ruins scattered around the city, Iglesia del Carmen feels incredibly beautiful despite the extensive damage. It’s easy to imagine how detailed the floral facade must have been. There is a souvenir market in front of the church on the weekends that is also worth visiting.Beautiful facade of the Iglesia del Carmen church in Antigua Guatemala.

Cheap Eats in Antigua Guatemala

Antigua has a plethora of eating options for every budget. If you are wondering where to eat in Antigua without breaking the bank we’ve got you covered! Click on the names to open a tripadvisor link for latest reviews and exact location.

Lunch and/or Dinner

  • Rincon Tipico – Brimming with locals and tourists alike, they serve typical Guatemalan fare. All the meals include a drink and tortillas. Roasted chicken for 30 GTQ is one of the tasties and best value meals in our opinion!
  • Casa de las Mixtas – A lunch menu (soup-main-dessert) for 20 GTQ is an excellent value, but the portions were a bit too small. They have a lot of other options on the menu, the service is good and the terrace great to escape the city bustle. Definitely give it a try!
  • Toko Baru – Not the best Israeli food we’ve had, but good value if you wanna change things up a bit.
  • Taqueria Doña Lupita – A good option for mexican style Tacos and Burritos.
  • El Porton  – On 6a Calle Poniente #8, is also a cheap option but not especially good in our opinion.

Bakeries

  • San Martin Bakery – Has food options, but is better for a cake and coffee in the afternoon. We came by regulary just the gorge on delicious baked goods. Make sure you try the sneakers cake!
  • Santa Clara Bakery – Is great for sandwiches and a light lunch while out and about.
  • El Viejo Cafe – We came for the tastiest almond cream croissants, but other food options are also available.

Other

  • McDonald’s – Ok this is not a real recommendation, but the splendid courtyard has one of the most amazing views of Volcan de Agua and is worth checking out.
  • Plaza de la Merced – Locals sell cheap street fare in the park in front of the church. Try rellenitos de platano, empanadas and tostadas. Much more stands and options available on the weekends.
  • Glacy Ice Cream – Go for truly delicious ice cream near Plaza Central. Try the salted caramel – yum!
  • Y tu Piña Tambien – Best known for the great value all-day breakfasts.
  • Rainbow Cafe – Great place with affordable lunch options; great to hang out with various activities in the evenings.
  • Cafe No Se – Is actually a bar, where you should visit at least once. The beer & mezcal combo is a good choice.

Groceries

If you have a kitchen in your hostel you can buy fresh fruits and veggies at the market. The rest you’ll get at:

  • La Bodegona on 4a Calle Poniente near the market.
  • Despensa Familiar on Alameda de Santa Lucia, just around the corner from La Bodegona.

Despensa Familiar is the cheaper option for basic supplies,  while La Bodegona has better cheese and also some imported goods. Surpisinlgy, fresh produce was cheaper at La Bodegona.

Where to Sleep in Antigua Guatemala

In Antigua accommodation is plentiful, but not so very cheap considering the locals flood the city every weekend. Before you pick a place to stay, consider that the city blocks are huge and that you’ll do a fair share of walking if your hostel is far from the main square.

We found La Casa Tiquicia by pure chance and got a great deal for a double room with shared bathroom [100 GTQ]. We could use the kitchen and the family that runs the place was awsome (we love those guys!). There was only one warm shower, but it was very hot with good pressure. I believe they are adding another. We loved that our bed was made and towels changed every day. The rooftop terrace was amazing for volcano watching at night and they have an additional operation there where you can camp in already set up tents for very cheap.

We’ve also heard good things about (links open to tripadvisor reviews):

  • Somos Hostel – A cute hostel with capsule like beds.
  • Maya Papaya – Just recently opened in 2017 with good reviews.
  • Tropicana Hostel – Very central with a pool. They also organize Acatenango tours – more on this in another post.
  • Cucuruchos Boutique Hostel – Very central with a rooftop terrace.
  • MatioX – Has great reviews, but is a bit far from center.
  • Posada Juma Ocag – Has private rooms in a quiet setting near the market for a good price.

Shopping in Antigua Guatemala

Guatemalan woman in traditional clothing selling woven textiles in Antigua Guatemala.
Lady in traditional clothing selling textiles at Mercado del Carmen.

The moment you step on the main Plaza you will be confronted with at least a dozen ladies trying to sell you Guatemalan artesanias and textiles. If their persistency tends to stress you out, there are shops that carry similar things all around the city. To really support the local population do your shopping on the streets!

Some alternatives and suggestions:

  • Nim Po’t – On 6a Avenida Norte near Santa Catalina Arch is a cooperative for artisans.
  • Nativo’s – Also on 6a Avenida Norte is definitely not for the low budget, but everything we saw and touched was of an incredible quality. If you like beautiful hadnmade textiles this is the place to invest!
  • Mercado del Carmen – On the weekends local ladies sell classic souveniers in front of Iglesia del Carmen.
  • Hidden market behind the market – On Mondays a wholesale souveniers market opens up on a smallish parking lot behind the regular market. You’ll get higher prices if you don’t buy in bulk, but it’ll still be cheaper than buying from the smaller vendors and shops. To get there go all the way through the market till you emerge on Calle de Recoletos, turn left and continue past the bank. The entrance to the parking lot will be on your right side. If you can’t find your way ask for mercado de artesanias en un estacionamiento.

How to get to Antigua Guatemala?

From Guatemala City Airport

  • Shuttle buses from Guatemala City leave for Antigua just from outside the airport (turn right when you exit).
    The cost is 9 USD per person.
  • Taxis charge around 25-35 USD for the whole car, so find someone to share.
  • Uber might be an option as well. Use our invite code j48h8g to get your first ride for free!

From Panjachel on Lago Atitlan

  • Rebuli is a direct chicken bus (cream and green color) from Panajachel on Atitlan Lake to Antigua.
    It runs once a day at 11am from Parada de Autobuses on Calle Principal and costs 36 GTQ.

Shuttles from Nicaragua to Antigua Guatemala

The shuttles are a popular way to get from Leon in Nicaragua to Antigua Guatemala. There are many operators in town, but all the renowned hostels use Tour Operador Iximche. They leave at night and will collect 7 USD for the border processing. They took 10 USD from people in our van, so have the exact change ready.
From what I recall they charge about 50 USD to Antigua. The trip is also available vice versa, from Anigua to Leon.

Our experience:
We used them to get to El Zonte in El Salvador, but the same van continued to Antigua. After our shortish stay in El Salvador we traveled from Juayua to Antigua by chicken bus for less than 10 USD, so it’s a good option if you want to see a bit of El Salvador as well. I wrote them on WhatsApp to reserve our spots and got a 5 USD discount (35 USD were advertized in the hostel).


We hope you found our Antigua Guatemala travel guide useful and that you’ll enjoy this gorgeous city as much as we did!

Safe travels,

H&M 

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