Planning a trip to Antigua Guatemala? Antigua is one of the most visited places in Guatemala and most travelers traveling through Central America at some point pass through Antigua, even if it’s just for a few days. Whether it’s for sightseeing, volcano hiking or to learn Spanish at one of Antigua’s many language schools there are a few things you should know before you arrive.
You will probably sprain your ankle
I did, not once but twice! It’s a pretty common sight to see people on crutches or walking with a limp. The cobbled streets of Antigua can be a nightmare if you aren’t paying attention to where you are stepping. So tread carefully.
There are processions all the time…
As a predominantly Catholic country, there are a lot of religious festivals and they normally include some kind of procession. You can normally tell when it’s a holiday as you will hear the fireworks going off through the night and then most of the day. If it’s a big festival then you will notice them starting to ‘dress up the city’ and block off roads. If you are lucky/ or unlucky enough to be in Antigua around Easter you will be in for 5 weeks of processions which get bigger and bigger as the weeks go on. Most of the parades are on Sundays but on the actual week of Semana Santa there will be something happening each day.
A word of warning if you are in Antigua around Samana Santa, book your accommodation well in advance and be aware if you plan on leaving Antigua during any of the parades you will likely have to make your way to outside the city walls for your bus/ shuttle.
You will need to choose your tour company wisely
Walk on the opposite side of the road if you need to find somewhere
I know this might sound strange but trust me on this, it’s the best piece of advice I received when I arrived in Antigua. Because of Antigua’s UNESCO status, it’s very strict about signage on buildings and it can be impossible to find anywhere because of this. So walk on the opposite side of the road so you can get a much better look at the building and its sign.
There are a lot of Fast Food Chains
I was really surprised at how many fast food chains there are! McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Dunkin Donuts… the only thing missing is Starbucks! I actually have my weekly Spanish classes in McDonald’s in their garden…
It’s the nicest McDonalds in the world.
It’s an UNESCO world heritage site
Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site and when you arrive and take a walk around its Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture it’s not hard to see why. If you want to do a free walking tour of all of the ruins in Antigua you can download the walk I created on Walkli here.
The Food and Drink is pretty good
Antigua is full of places to eat and drink. You can find anything you want here! Missing bagels? English muffins? Domino’s Pizza? Or maybe you have a craving for Sushi? You can not only find all of these things in Antigua but most of them also offer home delivery.
It’s also a great place to have a night out. If you are around on a Monday then check out the bar crawl organized by the Terrace Hostel. Or if a bar crawl with a load of backpackers isn’t your thing then download my bars of Antigua walking tour on Walkli. The free tour gives you information on each bar so you can decide if you want to go there or skip it.
The city is surrounded by Volcanos
It’s hard to miss the volcanoes surrounding Antigua on a clear day. To the South, You have Volcan Agua.
Then to the west, you can see Acatenango and Fuego. Pacaya is also close but you can’t normally see it.
Thinking about hiking one of them? Don’teven consider Agua, it is very unsafe and since I’ve been here I’ve heard of at least 2 separate shootings. If you fancy a nice easy hike you want Volcan Pacaya or if you want a bigger challenge then Acatenango is the volcano for you. But if you are feeling really crazy you can do a Double Whammy like I did and do Acatenango and Fuego. Or do all three, otherwise known as the trident, this is only for the super humans among us.
If you don’t want to eat in a restaurant there is plenty of Street Food
You can find some pretty good street food here mostly around Iglesia La Merced
Or on Alameda de Santa Lucia close to the local market. It’s not the best country in the world for street food, but it’s not bad.
Yoga is huge here!
There is a big yoga community in Antigua. Most teachers are bilingual and will do their class in English or Spanish (or both) depending on who is the class. My favorite studio is Shakti Shala, the Shakti Tribe is headed up by Irene and Lauren and I really can’t say enough good stuff about them. So if you are traveling and looking for a place to practice and connect with the local community it’s a great place to do it. They also have an amazing juice and light bites bar! Make sure you follow them on Instagram and Facebook too.
It has a lot of Spanish Schools
There are so many Spanish Schools in Antigua! I have written a lot on learning Spanish here so take a read of my posts for more information.
If you don’t want to learn in such an intense way then check notice boards in places like Cafe No Se or Rainbow Cafe for teachers offering private classes. I did both and after 3 weeks of intense classes I now just have one or two classes lasting ½ hours a week.
If you need to buy any clothing you will find what you need at The Paca
If you are in need of a particular item of clothing and you are on a budget. The best place to find things is in the Paca. Be warned this place is huge and crazy. But you can pretty much find anything in there! Need a good waterproof coat for hiking Acatenango, or maybe some hiking boots? You are sure to find some in the Pace. To find it head to the local market, walk right the way to the top to where they sell fruit. As the path moves round to the left you will see a narrow opening to your right in between stalls. Go through the gap and be prepared to rummage!
You will need to pay for accommodation in cash
Most hotels and hostels are cash only. You can expect to pay around $6-12 for a bed in a dorm room and $20 for a private room. I always use booking.com or just take a walk around and go in and ask. If you use booking.com make sure you check for Booking.com promo codes first as you can save even more money.