A Guide To Visiting Antigua, Guatemala: The Best 5 Things To Do And See
Updated On: August 21, 2022
When you visit Antigua, you discover a very rich history associated with the Spanish establishment that was placed there. Antigua is a UNESCO world heritage site and it served as the capital of the United Kingdom of Guatemala which expanded many miles away from the current borders. Sitting in the central highland of Guatemala, it is known for its preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture and several colonial churches that have now actually become hotels.
Antigua is a small city in the country’s southern region that is surrounded by volcanoes. It has been rebuilt several times. In 1773, the ancient city of Antigua was hit by an earthquake. It was not the first earthquake to hit Guatemala and it was not the last.
But this particular earthquake was so devastating that it led to the capital of Guatemala being moved from Antigua to Guatemala city where it is today. In fact, for many years the city f Antigua was essentially abandoned. The devastation had been so much that all the residents of Antigua moved to Guatemala city.
Antigua was founded in the early 16th century. It is built 1,500 metres above sea level, in an earthquake-prone region. Its major monuments are still preserved as ruins. In the span of under three centuries, the city acquired some superb monuments. Every year, millions of tourists visit Antigua. It is a tourist centre. There are several attractions to visit, many things to do and various hotels to stay in.
How to Get to Antigua Guatemala?
It is located in the southwestern part of Guatemala. Guatemala City is the hub for all of Guatemala. There is only one international airport in Guatemala City if you travel by air. There are various ways to get to Antigua. You can get a private driver and it is cheaper than uber as there is a fixed rate. You can get a private driver using Facebook groups, or the booking site.
In case it didn’t work to get a private driver or choose to get an Uber, make sure to have a service on your phone so the application can recognize your location. You can also book a shared shuttle which is safe and comfortable at the same time. There are several companies to book the shared shuttle from. You need to reserve 48 hrs before your arrival.
Although a taxi is the most functional way to get to Antigua from Guatemala City Airport, it is the most expensive. You can go to Antigua by chicken bus which is the cheapest way of transportation of all. Still, you need to go to the city bus terminal. It is not safe as well.
What is the Ideal Season to Visit Antigua?
Guatemala doesn’t include a traditional high season, shoulder season and low season. Rather, there are two high seasons split by two low seasons.
The winter high season (November–March) is the ideal time for festivals and dry weather. The first high season meets with Guatemala’s dry season, so bright days are much guaranteed. The dry weather starts at the beginning of November, when the hurricane season comes to an end, just in time for the Day of the Dead celebrations. This first high season generally ends right after Holy Week in the countdown to Easter, typically in late March or the first half of April.
The peak tourist season is Holy Week which is the most important religious holiday for Guatemalans. It is the same time as their main annual vacation. During Holy Week, locals run to the coast and Lake Atitlán, which means that there will be big crowds at these destinations. The historic former capital, Antigua, also gets crowded for Holy Week, when crowds assemble to watch its famously colourful religious processions. You need to book your accommodation ahead of this time and budget for higher prices.
The nighttime temperature during November and March can drop quite drastically in the highlands, going down to near freezing in Quetzaltenango.
The weather during that time gets dusty and windy as the farmers burn their old crops. So, if you have an allergy, it’s better to have your medicine.
The summer high season (June–August) is the best time for outdoor plans. The second high season meets with the summer vacation season in the United States, Canada and Europe. It’s not as crowded as during the first high season, but it’s certainly not the right time to escape the crowds. June is still in the rainy season but it is hot and sunny in the daytime.
It starts raining at night. There is a short dry time in July and August when it becomes very hot and dry. However, it is the ideal time for outdoor activities and visits as the sky is usually clear. It is also the ideal season for tasty fresh fruits as this is the harvest season.
The low seasons (April–May and September–October) are the perfect time for slow travel. The two low seasons in Guatemala fall at each end of the rainy season. It starts from Holy Week to the end of May. the second low season starts from September to the end of October. There are no crowds and you can enjoy the whole place. The weather is unstable. There are sunny days with afternoon or evening rain. It is better to pack winter clothes like rain gear. Accommodations tend to be easier to find and low-cost as well. The rain makes the landscape lively and green and lots of flowers grow, but it also causes enormous amounts of mud, which affects outdoor activities.
The rainy season weather can hold back transport. Power outages and internet drop-outs are really common in the low season.
- January is the ideal time to enjoy quieter Mayan sites as the locals go back to work and the weather becomes cooler which makes it more comfortable to visit the coast and the ruins of the famous sites.
- February is the ideal season to enjoy Guatemalan coffee as it is the coffee harvest season. You can take a coffee tour in one of the country’s eight bean-growing regions.
- March is one of the hottest months and festive in the countdown to Holy Week. It sometimes rains which causes relief. Prices tend to be higher.
- April is hot but not busy all the time depending on the time of the Holy Week. It sometimes rains.
- May is not a dry month with a moderate rate of tourism. It is the ideal time to get up and smell the coffee flowers in the hills around Antigua.
- June is in the rainy season.
- July is hot and sunny. People tend to go to the beach to escape the hot weather.
- August witnesses the start of the rain usually in the form of afternoon or evening showers. Tourism starts to slow down toward the end of the month.
- September is the quietest and wettest month for travel in Guatemala this is the wettest month of the year. Prices go down.
- October witnessed less rain and a lot of outdoor activities.
- In October, the rain starts stopping a little and mostly falls as afternoon showers. Tourists enjoy the outdoor during the daytime while it’s sunny.
- November is when tourism starts to rise. It is the ideal time for hiking because of the sunny skies and wildflowers.
- December is busy with visitors and festivities. It enjoys some of the best weather of the year in Guatemala. It is sunny during the daytime but still can get cold at night.
Attractions to Visit and Activities to Do in Antigua, Guatemala
Half Moon Bay is located at the southeastern end of Antigua. It is fringed by one of the Caribbean’s best beaches. Protected by a reef, this crescent of fine white sand in the blue sea backed by natural foliage offers excellent snorkelling on calm days. When the wind is high, the surf can be harsh. A small restaurant offers snacks just off the beach. You can hire chairs and umbrellas as well.
Stingray City: An exciting trip to Stingray City is one of the most popular things to do in Antigua. It is a shallow pool with a sandy bottom amid a tropical reef where hundreds of friendly southern Stingrays glide through the crystal clear waters, waiting to be fed by visitors. Depending on your preferences, you can stand, swim, or snorkel with them. You can also explore the nearby coral reefs. Feeling their smooth soft bodies brush against your skin is a highlight of this exciting adventure.
Dickenson Bay is located in the far northwest of Antigua. It is one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in Antigua. You find everything you need for a relaxing or invigorating day by the sea. The sea resorts and restaurants line this mile-long stretch of white sand. You can have a go at a full range of water sports. Protected by an offshore reef, the bay is perfect for swimming. You can find activity boosts along the sand, renting everything you need for other aquatic activities including jet-skiing, snorkelling, and kayaking. The bay is also the hub of Antigua’s windsurfing scene.
If you just want to take a spot on the sand and stare at the mesmerizing blue scene, you can rent sun loungers and umbrellas. Dickenson Bay is also home to the iconic red phone booth which features in many a tourist Instagram photo application. After a day in the sun, you can enjoy a fresh seafood meal at one of the restaurants overlooking the beach or reserve a relaxing massage along the shore. It is also home to some of the islands’ most popular resorts including Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa and Symphony Beach Club.
Nelson’s Dockyard National Park in English harbour is a hot spot for tourists. Its main reason for fame is that it remains the only consistently operating Georgian dockyard in the world. It is home to Antigua’s former 18th-century British naval dockyard which was inscribed on UNESCO’s world heritage list in 2016. During a visit, you can know more about the dockyard’s rich history at the Dockyard Museum in the former Admiral’s house. You can also soak up the ambience by wandering around all the beautifully restored stone warehouses that contrast with the marina’s glitzy superyachts.
A lot of these old buildings are now places for hotels, restaurants, shops and galleries. If you want to explore a little further afield, the area is also home to some of the island’s best natural trails which lead to historic forts with panoramic views. Placed on the hilltop at Shirley Heights, Fort Shirley provides the best vistas. You can also hike to Fort Berkeley at the west entrance to the harbour. The park is also house to the 18th century Clarence House, originally constructed for the future King William IV. You can watch a fascinating multimedia presentation on the island’s history at the Dow’s Hill Interpretation Centre along the lockout trail near Shirley Heights.
St. John’s is the capital city and cruise port of Antigua and Barbuda. It is a kaleidoscope of candy-hued, colonial cottages and market stalls, piled high with tropical fruits and flowers. Approaching the skyline are the White Neo-Baroque Towers of St. Johns Cathedral, one of the city’s most remarkable buildings. For an overview of the island’s history, head to the Museum of Antigua and Barbuda and the 18th-century former Courthouse. To Know more stories from Antigua’s past, you can wander around Betty’s Hope, the 17th-century ruins of the island’s largest sugar plantation.
A small museum there highlights the lives of the slaves who built it. Since the capital is a popular cruise-ship stop, it is no surprise that shopping is one of the most popular things to do in St. John’s Antigua duty-free shops, abound a heritage quay, souvenir stalls beckon from the touristy Redcliffe quay, and the lively harbourside Publick markets are the place to be on Fridays and Saturdays. For the beautiful city and harbour views, hike the steep trail to Fort Barrington, built to protect St. John’s from the French.
Devil’s Bridge is an Indian town national park. Along the rugged northeast coast, the dramatic scenery of the Indian Town National Park features the natural Limestone Devil’s Bridge, sculpted over the centuries by the pounding surf. At high tide, waves force geysers of water through blue holes in the nearby rock. The park also offers some rewarding hikes and excellent birding. More than 36 avian species perch in the park among the Acacia trees. The eastern point of the park is thought to have been an Arawak campsite
The Museum of Antigua and Barbuda is located in the capital of St. John’s. It is a great place to visit to get a feel for the history of these beautiful islands. The exhibits are all placed in one room. They cover topics such as the island’s geological origins, colonial history, slavery, archaeology, sports and political independence in 1981. Highlights include a full-scale replica of an Arawak dwelling and pottery, weaving tools and exhibits on the island’s different ecosystems. The museum is situated in the former 18th-century courthouse in St. John’s.
Fig Tree Drive: Along Antigua’s southern coast, Fig Tree Drive winds through rainforest, farmland and fishing villages. This charming drive offers a glimpse of local life. Banana trees are called “figs” by the locals. mango trees and coconut palms mark the landscape as well as the ruins of sugar mills. Look for the roadside stands selling freshly picked fruit, especially the super sugary pineapples. Along the way, the Fig Tree Studio Art Gallery sells colourful local art. If you look for something more active, stop by Antigua rainforest zipline tours for an exhilarating canopy tour
The Best Coffee in Antigua
Guatemala is a big coffee-producing country and Antigua is known for its unlimited amount of cafes around every corner you turn. Cafe Raiz has a beautiful window seat that you just can’t even miss. It is a nice place to sit and chill and read a book. Artista de Cafe is a great place to get some work done. It is quiet and clean. The food is good. It is just nice that they have like some food options. The coffee is incredible. Caoba Farms is another place for organic coffee.
You can sign up for a tour and enjoy a magical experience. The food, the environment, and the ambience are nice. Cafe Sol is another nice cafe. It has a beautiful rooftop where you can have some coffee. They have a great food menu. The staff is friendly and the coffee tastes well. Cafe Boheme is another great coffee. It has the most beautiful roof deck. It is a great place to enjoy your time. There is various seating and wifi as well.
Top Restaurants in Antigua
27 Adentro is one of the top-rated restaurants. From Wednesday to Saturday, it opens from 12 to 8 PM. Sunday, it opens from 12 to 6 PM. Monday and Tuesday, it is closed. It is a family-friendly restaurant. It has a cosy and casual atmosphere. It features toilets and gender-neutral toilets. It serves Caribbean, Latin, Fusion, and Guatemalan cuisine. It serves Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options, and Gluten-Free Options. It also features wheel-chair accessible toilets and wheel-chair accessible cards and debit cards. It features dine-in, delivery, takeaway, curbside pickup, and outdoor seating. Payment is accepted with credit
Wachuma is one of the top-rated restaurants. It opens every day from 12 to 8 PM. It is ideal for groups. It has a cosy and casual atmosphere. It serves vegetarian cuisine. It serves Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options, and Gluten-Free Options. It features dine-in, delivery, takeaway, and curbside pickup. It also offers free wifi. Credit cards are accepted.
La Bruja is one of the top-rated restaurants. It is a family-friendly restaurant. It opens every day from 11 Am to 9 PM. It is ideal for groups. It has a cosy and casual atmosphere. It serves healthy, Central American cuisine. It serves Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options, and Gluten-Free Options. It features dine-in, delivery, takeaway, drive-through, outdoor seating, street parking, and curbside pickup. It also features Wine and Beer. It also features wheel-chair accessible toilets and wheel-chair accessible entrances. It also offers free wifi. Payment is accepted with credit cards and debit cards.
Los Moros by Porta Hotel Antigua is one of the top-rated restaurants. It is a family-friendly restaurant. The working hours are from 7 Am to 9 PM every day. It is ideal for groups. It has a cosy and casual atmosphere. It serves Bar, International, and Guatemalan cuisine.
It also serves alcohol. It serves Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan Options, and Gluten-Free Options. It features dine-in, delivery, takeaway, drive-through, outdoor seating, validated Parking, and curbside pickup. It also features Wine and Beer. It also features wheel-chair accessible toilets and wheel-chair accessible entrances. It also offers free wifi. credit cards and debit cards are accepted.
The Best Hotels for Accommodation
The resorts on the island vary from luxurious and exclusive 5-star venues to affordable and family-friendly 3-star all-inclusive hotels. Regardless of your budget, you will find something in Antigua that you can be happy with.
South Point Antigua is a 4*star hotel. It is part of the Antigua yacht club marina which is located in Falmouth Harbour. This boutique hotel offers attractive views of the bay. The winter season which is believed to be the yachting season is a great time of the year to visit as their views seem to be even more spectacular. The unique vibe can be felt throughout this resort which comprises 23 open-plan apartments that have either 1 or 2 bedrooms.
The luxurious feel of the room is made even better by the large terraces and a private chef can cook your meals in the fully equipped kitchen that all suites come with. If you want to dine outside your suite, there is a sushi bar and the restaurant has Mediterranean and middle eastern menus. You can enjoy various water sports. The hotel features free parking, free high-speed internet, and yoga classes. Most of the rooms feature AC, blackout curtains, housekeeping, a private balcony, room service, a refrigerator, flat-screen tv, free toiletries and many more. Prices can vary depending on the room size and facilities.
Jumby Bay Island is the most exclusive resort right off the coast. It sits on its 300-acre private island. Access to the blissful Jumby Bay island is limited to those staying there. It is a haven for nature lovers with tropical flora and wildlife that you can only go through in this part of the world. The white natural beaches are also part of this beautiful hideaway.
You can also enjoy them while getting the privacy you need. It has 40 high-end suites and rooms as well as a few privately owned residences. The hotel features access to the private beach, private balconies, and babysitting services not to mention a wide array of family-oriented activities. There are 3 pools and a spa. The food is simply delicious. The Estate House, the resort’s fine dining restaurant is one of the top resorts in the Caribbean.
Siboney Beach Club is located on Dickenson Bay right next to the popular Sandals resort. This small more intimate resort only has 15 suites for accommodation which makes it more romantic. Sit in a fabulous tropical garden that is filled with birds and flowers, it offers you peace. If you look for a home away from home comforts, you have come to the right place. The hospitality of the staff and the great views are all you need. The Coconut Grove Restaurant which is on-site has palms growing through its roof and dining tables that are separated by a ribbon of sand from the Caribbean sea.
St James Club and Villas is a 4-star property which is set on a 100-acre peninsula on the southern coast of Antigua. It is tucked away for your privacy and offers access to two white-sand beaches. The all-inclusive resort exudes a casual ambience. It caters for singles and families alike. You can enjoy the features that the resort offers, not to mention the exceptional services. The resort includes 6 swimming pools, 4 tennis courts, A-State Art Fitness Centre, and a spa.
Activities such as kayaking, paddle boarding and sailing are included in the package. The resort also comprises 5 restaurants that offer everything from casual dining to international cuisine. Most of the rooms feature AC, a private balcony, a refrigerator, a private beach, flat-screen tv, housekeeping, room service and a lot more. The prices vary depending on the room type and the facilities.
Curtain Bluff Resort is a family-friendly all-inclusive resort. It is set between 2 beaches. There is one facing the open ocean while the other one is on a quiet lagoon, perfect for snorkelling and swimming. The property is perched on a rock bluff that spreads out onto the sea. There are 72 rooms. All the rooms get views of the water. They all feature traditional Caribbean decor, pitched roof ceilings and patios. Most of the rooms feature AC, a private balcony, a sofa, housekeeping and many more.
The activities offered are Hobie, sailing, scuba diving, water skiing and many more water sports. There is also a spa on-site, a fitness centre, and squash courts so you can keep busy throughout your stay. The beach cafe offers laid-back lunches straight on the beach while the White Tamarind Tree serves dinner by candlelight. Most of the rooms feature Ac, a private balcony, housekeeping, room service, a sofa and many more. Prices differ depending on room size and facilities.
Some Useful Tips to Know
- It is not recommended to hire a car in Antigua unless you are experienced as it is not safe.
- It is not recommended to climb Mount Obama as the road which leads to the top is dangerous.
- It is really hard to find a free parking space in St John’s.