Antigua in Guatemala is a must-visit! It is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole of Central America.
In this article, you will find all the main places you must visit in Antigua and some unique spots I highly recommend adding to your Antigua Travel Itinerary!
Santa Catalina Arch
One of the most iconic landmarks in the whole of Guatemala - the Santa Catalina Arch.
Built in the 17th century, the arch had a simple purpose - it was meant as a bridge to connect two parts of a convent. This clever architectural solution ensured that the nuns could move from one building to the other without stepping onto the bustling city streets, maintaining their vow of seclusion.
The arch, painted bright yellow, stands out on the busy street it's on, called 5th Avenue North. As you stroll down this lively road, the Santa Catalina Arch is an excellent spot to snap some photos.
The arch also has a small clock on top of it. This was added in the 19th century when the French had a strong influence here. Although the arch has withstood the test of time, earthquakes over the years have led to multiple restorations to maintain its grandeur.
Hill of the Cross - Viewpoint
For a bird's-eye view of the city, a visit to Antigua's prominent viewpoint, the Hill of the Cross, is an absolute must. Be prepared though, reaching this spot involves a bit of a climb, as there are no shortcuts to the top - it's all steps!
However, your efforts will be rewarded as you reach the top. There, the entire city of Antigua sprawls beneath you, offering a breathtaking panorama. It's an incredible sight, with the city's colorful buildings, lush greenery, and historic sites.
At the top, there are benches so you can take a moment to sit down, rest after the climb, and really take in the stunning views.
Antiguas Central Park
To truly feel the buzz of the city you have to visit Antiguas Central Park which is quite literally located in the center of the city!
There you will see Antigua's main cathedral - San Jose Cathedral. Also, the Royal Palace where the government was but these days you will find 2 museums there.
The square is surrounded by many cafes and coffee shops where you can take a break and admire the bustling life of the plaza. You will also find chocolate and antique book museums there!
La Merced Church
La Merced is a very impressive church in Antigua, known for its remarkable ornaments. As Antigua's primary place of worship, it continues to be a bustling hub of religious activity.
We were not allowed inside during our visit as there was a wedding ceremony taking place. But usually, you can also admire it from the inside.
Beyond its architectural grandeur, the area around La Merced is vibrant, brimming with a variety of street food vendors. This local gastronomic scene offers the perfect opportunity to sample traditional Guatemalan flavors right on the church's doorstep. Overall, a visit to La Merced provides a delightful mix of cultural, historical, and culinary experiences.
San Francisco Church & Sanctuary
This is also a very impressive church but much older. Right next to the church, there's a museum where you can learn more about how the church came to be and how it's changed over the years. The museum also guides you through the old sanctuary, which has been left in ruins. Walking through these ruins can feel like stepping back in time.
Visiting the San Francisco Church & Sanctuary gives you a chance to see more than just a beautiful building. It's a way to learn about the city's history, see some really old architecture, and understand more about the local culture and religion.
La Santo Domingo Hotel & Museum
Santo Domingo is a hotel built on the ruins of old Antigua. It is one of the most expensive and impressive hotels in Antigua.
This place also offers a museum that combines art, culture, and history.
You can enter the hotel for free as you can enjoy the lovely restaurant there without staying in the hotel. The museum entrance is around $5.00.
The Capuchinas Convent is a significant landmark in Antigua, known as the largest convent in the city. Its history is marked by resilience; despite being abandoned following a devastating earthquake, it stands today as a testament to Antigua's enduring spirit. Visitors can now freely explore the convent's expansive grounds, delving into the echoes of its past.
Note, that you can only pay for the entrance fee with cash! The entrance fee is around $5.00.
As an additional note, make sure to spend some time in the convent's central patio, notable for its unique circular design. Also, don't miss the chance to climb up to the rooftop, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding city and volcanoes. The Capuchinas Convent is more than just a historical monument; it's a step back in time, providing a unique glimpse into Antigua's storied past.
For an authentic slice of Antigua's past, a visit to Union Tanks is highly recommended. Originally, this spot served a practical purpose during colonial times as a communal laundry area where locals would gather to wash their clothes. Today, it retains its charm and historical significance, even as it evolves into a dynamic social hub. Tanks is more than just a remnant of colonial times; it's a vibrant, living slice of community life in Antigua, offering you a unique cultural immersion.
When taking a break...
For lunch, I can highly recommend Once Once! Very reasonable pricing and a lot of options to choose from. It is a vegan place but I would have never said it as the menu offers a variety of comfort foods.
And a perfect place where to end your day in Antigua is Cafe Sky. A great place where to watch the sunset!