Antigua, Guatemala, is one of the most beautiful towns in all of Central America. As I walked through the small city, I passed by hidden courtyards, colorful archways, and crumbling cathedrals. Looming in the distance sits a giant volcano, adding elements of danger and mystery to the rich ambiance. Mayan, Spanish, and Latin influences all combine into one beautiful culture-cocktail, and it’s magnificent.
The city also has a rich history. It used to be the capital of Guatemala and was originally named Ciudad de los Caballeros de Santiago. It remained the main seat of power until it was devastated by earthquakes in 1700s. Many abandoned the area and renamed the city “Antigua,” meaning Ancient. Today, Antigua is a World UNESCO site, and a popular tourist destination for those visiting the country.
I fell in love with Antigua, as many do. Below you’ll find a list of my favorite cheap activities! You could easily spend a week in Antigua, but be careful, you may never want to leave.
This is Antigua. A town full of life, culture, and one-of-a-kind experiences.
7 Cheap & Fun Things To Do in Antigua
1). Browse the Markets
Guatemalan clothing is vibrant and unique. You can’t go to Antigua without purchasing some type of homemade textile. I spent hours walking through these stores and purchased a few items to wear and take home as souvenirs. You can also find a variety of homemade goods, such as hand-carved masks, figurines, notebooks, local chocolates, coffee, and more.
2). Zipline over a Coffee Plantation
Take a taxi to Finca Filadelfia, a coffee resort. Enjoy lunch or a gourmet coffee, and then ride a 4×4 through the plantation to the zipline course where you’ll fly through the trees to multiple platforms. This small course is great for beginners. Cost is $50 per person, which isn’t cheap for Guatemalan standards, but for zipline tours, it’s very affordable.
3). Learn Spanish
Young travelers from all over the world come to Antigua to learn Spanish. There are a variety of schools teaching the language. You can take a week-long crash course or continue attending until you are fluent! I can’t think of a more beautiful place to immerse yourself in the language, with plenty to do in your free time.
4). Admire the Ruins
A free activity that I highly suggest is to conduct your own walking tour and peek inside the dilapidated 17th-century buildings that were destroyed in one of the several horrific earthquakes. Some of the ruins are open to the public, and you can get amazingly close (at your own risk). Try standing in the middle of a crumbling building and imagine what it might have looked like hundreds of years ago.
5). Eat, Eat, Eat!
There are too many restaurants in Antigua to count, and many offer a variety of eclectic food and drink. Two of my favorites include Café Sky, where you can eat on the roof and enjoy a gorgeous view of the city and volcano, and Por Qué No? Cafe a tiny restaurant with a funky vibe, serving fusion Guatemalan and European fare. Both are favored by tourists. You can also tour the ChocoMuseo to learn more about the local cocoa industry and get free samples!
6). Taste Mezcal
If you’re not familiar, mezcal is a strong liquor distilled from a Mexican agave plant. In Antigua, visit Café No Sé, a speakeasy type bar nestled only a few blocks from the center of town, to try a variety of mezcal. I tasted it and discovered I’m not a fan, but it’s a fun experience. The candlelit bar is a hoot! You’ll find hidden rooms, some that require you to bend down to enter.
7). Hike to the Cross
To get the quintessential photo of Antigua, take a short hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz. This website has a good explanation of how to get there. You can also take a taxi. I never made it to the cross as the weather was very foggy the entire time I was in Antigua. The above photo is the best shot I got of the volcano, and it only lasted for a few minutes. If you’re lucky enough to be in Antigua on a clear day, you must hike to the cross!
Antiqua is also the perfect home base and jumping off point for local volcano tours and multi-day trips to Semuc Champey – a must see jungle oasis in Guatemala. You can also book a shuttle to El Salvador, Honduras, and other destinations by booking with any local tourism agency.
Budget Saving Tips for Antigua
Stay in a Vacation Rental. AirBNB offers dozens of fantastic options in great locations, that are far cheaper than any hotel. Click on this link to receive $40 off your first booking.
Eat at the markets. The cheapest food is tucked away in the local markets. It’s what the locals eat. You can also buy fresh fruit and vegetable snacks from local street vendors.
Take the Chicken Bus. If you really want to save money, use the local transportation – Chicken Buses – instead of booking shuttles, taxis, and tuk-tuks.