Late Checkout: 48-Hours in Antigua, Guatemala

Iglesia De La Merced in Antigua \\ Credit:

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Late Checkout is TQE’s travel vertical. Whether you’re seeking an Eat Pray Love moment of your own,  or a wholesome family sojourn, we hope you embark on an adventure requisite of a late checkout below.

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Walking the cobblestone streets of Antigua truly felt like taking a step back in time. The entire city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. Colonial architecture weaves through the city accented by brightly colored walls and florals.

As you’re strolling the streets, nothing prepares you for the beautiful courtyards tucked away behind nearly every bright façade. Lined with greenery, fountains, mosaics, and stones, these courtyards make for the perfect hotel lobby or hidden cafe.

There is so much to see and do around this vibrant city whether you’re partial to the unplanned wander or a more rigid itinerary. 

Villa Bokéh || Credit: Villa Bokéh

To Stay:

Though you may not see it from the outside, there are tons of beautiful, boutique and luxury hotels sprinkled throughout Antigua. Many of these properties have stayed true to their traditional colonial design, with added doses of greenery, culinary excellence, and relaxing spas that truly make them feel like an oasis within the city. For a higher-end stay, check out El Convento, Villa Las Mil Flores, or Villa Bokéh. If you want a little added relaxation book at Casa Santo Domingo or Hotel Los Pasos for their incredible spas (pro-tip: you can book spa services even if you’re not a guest of the hotel).

Cacao Boutique Hotel, Los Olivos, and Camino Real are a few great options for a bit more of a budget stay.

One thing to keep in mind when looking for where to stay in Antigua is location. Antigua is an incredibly walkable city and it’s best to stay somewhere close to town for ease of access to all that you want to see. A good marker when looking at the map is anything within a 15-20 minute walk of La Iglesia de La Merced.

Central Park \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

To Do:

My favorite day in Antigua was the day we actually had no plans other than to wander. We started the day with a Guatemalan coffee (a must) at El Gran Cafe. The cafe culture in Antigua is some of the best I’ve seen in any city. There are local spots dotted around every corner with lush courtyards, chic interiors, cozy corner tables for digital nomads, and some seriously good coffee. 

From there, plan to walk a bit. Stroll through Parque Central, have a look at Real Palacio de Los Capitanes Generales and the San José Cathedral. From there, pop into the ChocoMuseo which has cacao tastings and chocolate-making classes if you have some extra time and want to take home a tasty souvenir.

As you’re walking, you’ll come across an inconspicuous peachy-orange building with a small gold Starbucks logo. GO INSIDE. I know you’re thinking: why go to Starbucks when you have all this local Guatemalan coffee, but once you enter the back courtyard you’ll understand why. Plus, Starbucks sources many of their beans from Guatemala so the coffee is the best of the best and you can sip it in their garden oasis.

Santa Catalina Arch \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

A few more paces ahead and you’ll reach the focal point of the city, the Santa Catalina Arch. On one side, this beautiful structure perfectly frames the Agua volcano and the other side outlines the famous Iglesia de La Merced. Snap some photos and admire the beauty!

Pass through the arch and up ahead will be the bright yellow structure that is La Merced Church. Admire the incredible white and yellow architecture on the front face, head inside to take a peek at the cathedral (free admission), then pay (less than $1) to see the ruins of the Convento La Merced and to go to the rooftop of the church for an amazing view of the city.

If you want to get an even higher panoramic view, head up to Cerro de la Cruz (the Hill of the Cross). You can walk to the base from the city center, then head up the short ¾ mile path to the viewpoint.

Cooking Class \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

If you’re a foodie, one of the best things you can do in Antigua is take a traditional cooking class. We went with Foodietenango and it was one of the highlights of the trip. The guide will take you through the bustling central market (something to see, but potentially overwhelming without a guide) that is home to thousands of stalls selling everything from fruits and veggies, to meats, spices, cookware, clothes, home goods, toiletries, and more. After picking out a few ingredients we took a short drive to a beautiful rooftop where the cooking class was set up. With a view of the volcanoes in the back and an always-filled glass of wine, we spent the late afternoon making traditional Guatemalan dishes like Tostadas, Guacamole, Subanik, and Rellenitos.

If you have more days to spend in the area you can visit Hobbitenango, take a day trip to Lake Atitlan (though I recommend staying there for a few days), or hike Pacaya Volcano where you try pizza cooked from the heat of the lava.

Acatenango Volcano \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

Most importantly, you’ll have to save one day and night for the epic overnight Acatenango Volcano hike. While it is an extremely challenging hike, you will be rewarded with unbelievable views of the Fuego Volcano erupting every 5-10 minutes all night long. The experience starts in Antigua at 7am and ends the next day back in Antigua around noon. I highly recommend planning your spa day for after this adventure!

Starbucks Antigua \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

To Eat & Sip:

Antigua is one of those towns where you can duck into any cute cafe you see and it’s almost guaranteed to be good. For a perfect start to the day head to Cafe Boheme, 12 Onzas, or Artista de Cafe.

The best thing to do for lunch is graze! Grab some incredible tacos at Cactus, beers and bites at Antigua Brewing Co’s rooftop terrace, and ice cream at Glacy Cream.

There are an overwhelming amount of options for dinners ranging from high-end steakhouses to traditional Guatemalan fare. For a proper taste of the local cuisine, try Rincón Antigüeño or Madre Tierra, or 27 Adentro.

Antigua Brewing Co., Adra Rooftop \\ Credit: @sivanstravel

On the higher-end side there is Aqua Antigua, La Casa del Ron, or Casa Escobar for amazing steaks. And always save room for cocktails! Grab a drink on Adra’s beautiful rooftop, Café No Sé for Mezcal, or El Barrio for a fun night out. For an incredible cocktail experience, head through the red phone booth to discover the Ulew speakeasy cave bar on the other side. There are no menus here, instead, the servers take note of your preferred liquor and flavor profile, then whip something up to fit your liking. It’s an incredible vibe inside and so fun to try a custom mystery drink.

Antigua is definitely an up-and-coming destination to visit in Central America. With the beautiful streets, bustling food scene, and adventurous day trips - this is a must-add spot to your travel bucket list!

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