Back in November 2018, I spent two weeks in Antigua, Guatemala. My main priority for my time there was to study Spanish in one of the excellent Spanish schools, but outside of school hours, I tried to fit in as many activities as possible because Antigua is a really incredible place, with some amazing things to do. Obviously since I went, we have had a pandemic span the globe but if things ever return to some form of normal, here are some ideas if you have a few days or a week in Antigua!
1. Hike up Acatenango
This was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life, let alone in Antigua! Acatenango is an ‘active’ volcano that hasn’t erupted for 50 years, and is adjacent to Fuego, which is a very active volcano, puffing several times a day. Hiking up all 4000m of Acatenango – one of the highest peaks in Central America – gives you an incredible front row seat looking down at Fuego erupting. As explained, I was there in November 2018, and Fuego had actually had a serious eruption in the June of 2018 which sadly killed many people. It (she?) then actually erupted again in a big way on one of my first days in Antigua, and thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding villages. All hikes to Acatenango were cancelled because of the risk of potential dangerous gases, so I wasn’t able to do the hike until the last few days of my time in Antigua. I’m so glad I was able to, and it was so incredible it deserves its own post, which I shall write shortly after this!
2. Volcán de Pacaya
This was another amazing volcanic experience, and one I fully recommend. On my first day in Antigua, I booked myself onto a group tour that left the next day, to climb up Pacaya, a semi-active volcano, which is about an hour and a half drive from Antigua. I got picked up at 6:00am, and after picking a few others up in various accommodation around Antigua, we headed straight there. At around 7:30ish we arrived at the volcano, bought our entrance tickets and began the climb. Our group was a complete mix of ages and abilities, and nationalities and everyone got talking as we hiked, it was nice. It was a pretty climb, up lots of green hills and amazing views of the three volcanoes that sit closer to Antigua – Agua, Acatenango (double peaked) and Fuego. On the way up we learnt more about the volcanoes from our knowledgeable local guide, she taught us about Fuego’s deadly eruption that year.
Pacaya itself last erupted in 2015, and towards the top is mostly black, sharp volcanic rocks that are quite hard to walk across. We didn’t hike right to the summit, just to the volcanic rock and around it, but as we got higher, you could feel the heat from underneath the rocks. The guides brought marshmallows and we could toast them in the gaps between the rocks which was pretty incredible. It is a popular climb and there were plenty of other tour groups. We took a different route back down and hiked down via previous lava trails which made the ground really slippery.
3. Walk up to Cerró de la Cruz.
Back in Antigua city centre, there is popular walk to a viewpoint. From my house in Antigua city centre, it was about a 30-minute walk up to the Cerró de la Cruz . It is pretty straight-forward, I followed maps.me to get there through the neighbourhoods but when you get close, it is signposted. The last bit is a steep walk uphill, lots of steps but perfectly manageable. The name says what it is on the tin, cerro means hill and cruz means cross, so at the top of the hill there wasn’t much – a big cross, and a bit of patchy grass where people sit, and then a few sellers selling souvenirs and fruit and other bits. But the main attraction is that its a very beautiful viewpoint over Antigua city, with Volcano de Agua looming in the background. It was pretty amazing.
4. Explore the City
On a couple of afternoons after school, I explored the city of Antigua, all its ruins, colourful historic buildings and markets. It is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been in, with its colour, cobblestones and flanked on each side by volcanoes. There are several museums, I visited some on Mayan history, Jade and Chocolate which were all really interesting. There are also several markets, one huge market by the chicken bus station where the locals shop and then a couple of more touristy markets by the yellow arches in the city centre. You can get just about everything you would ever need between the two of them. I absolutely loved the tourist market, I bought a huge selection of multi-coloured tourist bags and clothes!
5. Earth Lodge
The afternoon after climbing Pacaya, I met up with two English girls I had met on the hike, and we celebrated our achievement with a few bottles of wine at Earth Lodge, which is a hostel with a lovely restaurant cafe area with incredible views over Antigua. The wine was called El Gato Negro and was really nice!
And lastly, this is not technically Antigua but I took a day trip to Monterrico beach which was a couple of hours bus away which was a beautiful black sand beach.