Surely one of the loveliest towns in Latin America has to be Antigua. The former capital under Spanish rule, this enchanting town is filled with remains of its colonial past – colourful homes, cobblestone streets and dozens of churches, monasteries and convents. Some of it is perfectly preserved, others less so but this only adds to the charm. Today, Antigua is one of Guatemala’s most popular destinations and for good reason; it’s a lively town that’s perfect for wandering with lots of activities on offer as well. There are also dozens of Spanish-language schools here that attract visitors. Bordering Antigua are a handful of dormant and active volcanoes. The most commanding, located to the south of the city, is the Volcán de Agua or “Volcano of Water”. To the west lies Acatenango, which last erupted in 1972, and the Volcán de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire” which is almost constantly active at a low level. Volcán Pacaya is also nearby but can’t be seen from the city centre.
Antigua is also a great destination for kids (although the cobblestone streets are a nightmare for pushchairs, bring something like an Ergobaby carrier or Phil & Teds Backpack instead!) with lots of things to do. We spent a few days in Antigua in December and quickly fell in love with the town. Here are some of our favourite things to do in Antigua for all the family.
Things to do in Antigua
1. Make Chocolate at the ChocoMuseo
Eat, drink and breathe chocolate at the fun and family-friendly ChocoMuseo. The shop / museum / cafe offers a number of workshops where you can get your hands gooey including a very kid-friendly Bean to Bar class that lasts 40-minutes (this activity was so child-friendly that even our 21-month-old took part). Children are taught the history of chocolate and taken through the basic production process before being let loose (under supervision, of course) to create their own chocolatey treats. When we visited our lively instructor, Raul, was excellent with the kids. There are various ChocoMuseos throughout Central and South America including one in Granada, Nicaragua,. The ChocoMuseo is located 1.5 blocks from the main square.
2. Discover Your Maya Birth Sign
Visit the Jade Museum to discover your Maya birth sign. Look up your birth date according to the Maya calendar in the museum shop and then discover your corresponding sign. My kids quickly found that their signs were that of the “B’atz” (Monkey) and the “Tijax” (Fish), and they walked away with jade pendants engraved with their respective birth symbols. It’s a fun activity for children and the shop houses some lovely jade jewellery which would make an ideal gift for mum! There’s a museum on site as well, home to the only set of jade marimbas in the world.
Adddress: Casa del Jade, 4a Calle Oriente
3. Tour the Cobbled Streets
Elizabeth Bell is an American who moved to Antigua with her family as a teenager and then never left. The author of numerous books, she is widely regarded as one of the preeminent experts on Antigua and has been rewarded for her preservation efforts (the Gold Award ‘Diego de Porres’, the Guatemalan government’s highest award). Elizabeth and her team run almost daily cultural walking tours of the pretty cobblestone streets, which my parents enjoyed greatly. The regular tours are rather long for kids, however, family-friendly tours are also available with advance notice.
For more information take a look at Elizabeth’s website: AntiguaTours
4. Roast Marshmallows on Pacaya Volcano
Located an hour’s drive from Antigua is Pacaya Volcano, one of the country’s most active volcanoes. The easiest way to journey through the cornfields, forests and old lava flows towards the top, is on horseback. Particularly if you’re travelling with kids; you can even roast marshmallows over lava vents! You can also tackle an overnight journey to Pacaya Volcano with kids if you’re feeling very adventurous.
5. Buy a Mask at the Artisan market
The characterful artisan market (Mercado de Artesanias) is located to the west of town and is a fun place to wander. It’s very much a market for tourists but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some good souvenirs. My kids both bought a small watercolour painting – one a picture of Antigua and the other a painting of a Quetzal, the national bird. There are stacks of traditional embroidery, walls of wooden masks, religious iconography, paintings and the ubiquitous “guatever” and “guat’s up” t-shirts. As with all crowded spaces, keep a close eye on your personal belongings. Next door to the artisan market is the local’s market where you can buy knock-off Crocs, fruit and veg, second-hand clothes and even (so locals tell us) the occasional iguana on a stick!
Address: 4a Calle Poniente
6. Snap Volcano Views
If you plan to visit the Artisan Market then it’s worth stopping off at El Convento la Recolección either before or after your shopping spree. The remains of this former church and monastery are surrounded by parkland making it a great destination for kids to run around. Mine also enjoyed clambering over the ruins. There are also some magnificent volcano views to be had!
7. See the Sunset from Santo Domingo del Cerro
Santo Domingo del Cerro sits at the top of a hill overlooking Antigua and the volcanoes beyond. It’s part of the Casa Santo Domingo hotel (the most luxury hotel in town) and boasts gorgeous gardens scattered with the creations of some of Guatemala’s most well-known artists. There’s a restaurant on site where you can dine watching the sun set over the spectacular scenery. A free shuttle runs between Casa Santo Domingo and Santo Domingo del Cerro regularly.
8. Make Friends in Plaza Mayor
Like most towns in Latin America, Antigua’s heart and soul lies in the main plaza. This shaded central square is busy day and night with locals selling textiles, jewellery and toys such as bubble-making machines, which my youngest found fascinating (of course!). It’s also a popular spot for families to spend time together….and for reunions with old friends! This is where we gathered with Victoria and her family for a few hours. A handful of coffee and ice cream shops face the square on 5a Avenida Norte.
9. Take a Toy Break
We fell in love with Mico, a colourful toy store that stocks lots of traditional wooden toys. On one wall hangs dozens of miniature wooden animal masks (which I now wish I’d bought), numerous mobiles hang from the ceiling and the shelves are stacked with a carefully curated selection of toys (i.e. no Peppa Pig!). It’s a lovely place to browse and a good treat for the kids.
Address: Store 4 Calle Oriente 7
10. Get Creative at Cre8 Antigua!
We’ve recently been told about Cre8 Antigua, a creative space where kids can paint, dance, ride bikes, take classes more. Neither of us have visited Cre8 but it sounds like a fun place for the family. And, if you’re planning on being in Antigua for more than a few days, they run summer classes that sound like a lot of fun. You can find more information on their Facebook page.
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