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  • Writer's pictureKristin

5 Family-Friendly Things in Antigua

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

It is not often that you find someone who comes to Guatemala and doesn’t visit Antigua. This city is an iconic place within Guatemala that is well worth the visit. The colonial architecture is beautiful and the city is a popular place for even Guatemalans to come visit on the weekends. Antigua used to be the capital city of Guatemala, but after the Santa Marta earthquakes destroyed most of the city in 1773, authorities moved the capital to a less earthquake prone area – Guatemala City. Ironically it was during our stay in Antigua we experienced our first ever earthquake – a 6.2 earthquake that happened off the western coast & woke us up in the middle of the night just after 1 a.m. with the beds shaking. (However, I was half asleep & feel right back to sleep after the shaking stopped.) The next morning, we talked to a couple of locals & they just laughed as it is obviously a pretty common occurrence. We spent 4 nights and 3 full days in Antigua & we found it to be the perfect amount of time as we didn’t feel like we missed out on seeing anything. Therefore, don't miss these 5 places to explore in Antigua as a family.

No. 1: Exploring the City on Foot
Yellow gate with the colorful historical buildings in the foreground - Antigua, Guatemala.
View of Santa Catalina Arch in historic Antigua, Guatemala.

Many of the historical sites and monuments are located within the Old Town centre of Antigua & are within walking distance of each other. Because of the influence of the Spaniards there is lots of 16th Century Renaissance and Baroque-style buildings, as well as the cobblestone streets are still in existence today. However, compared to other Old Towns, Antigua is unique in that there are several churches & other buildings that exist today as ruins after the destruction of the 1773 earthquake. However, there has been an effort to restore some of these ruins, as well as they have inserted new structures within them to make them functional for different purposes today.

One of the most iconic spots within Antigua is the Santa Catalina Arch, which was built in 1694. However, it served more purpose than a nice-looking arch on the Antigua streets. There were two convents on both sides of the arch where cloistered nuns resided. These nuns had committed to a life of seclusion, but they lived on one side of the arch & taught school on the other. Therefore, the arch was built as a footbridge for them to get to the school on the other side of the street without being seen in public. This is definitely a tourist hot spot. During our 4-day stay in Antigua I never walked by it without seeing tourists there taking phots, even at 7 a.m. in the morning. [However, taking photos in the morning is probably your best bet at avoiding the crowds & possible line-ups.]

Two children looking at Santa Catalina Arch in historic Antigua.
Santa Catalina Arch - Antigua, Guatemala.

The Central Park was also a fun place to check out, as many locals hung out here. Plus, they had some really fun truck-themed ice cream carts!

A school bus ice cream cart at the main park in Antigua, Guatemala.
The unique ice cream carts in front of the Central Park in historic Antigua, Guatemala.

We found the restaurant and café culture to be strong in Antigua as well. They had so many trendy and cute coffee shops, and one night we spent the evening at Antigua Cerveza – a brewing company – that was housed within a treed area in the center of the city with the brewery, food vendors, firepits and outdoor games. However, it was definitely priced for expats, but it was still a fun evening out.

No. 2 – Visit Pacaya Volcano

One of the more popular things to do is to hike Acatenango volcano & stay overnight to watch the active Fuego Volcano, which erupts about every 15 minutes or so. However, it is a fairly strenuous 2-day hike and many adults we know have said it was difficult for them. Therefore, we decided to forego this hike with our 5 & 8-year-old and instead hike the other active volcano in the area – Pacaya Volcano. (We did get to see the Fuego Volcano fuming from the road as we drove out to the coast.) Pacaya is just over an hour drive from Antigua.

The Pacaya Volcano was dormant for over 70 years, but it began erupting again in 1961 and has had frequent eruptions since then. The last major disruption was in 2010 where many of the townspeople below the volcano were displaced. However, there have been several eruptions even in 2021 and as we were hiking, our guide shared that there were eruptions even 6 and 8 months ago, as we could see the lava flows were darker black the newer they were. Unfortunately, one of them had flowed into an avocado farm and destroyed many of the trees.

Lava flow in the valley with dormant volcanoes in the background at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala.
Some of the fresh lava flow that destroyed an avocado farm in 2021.

One additional benefit of hiking Pacaya is that you can roast marshmallows off the vents from the volcano.

It is required that you have to take a guide on this particular hike. Therefore, you can either hire a guide beforehand (that might include transportation up) or there are guides on site that you can hire as well. We decided to just hire a guide once we got there, which was 200 GQT ($26 USD/$33 CDN) for the outing, plus entrance fee into the park of 50 GQT ($6.50 USD/$8.29 CDN) for each of us (Connor was free because he was 5 years old.) In addition to the guides, there are horses available that you can rent for about 200 GQT to take you up to the top before you have to dismount & walk around.

Horse with Pacaya Volcano in the background - outside of Antigua, Guatemala.
Horses are available for hire to go up Pacaya Volcano if you choose.

There are actually two different spots you can begin the hike – one is the park entrance at San Francisco de Sales and then the other is just prior to it labelled as parking for Pacaya & with a prominent red food hut. (There is parking at the San Francisco de Sales entrance as well.) Both places will have numerous guides and horses available. We arrived just before lunchtime and didn’t run into many people on the trails, but as we were leaving around 3:30-4 p.m. many of the tour groups were arriving to begin their hike for sunset on Pacaya. However, if you are set on roasting marshmallows, just ensure that your guide knows that is what you want to do at the top, so they can grab marshmallows at the bottom.

Many of the groups we saw were starting the trail at the parking lot, but I actually thought the route starting at San Francisco de Sales might be a bit easier for kids (although in total kilometers just a bit longer). There were some steep points & I think the overall mileage might have been a bit more, but the pathway up from this point was part off-road & it was steep with lots of loose rocks. The kids went down this portion, but I think it would have been harder to go up with the loose gravel that they would have had to contend with. We went up from San Francisco de Sales and it took about 2 hours to get up top, we spent some time there & then it probably took about 90 minutes to descend the other side.

Family of four in front of Pacaya Volcano outside of Antigua, Guatemala.
Enjoying our time exploring at the base of Pacaya Volcano where we roasted marshmallows.

The experience was one of the most memorable things we did in Guatemala and one I’m sure the kids will remember as they were ‘walking on a volcano.’

Two children with hands up in the air with Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala in the background.
The kids celebrating their achievement of making it to Pacaya Volcano.

No. 3 – Hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz Lookout
The cross in the foreground with Agua Volcano & historic Antigua below - Antigua, Guatemala.
View of Agua Volcano & Antigua from the top of Cerro de la Cruz Viewpoint.

At the edge of the Old Town is the Cerro de la Cruz Lookout. We spent about 60-90 minutes one day taking the 20-minute walk from the bottom of the stairs to the top for the lookout over the town with Agua Volcano in the background. The iconic cross sits in the park with the view of Antigua below and many locals or visitors are up at the top enjoying the views and bring picnic lunches or snacks with them.

No. 4 – Antigua Coffee Tour
La Azotea Coffee Farm just on the edge of Antigua, Guatemala.
La Azotea Coffee Farm offers coffee farm & chocolate tours in Antigua.

Ever since arriving in Guatemala we have fallen head over heels for the Guatemalan coffee. It just has a much smoother taste to it than many of the coffees back in North America, so we were very interested in doing a coffee tour there. There are a few different places that you can do coffee tours in Guatemala, including around Lake Atitlan. However, we decided to do a coffee tour in Antigua one morning. It ended up being the perfect place to learn more about the 8th largest coffee producer in the world - Guatemala. After talking to one of the local baristas at a local coffee shop, they suggested visiting La Azotea Coffee Farm on the edge of Antigua. We called ahead to reserve a time slot for a tour – when we arrived we had our own personalized English-speaking guide. The cost for the tour was 70 GQT ($9.10 USD/$11.61) per adult and 60 GQT ($7.80 USD/$9.95) per child. La Azotea Coffee Farm actually supplies coffee beans to local coffee establishments, but they also mentioned Starbucks imports some of their beans to include in some of their coffee blends. They also offer workshops in making chocolate.

To start off our tour we got to see the coffee bushes, which are all kept under banana & avocado trees that provide shade for them. [In Guatemala they grow arabica coffee, which is characterized by the coffee being grown in the shade & at high altitudes.] We were even able to observe a couple workers picking the coffee cherries (because harvest is between September & March each year), and then we watched the de-husking and finally the drying of the beans. It was mind boggling to think that 6.5 lbs. of coffee cherries converts to only 1 lb. of roasted coffee or 32 cups of coffee! That means there is A LOT of cherries needed to supply coffee to the world.

Coffee beans spread out on the ground at La Azotea Coffee Farm - Antigua, Guatemala.
Coffee beans drying after being harvested and de-husked. Coffee bean harvest is from September to March each year.

There are 100 different flavours & aroma of coffee and there are a variety of growing conditions that can impact these elements. For instance, it is the altitude at which it is grown, as well as the acidity of the volcanic soil that are a couple of the elements that give Guatemalan coffee some of its unique flavors. However, there are about 8 different coffee producing regions in Guatemala and there are different aromas & flavors between them!

However, one of the most interesting aspects about Guatemala coffee is how it is consumed! Milk hasn’t historically been something widely accessible to Guatemalans, so coffee here is drank either black or with a little sugar. When we were at our homestay, the host offered coffee to our kids and then later when their nephew was over they gave him some coffee to have with his dinner. We learned that it is common for kids to drink coffee here in Guatemala – and I did confirm it still has the normal caffeine in it! This is because milk is expensive, so if they get one drink for the family they just share it! However, I never saw any hyper kids. Our guide said that they give coffee to children as young as 7 months so they must build up a resistance to it.

No. 5 - Hobbitenango
Family standing on the hand with the scenic Guatemalan views behind at Hobbitenango in Antigua, Guatemala.
Viewpoint from Hobbitenango located just outside of Antigua.

This is a popular spot just 25 minutes outside of Antigua that offers picturesque views of Antigua and the surrounding area below. It has kind of become a hot spot for Instagram photos.

On our last day in Antigua we had the afternoon free, so we decided to go check it out. It was 50 GTQ ($6.50 USD/$8.29 CDN) per person to enter. The spot is at the top of the hill, so transportation in a 4x4 truck is included. Once inside it is supposed to feel like you are in a hobbit world, and in some ways it does as the scenery ahead of you makes you feel small in comparison. Included in your admission are over 13 different viewpoints, a hobbit style mini golf, various games, the adventure swing and the viewpoint with the famous hand stretching out over the hillside. There are also some little hobbit homes where you can get food and there is overnight accommodation on site if you wanted to book that separately. It was fun for the kids to explore and do the games, but I will give fair warning on the mini golf – they are sticklers on the golf balls. The mini golf course holes are on a hillside, so the ball got away from the kids and fell into the brush. When we went to hand them in, they wanted 60 GQT per ball that was missing!

The adventure swing was pretty fun too. Clara was hesitant at first to go, but we finally convinced her to give it a try and she went to put on the harness and it was too big for her. (The sign said it was for anyone 8-99 years old.) Obviously she was a little disappointed that she had built up the courage to do it, and then couldn’t.

Viewpoint from Hobbitenango outside of Antigua, Guatemala.
One of the many view points from Hobbitenango of the volcanoes and Antigua below.

We visited in the mid-afternoon and there wasn’t too bad of a line at the viewpoint, but I imagine that there might be earlier in the morning when the light for photos would be better. It was interesting to check out and grab a couple of photos, but if you are short in time while in Antigua then I would recommend the other places listed above first.

These 5 Family Friendly Activities in Antigua were really interesting to check out and learn more about! If you’re in Antigua, make sure to include these activities in your itinerary. And if you’re checking out other places in Guatemala, make sure to check out our blog on Semuc Champey and Lake Atitlan.

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