Guatemala City is the enormous capital of the country, but nearby Antigua is the major tourist draw in the area. Antigua was once the Spanish capital of South America and its town center is beautifully preserved in its gorgeous setting between several active (but not dangerous) volcanoes. The mad hustle and bustle of the present capital is non-existent in Antigua, which makes it a great place to get introduced to Guatemala without being overwhelmed.
What To Do
The main town square is called the Parque Central and the main cathedral is only one of the historic buildings surrounding this pleasant park area. Cultural walking tours of the city are given six days a week and are a highly recommended introduction to the area. Bus tours leave from in front of the tourist office on the main square and the trip includes most of the major landmarks as well as a tour of a nearby coffee plantation.
You’ll enjoy Antigua more if you speak at least some Spanish as English is not nearly as common as it is in most other tourist areas. If you’ll be touring Central America for a while this will be a common situation and Antigua is a very popular place for short and intense Spanish lessons. For a very reasonable fee you can live with a host family for a week or more and spend half your day learning Spanish and the other half in total emersion with the family. It’s a very efficient way to become at least tourism fluent in a very short time.
There is some long distance bus service in Guatemala, but it’s not as modern or pleasant as it is in the countries to the south. Most people will want to book a flight into Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport. It’s a large airport so good deals are often available. La Aurora is about 30 miles from Antigua and cheap buses are available, but taxis aren’t expensive and should be considered if you are in a group. If you are flying to or from Flores/Tikal you may use a small regional airport in Guatemala City that has fewer transportation options available, but shuttles to Antigua are available after flights land there.
Where To Stay
There are quite a few hostels in Antigua as well as loads of hotel options in all price ranges. The center of the city is fairly small and prices are low so it’s probably worth it to pay a bit more for a central location than to save a bit by staying far away. The center of the city is charming at night so choose your location wisely. The better places tend to book up early in peak times so plan ahead.