Easily one of the best-kept secrets of Central America, Antigua Guatemala is a beautiful town. That has done its due diligence in trying to preserve its colonial past. With its cobblestone streets and numerous convents and cathedrals, it brings to life what life was once like. From across the Americas from Mexico to Chile. But its history is not the only draw for visitors to Antigua Guatemala.
The city’s advantageous location means that it is nestled among several volcanoes, both active and dormant. Which offers stunning views and several options if you wish to venture outside the colorful architecture of Antigua. This will be the focus here as we explore what are the best days trips from Antigua Guatemala.
One of the top options is also one of the most daunting. Acatenango is a 13,045-foot (3,976-meter) volcano whose trailhead is located one hour east of Antigua Guatemala. The hike is steep, and a moderate amount of fitness. Plus stamina is desired to make this hike enjoyable. But do not let that deter you. Porters are available at the bottom of the volcano to offer their services. As well as to travelers, for rental equipment such as hiking poles. (Which you will absolutely want).
Despite the moderate difficulty, the scenery is hard to beat when you combine the mist forest located along the trail and the lookout points where you can see the villages below. It can get chilly. So you will want to pack warm clothes for the higher altitudes. Hikes typically last 7 to 10 hours and can be done in a day. Though several comfortable base camps exist, making an overnight stay an attractive option for many.
This is especially true because of the fact that nearby Fuego Volcano is very much still active and those that stay after dark will get a show as lava cascades down its sides. This is all within full view of basecamp and can even be watched from your tent.
If hiking a volcano piques your interest but you are looking for something a little less strenuous. Then Acatenango Pacaya Volcano is the right choice for you. Standing at 8,373 feet (2,552 meters), Pacaya is located just over an hour south of Antigua Guatemala. The trail up the volcano is much less steep and offers equally great views of the surrounding valley. Plus the countless tons of lava rock.
Upon arriving, you will once again be offered services by locals, either in the form of horseback rides or once again hiking poles. (Which are not necessary given the low difficulty). Halfway through your hike, which usually lasts 4 to 5 hours, the landscape will transition from dirt and greenery to barren rocky outcrops formed by the recent eruptions of Pacaya. Though technically active, there is no regular flow of lava. But thermal gas seeps from underground in certain areas which allows visitors the opportunity to roast marshmallows. And order from the only pizza joint on top of a volcano.
However, if you are lucky, you may be witness to one of Mother Nature’s greatest spectacles, from a safe distance of course, as massive eruptions occur every couple of years.
Corazón de Agua Ecological Park
Located 30 minutes west of the city, Corazón de Agua Ecological Park is a quaint and beautiful nature reserve. That allows travelers the opportunity to explore the environment around Antigua Guatemala. And make it back in time for a late lunch.
The main trail is a 2.9-mile (4.7- km) circle that can be completed in 2 to 4 hours in which visitors are unlikely to encounter fellow hikers given the popularity of other nearby areas. Along the trail, you can see the water source that feeds the whole municipality. As well as Antigua Guatemala itself from the lookout point near the top. There is also a picnic area and children’s playground making Corazón de Agua a perfect outing for the whole family.
If you would like to see some ancient ruins but do not have the time to visit Guatemala’s most famous Mayan Ruins. Don’t worry as there are options close to Antigua as well. Iximché is a Mayan archeological site that is located an hour and a half northwest of Antigua. Once the capital of a thriving Kaqchikel kingdom. The ruins have also been the site of state visits from foreign leaders. As well as formal meetings held during the country’s civil war.
Though lesser known than the ruins located in the country’s north, Iximché is a large, well-preserved site. It hosts some 250 visitors a day. Those that find themselves here are able to explore the ruins either by themselves or by guided tour. And visit the museum, where several artifacts recovered from the ruins are located. And they can enjoy a nice picnic area.
Another great option is to visit Guatemala’s famous lake district of Atitlán. Lake Atitlán is located 2 to 3 hours northwest of Antigua. And offers numerous activities and lifestyles to enjoy. This is because of the many towns that surround Central America’s deepest lake. Your choice of town will depend on what you would like to accomplish while at Lake Atitlán.
Here is a rundown of the main areas:
Panajachel is the main town and the hub of trade around the lake with its many markets and artisanal workshops. If you prefer to hike, then the southern towns of San Pedro La Laguna, Santiago Atitlán, and San Lucas Tolimán are all conveniently located near volcanoes jutting right up the lake. San Pedro is also a local hub for backpackers and has the liveliest nightlife as a result.
If you are more interested in the vibrant colors and complex designs of Mayan art, then San Juan La Laguna is the perfect place for you. Much of San Juan is ornately decorated with accompanying street art and local sellers of all kinds of crafts. If you are in search of a more tranquil experience, San Marcos La Laguna is a destination for those seeking spiritual healing
The Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve located just outside of San Marcos offers stunning views and a popular spot for cliff jumping. If you would like to dive deeper into the lake’s many towns, please check out our article on Lake Atitlán!
A shorter day trip may take you to one of Antigua’s many surrounding fincas. Which is a catchall term for rustic properties that offer various activities and sites for visitors. These range widely with nearby fincas offering hiking trails, plantations, viewpoints, nature reserves, and bird watching. Finca El Pilar is a cloud forest that offers most of the above and is located just 15 minutes south of town. Another popular one is Finca Filadelfia which is only 10 minutes north of Antigua and offers visitors tours of its coffee plantation.
The final day trip option is also conveniently located only 20 minutes north of Antigua. Stylized
after the famous town from the novels, Hobbitenango has a Lord of the Rings theme park and
hobbit holes that you can visit as well as several restaurants. Also nearby is an avocado farm,
yoga studio, and several stunning lookout points.
Antigua Guatemala itself is a wonderfully stunning place that is worth visiting. But so are the
many locations in its environs. I hope this guide has helped you get a better understanding of
what the region has to offer as you make plans for your day trip from Antigua!