While its colonial landmarks and UNESCO-listed historic center are a draw, the former capital of Antigua also serves as a gateway to some of Guatemala’s most impressive natural wonders and archaeological sites. See below for how best to spend three days in the city.
Day 1: Volcanoes and Viewpoints
Spend your first day getting your bearings among the colonial landmarks of Antigua’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To get the inside scoop on the enclave, opt for a walking tour. Staple sights covered include the 16th-century Church of San Francisco (Iglesia de San Francisco), the butter-yellow La Merced Church (Iglesia de la Merced), Antigua Central Park, and the Museum of Colonial Art.
Then, opt to either delve deeper into local culture on a market tour and cooking class or head to the outskirts of the city to climb to the summit of Pacaya, one of Guatemala's most active volcanoes. The hike to the top takes around two hours and is recommended for travelers of a moderate fitness level—tours typically include refreshments and round-trip transfers from your Antigua hotel.
Day 2: Lakes and Local Life
Dedicate day two to one of the largest lakes in Latin America, Lake Atitlan. Located 60 miles (95 kilometers) west of Antigua, in the shadow of the looming Atitlan Volcano, the lake is one of Guatemala’s natural highlights. Day trips typically stop at the towns of Santiago and Chichicastenango (home on Thursday and Sunday to one of the continent’s largest markets) and include both a cruise on the lake and free time to explore the waterfront villages. Tours typically return you to Antigua in early afternoon, giving you time to ascend Cerro de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), from which you can see the Pacaya volcano and all of Antigua Old Town.
Day 3: Travel Back in Time
Devote your final day to ancient Maya ruins. Choose between visiting the archeological site of Mixco Viejo, which dates back to postclassic Mayan civilization and features more than 120 elaborately painted temples, pyramids, and palaces, or the well-preserved Maya kingdom of Iximche, where you’ll find ceremonial plazas surrounded by ball courts. Being the closest archaeological site to Antigua, Iximche tours are often coupled with a visit to the nearby market town of San Juan Comalapa.
Alternatively, if you’re prepared to do more traveling, head out to the prestigious archeological site of Copán, an important UNESCO World Heritage Dite in Central America. Day trips include transport across the border to Honduras and offer insight into the 7th-century ruins.