Antigua Guatemala city guide: what to see plus the best bars, hotels and restaurants

Cobblestone streets lined with brightly coloured colonial buildings, a jacaranda-wreathed central plaza, 16th-century ruins and with volcanoes surrounding it … Few cities in Latin America can match Antigua Guatemala (usually referred to as just Antigua) for postcard prettiness. But this Unesco-listed city is about much more than surface-level charm and Instagram opportunities.

Founded in 1543 as the seat of Spanish power in the region, it served as its cultural, religious and economic centre for more than 200 years. The city was largely destroyed by earthquakes in the 17th century but many of the colonial buildings were rebuilt and have since been renovated. The remnants of others dot parks and gardens across the city.

Despite its historic significance and its importance for religious festivities such as Semana Santa, Antigua is not stuck in the past. There is a lively cultural scene and even its historic sites often host free public events, such as the International Jazz Festival. With many restaurants and bars packed into its centre, the food and drink scene is also one to be savoured.

Throw in a climate that’s pleasantly mild year-round and a low cost of living, and not surprisingly it’s become a magnet for expats and wealthy Guatemalan City residents wanting holiday homes. This has caused issues, with rising house prices forcing locals into satellite neighbourhoods, but the gentrification of the city has also resulted in improvements to its infrastructure and facilities, including roadworks to improve the flow of traffic and a new recycling programme.

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