With its picturesque, cobblestone streets and sceneries, Antigua is arguably one of the most beautiful towns to visit in all of Central America (let alone just Guatemala). Filled with colonial architecture, bustling markets, and spiraling volcanoes that assault from all corners, Antigua is an absolute must-visit.
In this guide, we’ll explore this Central American gem, including FIVE of the very best free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala. We’ll explore each individually, including everything you’ll need to know such as how to get there as well as the history behind each destination.
Free Thing 1: Explore The Plaza Central Park
As well the picture-perfect landmarks, Antigua is also known for its charming yet bustling plazas. For anyone backpacking Guatemala the Plaza Central Park is the heart of the town and is a great place to pass by during any time of the day. Exploring this plaza makes the top of our list as the best free thing to do in Antigua Guatemala.
Within the park, you’ll find a large fountain, as well as many benches for you to sit on and watch local life unfold in front of your eyes. There are also lots of vendors around here, selling cheap ice creams, drinks, and typical dishes of Guatemala, all for a cheap price.
Like many Latin American Plazas, this one is also surrounded by many important buildings on its outskirts, such as the Ayuntamiento and the Catedral San José. What is quaint and relaxing during the day quickly turns into atmospheric when the night comes.
During the evening you’ll find tonnes more locals out and about, with public performances and activities on regularly.
It is known that many street vendors work here and wait for tourists to arrive, so if you’re approached and not interested, simply a polite “no gracias” will suffice.
For reference, the plaza is around two blocks away from the Santa Catalina arch, so it’s worthwhile combining both on a short walk around town.
Free Thing 2: Mercado Central Antigua
Guatemala is known for its unique and vibrant culture, and there’s no better introduction than through its bustling town markets. The Mercado Central Antigua is located on the western edge of town, at the end of 3a Calle Poniente. Wandering around the market is one of our favorite free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala.
Here you’ll find locals selling everything from foods to artisanal products and electronics, however, the main experience is simply joining-in with the somewhat chaotic herd as you enter the busy ring of stalls. Here you can also spot many of the local “chicken buses” that Guatemala is famous for.
Our main tip when visiting this market is to leave all valuables at home, and any phone and wallet in your front pockets or in a safe pouch in you.
Like most Latin American countries, Guatemala also has a reputation for pickpocketing, so a little preparation before will ease most of your worries.
Also, be sure to dress down and leave flashy accessories at home; not just to avoid any unwanted attention, but also to show locals respect as many live in poverty.
Free Thing 3: Arco de Santa Catalina
Antigua truly is full of amazing architecture and beautiful landmarks. If you’re looking for free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala, you could simply wander around and take in the sights. However, the Arco de Santa Catalina has to be up there as one of the very best landmarks. Type ‘Antigua’ (followed by Guatemala of course – or else you’ll get the Caribbean island instead) into Google and this will most likely be the first image you’ll see.
This faded yellow arch and clock tower is one of the very best things to see in town, and not just for the sight itself. Located along the busy 5th Avenue Norte, here you’ll also see many locals working as well as chicken buses riding through from time to time, giving a much more authentic view of everyday Guatemalan life.
Whilst nowadays a snap-worthy site, the Santa Catalina arch used to be a walkway for the local nuns, so that they could pass into the convent without leaving the monastery.
There are some backpacker hostels close by but if you stay outside the immediate area, we recommend heading there in the early morning when the mist from the previous night is still lingering which makes for a great photo. Another great time to visit is at dusk, especially if you’re lucky to see the red lava flows of Volcán Fuego in the distance.
Whichever you decide, be sure to bring a couple of layers since temperatures plummet around these times in Antigua!
Constructed in the early 18th century, the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall in English) is one of the most stunning buildings to see in Antigua.
Free Thing 4: Walk through the Ayuntamiento
With noticeable baroque features, rows of stone pillars, and looping arches, it’s quite intriguing to see the different eras of Antigua’s rich past combine here, where you’ll be able to see a variety of contrasting styles.
Due to Guatemala’s hot tectonic activity, the town hall had been rattled by a series of earthquakes, which was then followed by restoration efforts in the 19th century. Whilst still used today by the municipal government, it’s open for viewing pleasure to the public from 8:00-12:00, and also from 14:00-18:00, making it one of the best things to do for free in Antigua Guatemala.
We recommend heading between 8:00-9:00, as you’ll beat all the crowds who come later and can have the place more or less to yourself.
We also recommend combining this with a walk in the Plaza Central Park and also to the Santa Catalina arch, since they’re all within a stone’s throw of each other (not to mention the town of Antigua being pretty small anyhow).
Free Thing 5: Cerro de la Cruz
What makes Antigua especially great is its epic landscapes, with volcanoes looming pretty much everywhere you look! Volcán de Fuego is still active, meaning you’ll also be able to see puffs of smoke every now and then, and if you’re lucky, a hot red flow of lava at night.
And as far as viewpoints go to see all of this beauty, Cerro de la Cruz is by far the best. Located just outside of Antigua on a hill (in the north), you can walk here in around 30 minutes from the town center.
As well as the views over the town, there’s also a giant cross which is great for a snap or two. Here you’ll find local vendors selling local Guatemalan dishes if you get peckish too.
Be sure to bring lots of water, as it can get quite warm during the day when you’re hiking up to the viewpoint. The absolute best time to head here is around 5 pm, just as the afternoon draws to a close.
You can thank us later! From here you can actually continue upwards into the highlands if you fancy. The path continues up to the road, and if you follow for around an hour (or get a taxi if you must!) you’ll come to a small village higher up with even better views.
And that’s all for our guide on free things to do in Antigua, Guatemala! This stunning colonial town is one of the best destinations to visit in Guatemala.
With an abundance of volcanoes to be explored, and historical sights and landmarks aplenty, it rightfully so is a must-visit when in this area of Central America.
In this guide, we’ve explored 5 of the very best things to see and do for free, which range from awesome viewpoints to picturesque buildings and sights.
We’ve also given our own recommendations on each to help you have the best experience possible, as well as how to get to each individual attraction.
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