Beyond Antigua: Five Quick (But Awesome) Trips
It’s not uncommon: Travelers come to Antigua, fall in love with the cobblestone streets, gorgeous old ruins, and cosmopolitan restaurants, and never want to leave. And that’s fine, except that there’s so much to see beyond the city’s borders. Here, we’ve compiled a handful of great day (and half-day) trips, as well as slightly longer excursions, that you can do using Antigua as a base. Climb a volcano, bike through the Antigua valley, or line up a tee shot with a smoking volcano. Head to the jungle to explore an ancient Mayan site or visit the highland lake of Atitlán and its small indigenous towns. Get out and explore—Antigua isn’t going anywhere.
Play 18 Holes
(Trip length: a half- or full-day.)
Designed by world-renowned golf course architect, Pete Dye, Fuego Maya is a challenging course located at La Reunión Golf Resort & Residences, just 30 minutes outside of Antigua proper. Nestled among coffee trees (it’s a former coffee plantation) and rolling hills, the course was designed to reflect the 19 months of the ancient Mayan calendar (the Wayeb bar, nicknamed the 19th hole, reflects the 19th month) and offers spectacular volcano views—Fuego, nearby, is almost always belching something. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Pacific coast. There’s a pro-shop and a golf academy that offers lessons.
Go Hiking or Biking
(Trip length: a half-day.)
Antigua is based in a valley surrounded by lush coffee farms, tranquil mountain villages, and towering volcanoes. The verdant hillsides provide incredible views, as well as great terrain for hiking and mountain biking. Grab a guide and head out on a mountain footpath or bike along some of the local back roads to get a taste of daily Guatemalan life. You’ll see everything from bustling markets and beautiful churches to cloud forests and myriad bird species. For the best views, start your tour in the morning, when skies are clearest.
Climb & Active Volcano
(Trip length: a ¾-day.)
Guatemala’s home to more than 30 volcanoes, a handful of which are known to spew a bit of ash, smoke, and lava from time to time. One of the more popular volcanoes for climbing is Pacaya, about an hour-and-a-half from Antigua. A guided hike of Pacaya (which is active) will take you along its foothills, up through pine forests, and to an area of lava rock and ash where you’ll see hot steam escaping through crevices in the ground. On a clear day, you can expect views of nearby volcanoes, the Pacific lowlands, and as far as El Salvador.
Head to Lake Atitlan
(Trip length: one to three days.)
A two-and-a-half-hour drive from Antigua, Atitlán is one of Guatemala’s main attractions. A highland lake formed from a volcanic eruption some 84,000 years ago, it’s surrounded by three giant volcanoes, myriad indigenous villages, and rugged swaths of rock and wilderness. The town of Panajachel is Atitlán’s main hub though a visit to some of the lake’s other villages is a must. Hunt for ancient Mayan caves in San Jorge La Laguna or take a lancha (a small motorized boat) to San Juan La Laguna where you’ll find gorgeous, naturally dyed textiles and traditional artwork. Be sure not to miss Santiago Atitlán, a traditional Tz’utujil Mayan town where you can track down the local shrine to Maximón, Guatemala’s cigar-smoking, liquor-swilling idol.
Explore Tikal ruins
(Trip length: one to three days)
From Antigua, a transfer by car to the Guatemala City airport and a 45-minute flight will deposit you in El Petén, Guatemala’s most remote and least-developed department. Here, you’ll find the dense rainforests of Tikal National Park, as well as the impressively restored ruins of one of the ancient Mayan’s largest civilizations; there are soaring temples, grand palaces, and large open plazas. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Tikal is also home to an impressive array of wildlife including howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, red macaws, and Morelet’s crocodiles.