Welcome to my guide detailing how to visit Antigua Guatemala on a budget. In this post, you will find all the free and budget-friendly things you can do in Antigua but also all the remaining awesome activities available if you feel like splashing some coins.
I don’t think you can say you have really been to Guatemala if you didn’t visit Antigua. There are a few staple stops on the Guatemala travel route that put together will paint a fuller picture of the country. And Antigua Guatemala is one of them.
Please don’t hate me for this statement. I usually am not the person to tell you what to do and how to travel. Yet, I believe 2 Guatemala locations are must-sees if you want to grasp the feel of the country (there are more, of course, but those two are essential). Antigua is the first one, and the other is Lake Atitlan.
Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala and Unesco World Heritage Site is a magical city where the time has been preserved in its colonial walls and buildings. Still, the new is knocking on its doors, making it a unique and versatile place to both visit and live.
Antigua Guatemala surprised me. Of course, I was told it is a beautiful city, and I knew many ex-pats chose it as their permanent home for a reason. But there was something truly enchanting about walking its cobbled streets, immersing in the town surrounded by majestic volcanoes and learning about its history and heritage.
And of course, I could not leave out its incredible food scene! One of the main reasons I was sad on the day I had to leave, was because there were still so many places I could eat in, and dishes I hadn’t tried yet.
Antigua is a wonderful town, but also I found it very mysterious. It felt like the old buildings, ruins, colourful colonial facades and cobbled streets had a story to tell.
I arrived in Antigua, Guatemala, towards the end of my money. It was already my ‘coming back’ route towards Panajachel and then Mexico. I know it’s a long way home – but it made sense at the time. (You can read about it in this article)
There are tonnes of amazing things to do in Antigua, and as much as Guatemala is a very affordable country, Antigua sits on the pricier side. No wonder! Antigua is very popular among travellers of all budgets and is also home to many ex-pats.
I was warned before my arrival that Antigua is not cheap, especially when it comes to dining out or just simply having a coffee and cake. And I must admit a lot of it was true. However, I was determined not to let my limited budget restrict my experience.
When producing those articles, I always look into issues I had to face during my travels and then create content that could help others. So I went on a mission to find awesome things to do in Antigua that are either free or very budget-friendly, and I had an amazing time.
You can easily visit Antigua on a budget. And this article is here to show you how.
Table of Contents
Antigua Guatemala on a Budget / Free and Affordable Things to do in Antigua
Explore the Town of Antigua
This one goes without saying. One of the best things to do in Antigua is just exploring the town, strolling its cobbled streets and watching life goes by.
Locals and visitors going about their lives, indigenous women dressed in colourful dresses selling their crafts, men having their shoes polished, ice cream and roasted nuts sellers, many locals offering ‘information(trying to sell the tours)’, kids running around the many plazas, backpackers coming and leaving and colourful chicken busses transporting people to different locations.
Throughout the 18th century, the city was considerably damaged by the number of earthquakes, and the eventual capital was moved to today’s Guatemala City. Antigua has since been rebuilt many times, but the remains of its old glory can still be witnessed.
Walking along Antigua is fascinating. A combination of old and new, ruins of temples and monasteries destroyed by earthquakes, colourful colonial buildings, cobbled streets totally unsuitable for footwear any other than trainers, museums, churches and myriad of quirky cafes and restaurants.
Parque Central is the city’s heart, with the reconstructed fountain acting as a popular gathering spot. It is a perfect spot to just people watch and take on the Antigua atmosphere. Surrounding the park are arched buildings hiding a variety of shops, coffee places, restaurants and much more. The park itself is more of a green square offering benches and places to sit by the fountain. This square is always busy and perfect for both relaxing and people watching.
To the north, you will find a famous Arco de Santa Catalina, one of the most recognizable landmarks of Antigua. For the best photo opportunities, come early in the morning. This is when you’ll have the best chance to see the Aqua Volcano not covered in clouds, and hoards of tourists did not yet invade the streets.
From there, take a walk towards La Merced church, located right in front of Parque la Merced. This stunning yellow church is standing amid a lovey park and plaza – full of street vendors, locals visiting the church and tourists alike. It is also a great area to find more affordable eating places, especially if you continue walking Calle Poniente and towards the market.
On the other side of Parque Central, you will find another charming and bit quieter square – with nearby Iglesia San Pedro Apóstol And Santa Clara Convent. In front of Santa Clara Convent, you will discover Tanque La Unión – a historic gathering place that people used to wash their clothes during colonial times.
The truth is that you don’t even need to follow any guidelines when it comes to discovering the town. Antigua Guatemala is perfectly walkable, and whichever direction you might take – you will find unique sites and interesting buildings to marvel or photograph.
One of my favourite ways to discover a town on a budget is by joining a free walking tour whenever I first arrive. I can learn the history of the town, discover places that maybe I wouldn’t be able to find on my own and often meet other travellers in the process. If I have any burning questions about the location or safety – I always ask those questions to the tour guide. I highly recommend it!
Please note that those tours are free to join but given the tour often offers extreme value it is customary to leave a tip at the end of the tour. I always research what is the typical tip for a free walking tour in my current location.
Check out those free walking tours in Antigua!
Visit a local market and Mercado Artesanas
Visiting a market in Guatemala and all of Latin America is so much more than shopping. In fact, I visited tons of markets and bought very few things. The fun is to walk around, discover all the crafts, talk to the vendors and take in the busy vibe.
There is a Mercado Municipal as well as Artisan Market in Antigua, and neither of them should be missed! It’s a thriving hub where surly everything is bought and sold, from fresh fruits and vegetables to electronics and clothes. Also, if you are looking to cook in the hostel, you can get very cheap fruit and vegetables as well as other produce. Remember to haggle!
I was amazed by the incredible art and colourful crafts in Guatemala. And Antigua wasn’t any different. I actually decided that if one day I will have a house (if…), I will come back to Guatemala to purchase the decoration and art. It is truly spectacular.
A Money Saving Tip – Haggle, haggle and haggle some more. Be polite and respectful though. Semi interested. Than pretend you are walking away. Always works! You might even get the item half price if you play it well.
Visit the Chocolate Museum
This small cosy museum and shop offers chocolate-making workshops, but you can just pop in for free and wander around. You will find some interesting information about how chocolate is made, and of course, you will be able to purchase some samples.
I must admit Guatemala is the country where I had the best chocolate. Ever! I was never a chocolate person as such, but since I visited Guatemala, I became a total chocolate snob. It will be very hard to impress me from now on.
Explore Hotel Museum Casa Santo Domingo
I thought to myself, what is so special about luxury hotels and gardens?
The number of times Casa Santo Domingo was recommended to me made me want to go and check it out. I wasn’t expecting to be this blown away.
It’s a beautiful palace-like hotel with five on-site museums and stunning public gardens. As I entered, I totally forgot where I was and could easily spend a day just walking around.
This hotel museum has been beautifully merged with the Convent of Santo Domingo ruins.
In the 17th century, the Convent of Santo Domingo was one of the largest in America, and in 1773, the earthquake of Santa Marta almost entirely destroyed it. In 1989 the project aiming to rescue the Convent and Temple remains buried under tons of rubble started and gave birth to Hotel Museum Spa Casa Santo Domingo.
Stylish hotel and stunning gardens are connected with the recovered ruins, with five different museums added to the site. I loved my day spent exploring this hotel. Fascinating museums, beautiful aesthetics of the hotel and of course, hand made a chocolate shop! I recommend visiting this hostel. It can be easily done in half a day and the entrance to the hotel and gardens is free. The museum entrance was Q25, so given you get to see five different museums – it’s a bargain.
Take a hike to Cerro de la Cruz for the best panoramic views of Antigua Guatemala
This is an enjoyable walk, and the views are to die for. And it is a totally free thing to do in Antigua. The climb is a little bit steep, and there are steps to be conquered, but it’s completely worth it.
Again, I recommend doing it first thing in the morning as it is more likely that you will get a clear sky and the best views. The entry is free, and the entrance is located right on the edge of the town. Although some tuk-tuk drivers will offer you a ride there – I would say it is perfectly walkable all the way there. And we are here to save coins as well, aren’t we?
Search for remnants of Antigua Guatemala past
Although to enter some of the best Antigua ruins, you will have o pay around Q40 – it is still very affordable and worth every penny. You can easily walk around the town and take a sneak peek from outside, but some of them are worth an actual visit.
Convento Santa Clara and La Recoleccion are really worth their ticket price. If you’d like to see them, you can download this Self-guided Walking Tour guide and make it a half-day adventure.
Shop for Souvenirs at Nim Pot
Shopping for souvenirs can be very affordable if you do it right. I personally really liked the Nim Pot Shop. Full of original and handmade Guatemalan crafts and your typical bags, fridge magnets and loads of t-shirts. You will also find some beautiful colourful masks, textiles and art.
I am not a souvenir type of person, partially because I travel with one bag, never know when I’m actually going to settle and for how long, but also, I’d rather spend my money on experiences and travelling for longer than a souvenir that will eventually get lost.
I did buy myself a cool T-shirt at Nim Pot, and I wear it to this day. (I also bought a handmade Guatemalan bag in Panajachel – which I’m also still using lol)
When buying souvenirs in Guatemala and most Latin American countries, you can get nearly everything at a lower price. Especially on the markets. Nim Pot, however, have set prices, but their articles are authentic and produced with love and dedication. I really liked this shop. Recommended!
Antigua Guatemala on a Budget / More Things to Do
The below activities are on the pricier side but definitely worth considering if your budget allows.
Take a Trip to Chichicastenango Market
Taking a trip to the Chichicastenango market should be on top of your list when in Antigua.
Chichicastenango town is famous for hosting market days on Thursdays and Sundays. Vendors sell food, flowers, pottery, crafts, plants, candles, and traditional incense), textiles, household products, pigs, chickens and other crazy items.
The famous masks used by dancers in traditional dances are also manufactured in Chichicastenango.
Right next to the market, you will see the 400-year-old church of Santo Tomás. It is built on top of an ancient temple, and the steps originally leading to a temple of the pre-Hispanic Maya civilization remain worshipped. Maya priests still use the church for their ceremonies and rituals. In special cases, they burn a chicken for the gods.
It is a fascinating visit. A true insight into the lives of indigenous Maya and their traditions. A fascinating place to photograph as well.
I am gutted I didn’t get to visit. The tour I had booked was cancelled last minute, and I then planned to take a trip from Lake Atitlan. But I had to cut my trip short from there, and Chichicastenango didn’t happen. It was recommended to me by so many travellers that I insist you go; if you can. I will return to Guatemala sooner rather than later – it will be on top of my to-do list, for sure!
A Money Saving Tip – Don’t take the first price offered (If you decide to take an organized trip, that is). Shop around. I visited few tour operators around the town and always managed to get a better price. Apparently, Chichicastenango trip can be made by local chicken busses and colectivos. Please speak t the hostel stuff before you do it. I was told this trip could be a bit dangerous. Let me know if you have done it and share any tips you might have too 🙂
Hike The Acatenango Volcano
Guatemala is abundant in incredible volcano hikes and hiking Acatenango Volcano is one of the best things you can do in Antigua, Guatemala. It is an extraordinary experience, and witnessing the neighbouring Fuego Volcano exploding in the middle of the night is something you will never forget.
Acatenango Volcano hike is an overnight trip. You will hike a very steep and challenging route to the Acatenango Volcano basecamp, where you will sleep in tents. From there, you will have a choice to stay and just keep staring at the erupting volcano (an incredible experience in itself) or continue for an early morning sunset walk to the summit.
Roast Marshmallows At Volcano Pacaya
Many claim that the Pacaya hike is an excellent alternative to Acatenango, in case you are worried that the latter might be a bit too challenging for you.
Pacaya is an active volcano that can be climbed (how far depends on current activity). It erupts very frequently, and it is hot enough to allow you to roast the marshmallow but save enough to be climbed upon.
Take an afternoon walk for a chance to see the incredible sunset.
Take A Coffee Tour
Guatemala is home to high-quality coffee (and chocolate) and is one of this wonderful drink’s biggest producers and exporters in the world. I had fantastic coffee wherever I was in Guatemala, and I learned to drink it black to truly enjoy the taste.
Apart from chocolate making workshops Antigua and its surrounding offers great coffee tours, so if you manage to get some time and budget – it’s a great way to spend a morning in Antigua, Guatemala.
Among the recommended Coffee Tour Companies are La Azotea and Finca Filadelfia. You will learn all about growing and producing coffee and, of course, sample excellent coffee!
Learn Spanish in Antigua Guatemala
Guatemala is one of the best countries to learn Spanish not only because the Guatemalan accent is quite neutral but also because there are tonnes of very high-quality Spanish schools spread across the country. Antigua and Lake Atitlan are the most popular areas of Guatemala for Spanish learners.
Why not stay a bit longer (you will have more time to enjoy all those great activities) and sign up for a Spanish school in Antigua? Amongst the best and most reputable schools are Spanish School Don Pedro de Alvarado and Antigueña Academy
A Money Saving Tip – Choose a hostel with a kitchen. I found restaurants in Guatemala to be more expensive than in Colombia or Mexico, for example. You can get your veggies very cheap if you shop at a local market. The majority of hostel kitchens will have some sugar, salt, species and often oils and other shared items. Many offer free water refill and coffee in the morning also for free. Check your hostel kitchen before heading to the shop!
Best budget Restaurants in Antigua
I found Guatemala’s restaurants to be on the pricier side. Nevertheless, eating out in Guatemala is fantastic, and Antigua has a wonderful selection of restaurants and coffee shops. I did cook in the hostel most of the time, however, in order to save some money. Those few times I went out for lunch and dinner, I was very selective and listened to local recommendations. This is where I have eaten in Antigua Guatemala on a budget and loved it!
Rincon Tipico is the most famous and for a good reason. The food is awesome! Every day for lunch, they serve a ‘menu del dia’, which includes a soup, drink and a different dish every day for Q30. The menu usually consists of typical options like Pollo a la plancha, Pepian, Longaniza and Res. Their regular menu, however, is a bit expensive.
Taqueria Dona Lupita and Ta’Cool Taco Shop are great for tacos! And for best ‘menu del dia’ deals, look for las Puertas and El Nopal. Refaciones Patty is also a great small place for lunch with great deals!
I stumbled across Panaderia y Cafe Santa Clara just by accident, and it was a very fortunate find. In panaderia, you will get great empanadas and all sorts of sweet and savoury quick bites. There is a stand (for lunch) at the front of the hotel, where you can get a portion of rice, chicken, pasta and other daily dishes for takeaway. Upstairs you will find a very reasonably priced restaurant.
Toko Baru was very highly recommended to me, and although I normally stick to the local food, this restaurant is excellent. Although not the cheapest from this list, the portions are very generous. It is not the most Indian food you will ever eat, but it was very delicious! Great value for money!
Apart from typical restaurants, you will find many small local establishments where you can see women cooking the food what looks like straight from their homes. Great places to get typical Guatemalan dishes at an excellent price. Some other time it will be a tiny restaurant, often not even listed on Google Maps. I found one serving amazing Chilles Rellenos, and it was a treat!
Then you have the beloved by Guatemaltecos, Pollo Campero. It is a fast-food chicken establishment (not something I would typically recommend), but it is very popular amongst locals, and if you are a chicken lover, you will enjoy it. It offers great value too!
A Money Saving Tip – For a good lunch deal, always look for restaurants offering ‘Menu del Dia’ (Menu of the day). If you make it your main meal of the day, you can save quite a lot. This is usually a set menu consisting of a drink (i recommend Jamaica juice!), soup and a main meal – often you can choose between few. It is always local, fresh food and great value for money!
Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala on a Budget
When choosing a hostel, try to find one with a good kitchen and preferably breakfast or at least coffee included in the price.
I stayed in Somos hostel, and I really liked it. The dorm beds were super comfy! Although the breakfast wasn’t included, there was a morning coffee, free water refill and a great kitchen with the terrace overlooking the volcanos. Great wifi too!
Other highly recommended and good value hostels in Antigua Guatemala are Maya Papaya (not the cheapest but highly rated and with good breakfast included), Tropicana Hostel (great price, garden and pool!) and The Purpose Hostel offering great roof terrace and filtered water, coffee and tea available all day.
Although I didn’t stay there myself I have heard loads of good opinions about Ojala Hostel. Beautifully decorated hostel with Sunday yoga classes and great coffee.
How much does it Cost to Visit Antigua / Antigua on a Budget
I had traced back my expenses back to when I was in Antigua. I have spent ten days in the town and, on average, spent €40/$45 a day, including accommodation, food, lunches and dinners, a good night out at Selina, and a few treats in the form of souvenirs, chocolates and so on.
I would say that a careful traveller that cooks in a hostel most days (basic foods like pasta or toasts and eggs), doesn’t really drink or drinks cheap beer(wine in Guatemala is expensive, so I could definitely save there!) and only enjoys the free or affordable activities could easily spend between €25/$30 and 35/£40. If you want to go on some more expensive trips and like going out and would like to cook some more exciting meals, I would say a reasonable budget is around €45/$50.
Regardless of your budget, you should definitely spend a few days in Antigua, Guatemala. I hope this guide will help you budget your trip but nevertheless remember, the best things in life are free! Make friends, go for walks, take tons of photos and bring back memories.
Happy travelling, my friends!
Exploring more of Guatemala?
I hope you are heading towards Lake Atitlan because this place is just magical! Here you will find a complete guide to things to do and towns around Lake Atitlan.
And of course, don’t forget to explore the Tikal National Park!
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