Most people by-pass Guatemala City when arriving in Guatemala and head directly to Antigua. Located around 40km from the capital (1.5 hours by car) in the central highlands of Guatemala, it’s easy to get to and is a lovely, quiet town for exploring with kids.
Founded in 1524, Antigua was the country’s third capital city (the first was Iximiche). Despite being largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1773, it is still considered one of the best preserved colonial cities in Central America and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Surrounding the city are a number of volcanoes, some of which are still active. The Volc?n de Agua or “Volcano of Water” is the most prominent and is located to the south of the city.?Acatenango lies to the west and is joined with the?Volc?n de Fuego or “Volcano of Fire”. Together they are known as La Horqueta.
Antigua has a lot to offer both adults and kids, with many engaging experiences that will open little minds and hearts. The following is my pick on top things to do in Antigua with kids.#Antigua is packed full of kid-friendly experiences! #Guatemala #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet
Things to do in Antigua with Kids
1. Learn how chocolate is made at the ChocoMuseo
It’s impossible to walk past Antigua’s ChocoMuseo without being lured in by the tantalising aroma of chocolate. If you follow your noses from the main square you’ll smell it within a block or two – it wafts out of the canary-yellow building that sits on 4a Calle Oriente (between 2a and 3a Avenida Norte) .
Inside the space comprises a shop (with lots of chocolate chunks to sample!), a museum with a few interactive exhibits showcasing the history and production of chocolate and a cafe which will satiate the cravings of all the chocoholics in your family!
One of the best activities for kids is the Bean-to-Bar workshop that takes them,?step by step, through the chocolate production process. It also gives kids an insight into Mayan culture and how they used cocoa as early as 900AD. We didn’t take part in this workshop because we took the exact same workshop in the Granada ChocoMuseo in Nicaragua (see video below).
2. Discover Your Maya Birth?Sign
Together with Burma, Guatemala is one of the world’s greatest sources of jade – a good excuse to treat yourself to some jewellery! There are numerous shops ranging in quality. My husband bought me a beautiful pair of black jade earrings and we gave the children jade pendents with their respective Mayan birth symbols engraved into them. My daughter’s sign was “Tijax” (swordfish and toucan), characterised as “protectors of justice, brave, tireless, very good with the good, and bad with the bad. Able to cure incurable diseases. They are delicate, possessing very good ideas and great talent, cerebral and rational on the one hand and intuitive, imaginative and dreamy on the other. Judicious and fair, although drastic, they are easily offended and can end a relationship of years in a minute, being very sharp.”
My son was “B’atz” (Bat). His personality was summed up as follows:?They are cheerful, have a foot in the past and one in the future, a special interest in history and a futuristic vision. They are young people, conservative of youth, and maturity and old age are late. They have power over darkness and negative forces although in their duality they can trap themselves in that energy. They are a light of hope, and the saying ?Candil de la calle oscuridad de su casa? (Lamp of the dark street in the house), fits them perfectly.?
The children certainly enjoyed these birth symbols and we found them rather amusing too!
There are numerous shops throughout the city that sell jade, ranging in quality and price. There is also a Jade Museum (Casa del Jade) at 4a Calle Oriente.
3. Walk the cobbled streets?
Antigua is a beautiful place for simply wandering around. It’s not a big town and can easily be covered on foot with school-aged kids. Those with younger kids who travel with strollers may want to consider a baby sling or back carrier instead. The cobbles are not particularly stroller-friendly! A good place to start your walk is at the Plaza Mayor.
4. Hang out in?Plaza Mayor
This lively square is positioned in the heart of Antigua and is a fun place for kids to hang out in. There is a lot going on with locals selling their wares and entertaining small ones with bubble-making machines! Facing the square on 5a Avenida Norte is a little ice-cream shop, guaranteed to put the spring back in little legs!
In the evening we bought some sparklers and joined in the local Christmas festivities.
5. Roast Marshmallows on Pacaya Volcano
One of the most memorable days we had was riding up Pacaya Volcano, one of the country’s most active volcanoes. Located an hour’s drive from Antigua it makes for an easy day trip. There are two ways to climb the volcano – on foot or on horse. It is an extremely steep climb and if travelling with kids, you may want to consider hiring horses for your family. We were certainly thankful for the ride!
The views from the top are spectacular and you can even roast marshmallows over hot lava rocks. One point to note is that the horse ride is one-way only. To complete the circuit you must descend by foot.
It was an incredible experience for all of us and you can read more about it here.
6. Explore the arts and crafts of Antigua
There are a number of artisan markets in Antigua. El?Mercado de Artesanias stocks a wide range of handicrafts, including colourful wooden marks, and is located on the west side of town. Facing the Plaza de Mayor (on 5a Avenida Norte) is another sizeable market which is packed to the rafters with embroidered textiles, handmade dolls, jewellery, blankets, pencil cases and so on. The ‘guatever’ and ‘guat’s up’ t-shirts were a particular favourite with my son!
7. Watch the sun set over Antigua
For postcard perfect views head to Cerro de la Cruz, a hillside spot north of the city. With its cross in the foreground, you can look out over the city rooftops and?Volc?n Agua beyond. It’s a steep climb up steps to get here (and even steeper by road – our car nearly didn’t make it) but the views are worth it.
8. Feed the soul!
Antigua is not short of excellent restaurants (I’ve listed my favourites here) and we ate extremely well.? Guatemala doesn’t have a stand-out traditional dish but it does have a diverse array of foods, and you’ll almost always find some form of black refried beans, corn tortilla and rice on the menu. One meal they do exceptionally well is breakfast, or brunch. A traditional desayano might include huevos revueltos (scrambled eggs) with tomato and onion, refried beans, avocado slices and black tortillas. The smoothies are also thick and fresh and the coffee is some of the best in the world.
9.?Take a Bite-size break
If you’ve visited one museum too many and need a fast-acting antidote for a kiddy meltdown, then you might want to pop into ‘Bite’. This little sweet shop located on 3a Calle Poniente and 5a Avenida Norte will get little ones back on their feet (and climbing walls) in no time.
10. Ride ’em Cowboy!?
For fancy footwear head to Pastores, a small town just 10 minutes outside of Antigua that’s know for its high-quality handmade boots. There are a number of stores to choose from in this one road town and styles range from classic cowboy to Kate Middleton chic, with the odd pair that wouldn’t look out of place in?Narcos. Many shops stock kids’ sizes too.
11. Play I Spy!
Despite suffering repeated and numerous earthquakes, Antigua is incredibly well preserved and its Spanish Baroque influenced architecture is one of the town’s highlights. Look out for beautiful tiles on the window ledges, such as those above, and you’ll see what we mean. Make a game of it and play I Spy with the kids to see who can spot the best tiles!
12. Catch a tune
The marimba, a percussion instrument similar to the xylophone, was developed in Central America by African slaves. Today it is the national instrument of Guatemala and can be heard throughout town. Often marimba musicians will play in restaurants or in the streets, and the sound is wonderfully soothing.
#Antigua is full of fun things to do with kids! #FamilyTravel #Guatemala Click To Tweet
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To view all our posts in the series, Guatemala With Kids, see our Family Guide to Guatemala.
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This post was originally published on globetotting.com and co-written with Katja Gaskell.