Situated just forty kilometres apart, the two cities of Guatemala City and Antigua could hardly be more different. The capital, Guatemala City, is a fume-filled maelstrom of industry and commerce with few attractions to detain the traveller, though a day or two spent visiting its museums and soaking up the (limited) cultural scene won’t be wasted. Antigua is everything the capital is not: tranquil, urbane and resplendent with evocative colonial buildings and myriad cosmopolitan cafés and restaurants. Not surprisingly, this is where most travellers choose to base themselves.

Guatemala City sprawls across a huge upland basin, surrounded by craggy hills and volcanic cones. Its shapeless and swelling mass ranks as the largest city in Central America, home to more than four million people, and it’s Guatemala’s undisputed centre of politics, power and wealth.

The capital has an intensity and vibrancy that are both its fascination and its horror, and for many visitors dealing with the city is an exercise in damage limitation, as they struggle through bus fumes and crowds. For years urban decay has tainted the heart of the city, the centro histórico, but new initiatives have revitalized the district as streets have been pedestrianized, buildings restored and new cafés and bars have opened.

Antigua, on the other hand, is the most impressive colonial city in Central America with a tremendous wealth of architectural riches. With just forty thousand inhabitants, the city’s graceful cobbled streets, elegant squares, churches and grand houses are ideal to explore on foot. The town’s renowned language schools also attract students from all over the world, and education and tourism are the city’s prime sources of wealth.

The countryside around Antigua and Guatemala City – a delightful landscape of volcanoes, pine forests, milpas and coffee farms – also begs to be explored. Looming over the capital is Volcán de Pacaya, one of the most active peaks in Latin America, while the volcanoes of Agua and Acatenango are also well worth climbing.

You’ll also find countless interesting villages to visit in this area, including San Andrés Itzapa, where there is a pagan shrine to the “evil saint” San Simón, and Jocotenango which boasts museums dedicated to coffee production and Maya music. The one Maya ruin in the area that can compete with the lowland sites further north is Mixco Viejo, which enjoys a breathtaking, remote setting.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Guatemala features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

Budget trips: 20 of the cheapest places to travel

That ever-growing travel wish list might be putting some pressure on your pocket – but there are plenty of destinations where you'll get more bang for your b…

11 Oct 2017 • Emma Gibbs camera_alt Gallery
Guatemala City: 7 reasons to stay a while

Guatemala City: 7 reasons to stay a while

Most visitors race through Guatemala City, keen to get to Antigua’s colourful colonial streets, visit the country’s Mayan sites or explore its spectacular v…

12 Jul 2017 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
In pictures: traditional dress around the world

In pictures: traditional dress around the world

The Sari, India Ostensibly the simplest item of clothing possible – a single length of fabric, up to nine metres long – the sari is also one of the worl…

02 Feb 2015 • Alice Park camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs