Family Vacations to Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala
A popular Guatemalan destination, Antigua's Spanish colonial architecture ranks it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Corel)

Antigua Family Travel Tips

A Guatemalan journey is best for families with gradeschoolers and teens who enjoy eco-adventures and learning about different cultures. Climb Tikal's temples (see El Peten), join a schoolyard soccer game, and bargain for brightly woven backpacks at local markets. The rainforest thrums with the sounds of howler monkeys, Maya villages prove that their people are far from extinct, and Lake Atitlan (see Lake Atitlan) ranks among the world's most scenic lakes. Guatemala's moderate prices also appeal to travelers.

After landing in Guatemala City, most visitors head to Antigua, about 45 minutes away. Located in a valley surrounded by three volcanoes—Acatenango, Agua, and the still-active Feugo—the former colonial capital shines as one of Central America's prettiest cities. Antigua's Spanish colonial architecture ranks it as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in 1543, an earthquake destroyed the city in 1773. As a result, many of the city's colonial churches and pastel-colored buildings date to the late 18th and early 19th century. The Iglesia de San Francisco contains the tomb of Central America's first saint, Hermano Pedro de San José de Betancourt. Leg braces and crutches, sent by the healed who prayed to the saint for help, line the walls of a hallway inside the church. At his tomb, the hopeful pray, holding wax candles shaped like hearts, legs, or other body parts that the supplicants wish to be healed.

African tulip and feathery jacaranda trees shade the inviting Parque Central, a beautiful plaza. Linger for a while on one of the park benches, a good place to people watch. Around the square, especially near lunch-time, women sell candies made with peanuts, squash seeds, honey, and chuchitos, a snack of beef or chicken with tomato sauce wrapped in a corn husk.

At Antigua's Museo Casa del Tejido (the Textile Museum), mannequins wear huipiles, colorful shawls (sleeveless tunics for women), along with head gear and pants indicative of the various native regions. A weaver patiently demonstrates how garments take shape on a backstrap loom. Kids also like browsing for backpacks and necklaces in Antigua's market. The city is known for its rings, bracelets, necklaces, and masks made of jadeite, and several shops or factories feature on-site carvers.

Outfitters offer guided hikes in the hills and, for serious climbers, treks up volcanic slopes. You can also tour one of the coffee plantations on the rich land between Agua and Feugo volcanoes.

Tip: Casa Santo Domingo, a hotel fashioned from the walls and ruins of a 16th-century monastery, is the area's most luxurious lodging.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 1 May 2008 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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