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Last Updated on March 21, 2023 by Sarah Puckett
Antigua, Guatemala is an ideal base for exploring the best sights of the country by day trips. Guatemala is a large country, and you could spend weeks backpacking through different towns and cities. With Guatemala’s tourism infrastructure being well-developed enough to make the top sights accessible from Antigua, day trips from this charming colonial town are a perfect option for visitors short on time or who don’t want to change accommodations throughout their trip. When visiting Guatemala, you don’t want to miss these incredible day trips from Antigua!
Best Day (and Overnight!) Trips from Antigua Guatemala
The most affordable way to take any of the day or overnight trips is to arrange them yourself versus taking guided tours. However, piecing together the logistics can be challenging, and some of the excursions, like the volcano hikes, are most safely done with a guide.
You’ll find the most affordable prices by waiting to book your day trips locally in Antigua when you arrive. There are small family-owned tour agencies in every hotel and hostel throughout the town. In most cases, you can pop in and book trips on the spot for the next day.
If you prefer to make your arrangements in advance, you can always book your tours online. If you do book online, just know that you will pay a premium compared to the local prices. If you’re short on time, the extra cost may be worthwhile to ensure you can do all the things you want.
Acatenango Volcano Hike
The Acatenango Volcano hike is easily one of the best things to do in Guatemala. It’s a challenging climb, but the views are incredible. There are 3 volcanoes that surround Antigua, two of which are Acatenango Volcano and Fuego Volcano. Fuego is active and erupts several times a day. You can usually see the plume of ash in the air from Antigua. Acatenango Volcano is right next to Fuego Volcano, meaning when you hike Acatenango, you get amazing views over Fuego. You’re close enough to actually feel the rumbles of each eruption and watch chunks of lava fly into the air.
You can visit Acatenango Volcano as a day trip from Antigua, but I highly recommend opting for the overnight hike instead. This allows you the opportunity to see Fuego Volcano’s glowing red lava, which you can only see in the dark. Moreover, by spending the night on Acatenango Volcano, you’ll have the opportunity to summit the mountain at sunrise the next morning.
Hiking Acatenango Volcano is incredible, but it is also challenging and not for the unfit or faint of heart. Check out my guide to the Acantenango hike to learn more and determine if it’s a viable activity for you!
Booking Acatenango Overnight Trip From Antigua
There are several tour operators in Antigua that offer overnight hiking trips on Acatenango, but they are not all equal. We opted to go with Old Town Outfitters for many reasons, primarily having to do with comfort and safety. Though they charge a bit more compared to some of the other companies at between $110 and $150 per person, it’s worth it when they provide a tent for you and hot meals. Additionally, they maintain small group sizes of 6 people maximum, versus 30 or more from other companies. My guide to Acatenango goes into more detail on why we chose Old Town Outfitters, and why I recommend them to others.
Visiting Pacaya Vocano is an excellent option if you want to see an active volcano with lava but aren’t up for the long overnight hike on Acatenango Volcano. It’s also a great excursion to do in addition to Acatenango Volcano, since each experience is unique enough from the other to merit your time.
Visiting Pacaya Volcano is an easy half-day trip from Antigua, and most tour operators offer morning and afternoon tours. I recommend taking the afternoon option. This way you will be at the volcano during sunset, which is beautiful in and of itself, but is even grander thanks to being able to see the glowing red river of lava running down Pacaya’s cone.
After a 1.5 hour drive from Antigua, you’ll start a short hike. The hike takes about an hour to reach the highest accessible point for most hikers. It’s not very hard, but it is steep at times. Some people opt for riding horses instead. Once you start getting into the thermal lava rocks, you’ll see steam venting from the ground. Most guides bring marshmallows and sticks to roast a little snack over the hot rocks. As the sun sets, you’ll also begin to see the lave becoming brighter and brighter. Overall, you’ll spend about 3 hours at Pacaya Volcano on a day trip from Antigua.
Booking Pacaya Day Trip from Antigua
Many tour operators in Antigua can help you arrange this day trip. Expect to pay about $15, which includes transportation, park entrance, and a guided hike with marshmallows. If you don’t want to book locally from the tour agents in Antigua, you can also arrange your tour online, though you may have to pay a little bit more.
Jocotenango and Finca La Azotea
Jocotenango is a small town just outside of Antigua, but despite its proximity, it is a lesser-known destination. The main reason to visit Jocotenango on a day trip from Antigua is to tour Finca La Azotea, a coffee plantation where you can learn about the growing and production of Guatemalan coffee and taste some as well. On the tour, you’ll get to see how the coffee beans are dried in the sun, tour a cultural museum with a guide, and explore the gardens.
While in Jocotenango, I also recommend stopping outside of the bright and beautiful Parroquia Nostra Senora de la Asuncion. This Catholic church dates from the 1600s, and it looks like a birthday cake in my opinion.
Booking Jocotenango Day Trip from Antigua
You can walk to Jocotenango from Antigua, because it is only about 2 miles away. You can also take a tuk-tuk, cab, or a so-called chicken bus (public transportation in the form of repurposed school buses which cost about 2 quetzales or 30 cents to ride). Visiting the Catholic church is free. The Finca La Azotea costs $7, and this price includes your entrance, tour of the farm and museum, and coffee tasting. Overall, we spent about 3 hours in Jocotenango, not including the time to get there and back from Antigua.
Semuc Champey is a turquoise step-waterfall and river in the jungle northeast of Antigua. With swimming holes and numerous caves, it’s an excellent destination for outdoor adventurers. The park has trails, some paved, and steps and boardwalks to lead you to viewpoints and swimming spots. Fifteen minutes hiking up steps leads you to a lookout over the waterfalls, and then another 20 minutes down brings you to the water, where you can swim.
Although Semuc Champey can’t be done in a single day trip from Antigua, it is a worthwhile 1 or 2 nights trip. You can coordinate with your hotel, hostel, or Airbnb in Antigua to arrange to leave most of your luggage behind and only taking what you need for the short getaway.
The journey takes about 8 hours from Antigua to the town of Lanquin by bus or van, which can feel quite tedious. From Lanquin, it’s another 10 km to Semuc Champey in local transportation (probably the bed of a truck). There are hotels right at the entrance to the park, like Hostal El Portal Semuc Champey, which is where we stayed.
You don’t need a guide to explore Semuc Champey, and your hotel can help you arrange any other activities you may need a tour for (like visiting the Kamba Caves for example).
Booking Semuc Champey Overnight Trip from Antigua
We opted to arrange everything with a tour agency local to Antigua for convenience, which included our hotel for 2 nights, transportation, guided hike in Semuc Champey, a guided hike through one of Kamba Caves, and river tubing. We paid $100 total per person to the local agent, and you can book similar excursions from Antigua online in advance for a bit more.
A Note on Safety in Kamba Caves
Regarding the Kamba Cave portion of the tour, it’s important to note that there are some risks involved. During the caving activity, you’ll be led by a local guide who will give you a candle to light the way. Without a helmet, you’ll be climbing ladders, swimming, and crawling through small spaces within the cave. We thought it was fun and similar to our experience body rafting the Green Canyon in Indonesia. That said, we would have felt better had they provided helmets. If you go, definitely wear water shoes to make the climbing easier on your feet!
Although Tikal is situated in the far northeastern corner of Guatemala near the border with Belize, it IS possible to visit these world-renowned ancient Mayan ruins on a day trip from Antigua. It’s a busy day, because it even requires a short flight from Guatemala City (about an hour from Antigua) and back again. But, it can be done and is a good option if you are short on time!
Tikal is the largest excavated Mayan site in Mesoamerica. It thrived for about 1500 years from 600 BC to 900 AD before being abandoned. At its peak, the city spread over 50 square miles and was home to as many as 100,000 people.
To get to the Mayan pyramids, you first walk about a mile through the jungle, where you can hear howler monkeys overhead. The pyramids served many purposes. Some were designed to align in some way with the Mayan calendar, while others were temples that marked burial places of rulers.
Booking Tikal Day Trip from Antigua
The only way to logistically accomplish this ambitious day trip is with a guided tour package that includes your flights from Guatemala City to Flores, where a guide will meet you and take you to Tikal. Expect to pay about $400 per person.
Lake Atitlan is a freshwater lake located about two and a half hours from Antigua. A volcanic eruption called Los Chocoyos 85,000 years ago created the crater that is now the lake. Thousands of years later, three more volcanos rose up around the lake, forming the scenic landscape there today. Lake Atitlan is a popular destination to linger longer than just a day, but for those on a short trip to Guatemala, a day trip to Lake Atitlan from Antigua is a great option to get a sense of the different towns and cultures around the lake.
Most day trips from Antigua to Lake Atitlan will visit Panajachel, San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago. Each town is different and has its own vibe, so all of them are worth visiting. The day trip is certainly the most efficient way to do so, even if it is not the most immersive. That said, the natural environment is the most compelling draw to Lake Atitlan in my opinion.
Booking Lake Atitlan Day Trip from Antigua
You can arrange a day trip to Lake Atitlan from Antigua at any local tour agency or through your hostel or hotel. We paid $40 per person for our trip. You can also book online in advance, but expect to pay a good deal more.