As one stands beneath Antigua’s Arco de Santa Catalina, gazing up at the 3,760 m Agua Volcano a mere 15 km to the south, it quickly becomes clear that this city is no stranger to adventure. Granted some of these may be a little more disaster-prone than others (say, the massive 7.5 earthquake of 1773, for example, or the devastating Fuego eruption of 1974); still, provided you’re not a harbinger of extreme unluckiness, your experience in the great Antiguan wilderness should be significantly more rewarding. For starters, its selection of nearby and relatively-nearby hiking/biking/climbing destinations is almost unrivaled in Central America, with a variety of beautiful ecosystems to explore (alpine, volcanic, cloud forest, etc.). Then, as long as you don’t mind a drive on some less-than-ideal roadways, there are rivers, lakes, and a Pacific Ocean at your disposal. A REAL Pacific Ocean! So let’s take a quick dive head-first into the risks and rewards of tackling the great outdoors surrounding this quaint, unassuming adventure-hub.
Volcanoes! If you happen to be a fan of all things lava and ash related, Antigua has more than a few kid-in-a-candy-shop moments in store for you. Its most challenging and rewarding peak, the 3,975 m (13,041 ft) Volcan Acatenango, is motivation enough for many adventurers to visit the city, especially in light of the fact that its sister peak (Fuego) is one of the most highly-active volcanoes in the Americas. Needless to say, the three-day trek that encompasses both of these bad boys has become a favorite for those in search of some memorable Antiguan hiking. On top of that, you’ve got the aforementioned Agua (a volcano with a hit-and-miss reputation for hiking but a stellar reputation for mountain biking) and Volcan de Pacaya (incredibly popular for its near-continuous lava flows and access to great rock climbing on Lake Amatitlan). Add to these the volcanic peaks surrounding Lake Atitlan to the northwest and all of a sudden your two-week vacation doesn’t seem nearly long enough.
Speaking of Lake Atitlan, this stunning body of water offers just as much to do on and in the water as it does around it. From swimming and kayaking to cliff jumping and scuba diving, you’ll want to carve out plenty of time in your schedule to explore the wealth of adventure opportunities available here. Farther south, along Guatemala’s pacific coastline, the Monterrico-Hawaii Biotope offers visitors the chance to watch baby sea turtles making their first push to the Pacific after a day spent paddling through vast stretches of pristine mangrove forest. There’s even some high quality white water rafting available from Antigua, although you’ll have to make your way southeast to Rio Los Esclavos before putting into the water. We could go on, of course, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture. Just bring an appetite for adventure and Antigua will take care of the rest, complete with all the scenic grandeur you could hope to experience in Central America (and we’re not prone to hyperbole).