Antigua Guatemala is home to more than 30 churches, convents, and monasteries.
In January 2020, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to Guatemala as a delegate for my Church Conference. Before going, I heard so much about how beautiful Antigua is and Antigua Guatemala Churches and church ruins in Antigua that after a two-week learning tour with the Christian Seminary, SEMILLA in Guatemala City, I opted to spend three extra days in Guatemala. Of course, with my obsession with Monasteries, my main goal was to visit Antigua Guatemala’s Churches and Convents!
Visiting Antigua Guatemala church ruins is one of the best things to do in Antigua – if not one of the top things to see in all of Central America!
I was so amazed by each church in Antigua Guatemala!
Antigua Guatemala ended up being one of my favorite places I have visited in the last year! Antigua is walkable, there are great restaurants, amazing ice cream (and we all know how much I love ice cream!), and best of all: the Antigua churches and convents were even more incredible than I expected! They even rival the ruined monasteries of Portugal that I fell in love with last year!
Here is my photo guide to inspire your trip to see the famous Antigua Guatemala churches and convents.
August 2020 Update: While many of us cannot travel right now due to the ongoing situation, enjoy this post for inspiration and to help you plan a safe and wonderful trip in the future.
Antigua Guatemala Church Ruins
Antigua, Guatemala was once the capital city of Guatemala and the most important city in all of Central America.
The city was founded by the Spanish who arrived in the 16th century. Antigua feels decidedly European in comparison with other cities in Guatemala. Antigua was also a cultural and religious center for Roman Catholicism, also brought over by the Spanish.
Many different religious orders flourished in Antigua, most of them Convents of Nuns. Antigua Guatemala is not a big city, and many of these churches and convents are quite close to one another (meaning very walkable!).
In the 1700’s a series of devastating earthquakes hit Antigua, Guatemala and severely damaged Antigua’s churches and convents. Ultimately, the capital of Guatemala was moved to present-day Guatemala City and Antigua was left vacant, leaving Antigua’s churches in ruins.
Antigua Guatemala church ruins and the architecture in general is so incredible that locals and others slowly came back and began to restore Antigua to its former glory. Some of the Antigua Guatemala church ruins were rebuilt, such as Antigua Guatemala’s Cathedral. Others were left in their ruined state after the earthquakes. These Antigua Guatemala churches have their own unique beauty and are some of the best places for photographs in Antigua, Guatemala.
Largely due to Antigua Guetamala’s Churches and Convents, today the entire center of Antigua is a UNESCO World Heritage site – and for good reason!
Map of Antigua Churches & Convents
See below for a map of all the churches in Antigua in this post. There are nearly 40 Antigua churches, so this certainly doesn’t cover all of them – but these are the churches you definitely can’t miss!
Below are some of the most famous churches in Antigua you must see on your visit to Antigua, Guatemala!
#1 Antigua Guatemala Cathedral
The Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, or Cathedral do San José is by far one of the best churches in Antigua to visit. It’s easy to find: right off the main square in Antigua, the Plaza Mayor.
The Cathedral in Antigua was the first church in Antigua that I visited.
It turns out there are actually two Antigua Guatemala Cathedrals! The first, the white facade you see facing the square, was built after the Santa Maria Earthquake of 1773. This is the newer Antigua Guatemala Cathedral. Behind it is the original, which remains in ruins.
You can visit the newer portion of the Cathedral, which is an active church in Antigua, for free. It’s a peaceful escape from the Plaza Mayor in Antigua. It has a beautiful tile floor and side chapels with lovely, golden altars.
You can also walk around the block to visit the older, ruined Antigua Guatemala Cathedral.
It costs 40 Quetzales, or around $5 US, to visit the ruined Antigua Guatemala Cathedral — but it’s totally worth it. Just look at those exposed arches!
In the old Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, you can see the full structure of the cathedral with the sunlight streaming through. Some of the many side chapels remain intact and you can see details such as seashells carved into the chapels. You can even visit the underground part of the Cathedral if you are feeling adventurous!
If you are just going to see one of the Antigua Guatemala Churches, make this the church in Antigua that you see. Not only is it in a really convenient location, but it’s a perfect example of the newer style of church in Antigua and the beauty of the ruined churches of Antigua.
Ruins are open: 9am-5pm,
New Church is open M-F 6:30am-noon & 3-6:30pm, Saturday 5:30am-1pm & Sunday 3-7:30pm.
Enter the Ruins from 5a Calle Oriente
#2: Church & Convent of La Campaña de Jesus
The Church of La Campaña de Jesus was one of the first Antigua Guatemala churches that I saw on my visit! It’s a beautiful and imposing church ruin that lines the street on the way to Antigua’s famous craft market.
The Church of the Campaña de Jesus was built between 1690 and 1698 in the Spanish Baroque style. This Jesuit monastery, which housed up to 19 monks at a time at its height, was an important part of Antigua’s religious life until the order was expelled just before the big earthquake in Antigua destroyed the monastery.
Today you can view the facade of the church and it’s one of the best photo spots in all of Antigua. I managed to wander around the side and notice an open door – I walked through it and found myself inside the ruined monastery, but it was definitely some kind of carpentry workshop I shouldn’t have been in!
Hours: You can visit the Facade of the church at any time!
#3: Church and Convent of Las Capuchinas
The Convent of Las Capuchinas is an exceptionally well preserved, extensive monastery in Antigua, Guatemala — complete with beautiful gardens. The convent did not have a long life, sadly. Founded by nuns from Madrid in 1736, it only lasted 37 years before the Santa Maria earthquake destroyed it.
In recent years a huge amount of restoration allows you to get a real sense of what life was like for the nuns who lived there. Unique to many of the churches in Antigua, the Convent of Las Capuchinas has extensive gardens and some of the most beautiful flowers growing in the Cloisters.
On the second level, you will find a wonderful museum with some of the preserved artifacts from the Convento de las Capuchinas and other Antigua churches. The Museo de Capuchinos has some beautiful Spanish-style religious paintings as well as statuary from local churches in Antigua Guatemala.
The circular tower at the Convento de las Capuchinas is the only one like it in Antigua. Inside the tower are many individual cells where the nuns lives, complete with toilets and bathrooms for bathing! A few rooms have been re-painted and set up with nun-mannequins that give a sense of how life in the monastery used to be.
Hours: The Convento is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm. It costs 40Q for Adults and 20Q for Student visitors.
#4: San Juan de Dios Convent
The San Juan de Dios Convent and Hospital is next to a beautiful park with palm trees and lots of little stands selling local Antigua delicacies!
The Church and Convent itself housed a religious order that was given charge of Antigua’s hospitals, particularly those that served indigenous populations. Today, the church continues to house an active social service center.
Inside the church in Antigua is a beautiful mural detailing the service of the order of San Juan de Dios to the people of Guatemala, as well as the continued work of the Hospital.
Hours: I couldn’t find the hours of the church – but it was open a few times when I walked by, and closed a few times! The outside is absolutely beautiful even if you can’t get inside.
#5: Iglesia El Carmen
The Iglesia El Carmen isn’t a church you can go inside, but is one of thee most iconic and instagrammable churches in Antigua.
Only the facade of the Iglesia El Carmen survives after the big earthquake destroyed the interior and so many other Antigua churches. The columns are a thing of wonder, however, with their intricate carvings. You can see through the gate into the center of the church, as well, which is beautiful to behold!
Right next to the Iglesia El Carmen is a handicrafts market with lots of souvenirs to be had.
There are no hours for the Iglesia El Carmen. It’s particularly beautiful at sunset and in twilight when the intricate botanical carvings come to life.
#6: Nuestra Señora de la Merced Convent-Church in Antigua
The Iglesia de la Merced is one of the few churches in Antigua that has remained relatively unscathed in light of all the earthquakes. The Baroque church has a stunning yellow facade that has even been recreated in Guatemala City it’s so beautiful!
The white on yellow Baroque architecture is famous with visitors to Antigua. This kind of work is called stucco work and the particular patterns famous on La Merced church in Antigua is an “arabesque” or atuarique pattern. It’s a pattern popularized in Southern Spain, where there was a lot of Arab influence.
The church is named for the statue of the Blessed Mary of Mercy (La Merced) on the facade.
Attached to the church in the Convent next door. The church is free to visit but the convent costs 15Q for foreigners. It features one of the largest fountains in Central America and beautiful cloisters.
Hours: Open daily from 9am to 6pm.
#7: San Juan el Viejo
This little church in Antigua is a well-kept secret. The church of San Juan el Viejo has a beautiful and intricate facade. Originally built to house an important statue of St. Joseph, the church was only open for 11 years before the Santa Maria Earthquake hit.
Today it is a popular spot for couples to enjoy the gardens. When I walked by it was locked, but very much worth a visit to admire the plants and the church.
Hours: The church is now used primarily for events, and there weren’t open hours posted. It is located on 5a Av Sur.
#8: Nuestro Senora de Belen Convent
Of all the Antigua Guatemala churches that I visited, Nuestra Senora de Belen church was the most tucked-away on a lovely little block with another church. This church in Antigua is a hidden gem with another beautiful, yellow stucco facade. Pictures can’t do it justice – a mix of stunning, intricate carvings and the kind of beautiful decay you can only find in Antigua.
The Bethelemite nuns oversee this church and convent and a nearby school. Outside is an important statue of San Hermano Pedro, the most revered saint in Antigua Guatemala.
This is a lovely church in Antigua, one you can skip if churches aren’t you thing – but it makes a very nice afternoon stroll to visit the square, statue, and Church of Nuestra Señora de Belen.
Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-noon, 2-4:30 pm
#9: Iglesia de San Francisco
The Iglesia San Francisco in Antigua is perhaps the most popular church in Antigua Guatemala with locals. I was lucky enough to visit for Mass one evening and the church was packed – on a weeknight. The church lies on a huge enclosed block. There are vendors selling candles to light and other lovely religious items around the perimeter.
The Iglesia San Francisco is one of the largest churches in Antigua. It was also damaged in the earthquake (are you sensing a pattern here?) and only restored in the 1960’s.
The church has a convent attached you can also pay to tour. This is a particularly special church in Antigua because it houses the remains of San Hermano Pedro, perhaps the most important saint in all of Guatemala and certainly in Antigua.
I went to the Iglesia San Francisco around sunset and the sun hit the facade so beautifully! I would highly recommend going at that time. This is clearly one of the most beautiful Antigua Guatemala Churches at sunset!
Hours: The church and convent are open 8am-5pm Tuesday through Sunday.
#12: Convent and Museum of Santo Domingo, Antigua
Submitted by Maartje of The Orange Backpack Blog
The Convento Santo Domingo and Museum in Antigua is one of the most amazing monasteries in Antigua and will be one of the highlights of your Guatemala trip. The Santo Domingo Convent is a truly unique church ruins in Antigua Guatemala. The ruined monastery was once the biggest and richest monastery in the area but got heavily damaged during the 1773 earthquake, as most buildings in Antigua were.
The monastery now houses a beautiful hotel, but the historic ruins are open to visitors. There are signs about the monastery’s history to give you an insight into what it looked like before the earthquakes. You can still clearly see the shape of the old church in Antigua and the crypts are a must. The adjacent museums have archeological antiquities and Antigua’s religious art on display.
Hours: You can visit the ruins of the monastery and the museum during daytime hours daily. The hotel itself is open 24 hours.
#11: Convento Santa Clara
I’ve saved the best of the Antigua Guatemala churches and convents for last! The Convento Santa Clara has the most stunning facade of all the churches in Antigua that I visited – and it’s truly an Instagrammer’s dream with multiple ruined cloisters open to a view of the mountains.
The church and convent of Santa Clara was one of the most peaceful places I found in Antigua. The ruins have been restored beautifully and safely, and there are multiple cloisters and levels to explore. There’s a big map in the entrance. I took a picture on my phone and used it to guide me through my visit.
The Convent was built in 1736 and survived 40 years before the earthquake. It was founded by sisters from Mexico who built their church with a particularly ornate style. The gardens are exquisite, with so much bougainvillea in bloom during my visit.
Hours: The Convento Santa Clara is open Monday-Saturday, 9-5. It costs 40 Quetzales to visit, 20 for students – and is well worth it!
Where to Stay in Antigua Guatemala
If you think there are a lot of churches in Antigua, it has even more hotels. There is a place to stay in Antigua Guatemala for everyone: from budget backpacker hostels to some of the best 5 star hotels in Central America.
When I visited, I wanted to find a place to stay in Antigua Guatemala that was comfortable, had a nice view, and was within easy walking distance to all of these amazing churches. I stayed at the mid-range Casa de la Alameda. It had a great breakfast & really friendly staff.
If you love convents and monasteries – there are plenty of high end hotels in Antigua built in abandoned monasteries, convents, and churches in Antigua.
The Hotel Museo Santo Domingo is the most famous monastery hotel in Antigua.
El Convento Boutique Hotel has great reviews and is another luxury property built into a beautiful, old convent.
Whether you want to visit one church in Antigua Guatemala or all 11 on your trip, there is so much beauty and peace to be found amongst the Antigua churches. I’ve never been to a place where I round a corner and discover church after church. The Antigua Guatemala churches are truly something special, a mix of ruins and renovations you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
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