A stop at the unique Puerto Quetzal isn’t too built up as a standalone tourist destination, but it’s excellent for passing through on the way to Antigua or Guatemala City. You’ll have a chance to experience distinct parts of Guatemala while on your Panama Canal cruise.
On your cruise to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, be sure to book a shore excursion to historic, beautiful Antigua. Don’t miss the chance to experience this 500 year-old Spanish colonial town up close with cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, museums, and churches everywhere you look. Since Antigua is about 90 minutes away, leave plenty of time to get back to Puerto Quetzal and the cruise port—even if you find yourself never wanting to leave.
The temperate climate makes Antigua delightful to visit year-round. While you’re in Guatemala, hike up the Pacaya Volcano for stunning, humbling views of the tropical landscape below, or take a tour of a coffee farm at the outskirts of the city. Coffee is a huge trade in these parts of Guatemala, and the area is world renowned for its signature beans. Don’t be surprised to find the locals out late sipping mezcal and up early for a Guatemalan coffee.
A stop on your cruise to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala wouldn’t be complete without a day trip to Antigua. As soon as you leave the cruise ship, book at tour to historic Antigua and hop on a bus or in a car to your destination. In just 90 minutes, you’ll be surrounded by Spanish-colonial architecture in this insanely walkable stretch of history. You can spend much more than a day in Antigua enjoying historical sites like the iconic Arco de Santa Catalina, or hike to the lookout point at Carro de La Cruz, where you’ll see the Agua Volcano in the near distance.
If you find yourself with extra days in Guatemala, don’t miss Tikal National Park. It’ll take time to get to this UNESCO World Heritage site, but it’s worth it. Tikal was home to an ancient Mayan citadel for hundreds of years, and its temples were one of the tallest ancient structures in the Americas.
An hour and a half from Antigua is one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes. Book a tour or pay to enter the national park where you can then hike to the volcano’s summit. This two hour hike isn’t the easiest, but there are frequent resting areas along the way. Some hikers even bring their own marshmallows to toast next to the warm volcanic rocks.
Featuring art from local Guatemalans, La Antigua Galeria de Arte in downtown Antigua is an unmissable attraction for art aficionados. The gallery is nestled into a colonial mansion and includes the works of artists from Puerto Rico, Colombia, and many other places as well.
Though now just a portion of its former glory remains, this Roman-Catholic cathedral immediately captures the eye as you pass by. The Catedral de Santiago was built in 1545 and subsequently destroyed and restored over the centuries. Explore the haunting but beautiful crypt while you’re there, which now acts as the cathedral’s chapel.
Coffee lovers must tour a coffee farm while they’re in Guatemala, and a variety of providers in Antigua will show you their farms, provide tastings, and even include breakfast or lunch on your tour. Filadelfia Coffee Resort, for example, provides tours as short as an hour or two, making this a perfect pit stop while on your Puerto Quetzal cruise.
Antigua is home to nearly 40 ancient churches (or their ruins), each telling stories of the city’s religious and cultural significance during the 15th and 16th centuries. Tour these cathedrals at almost no cost for a step back in time in Guatemala’s history. The Catedral de Santiago or Las Capuchinas are just a few of the still-intact structures.
Ascend to new heights and then zipline down hundreds of feet into the lush Antigua Rainforest. The Antigua Rainforest Zipline Tours are a popular activity for families visiting Antigua, and usually include fun extras like access to tree houses and suspension bridges for even more adventure.
Volcán de Fuego, Pacaya, and Volcán de Agua are all visible in part from Antigua. Though these volcanoes may seem menacing, occasionally blowing smoke into the air, they are simply part of daily life for Guatemalans living near Antigua. Each volcano has different elevations and difficulty levels for every level of hiker. Hiking one or all of these volcanoes is certainly something to check off your bucket list, but be sure to extensively research each before you go.
You may not find much in the way of food in Puerto Quetzal itself, but in nearby Antigua you’ll stumble into picturesque facades to find delicious food around every corner. Here are a few places to try while you’re there:
Restaurante Pez Vela - Puerto Quetzal
Right after the marina at Puerto Quetzal, you’ll see a thatched roof with outdoor seating and umbrellas ready to welcome you to Guatemala. Fill up on sandwiches, soups, and several varieties of fresh ceviche while you’re there, or just relax and drink a cold beer during your quick stop in Puerto Quetzal.
Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo - Antigua
Enjoy volcano views from the restaurant at the Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo in Antigua, where they serve traditional Guatemalan food and usually have a marimba band playing as you enjoy your meal. The atmosphere here is part of its charm, and you just might get pulled onto the dance floor while you’re there.
Tienda La Canche - Antigua
Tiny Tienda La Canche feels more like going to someone’s home for dinner rather than eating at a restaurant. Only a few expertly done menu items—like chicken and rice or eggs and beans—are served each day. Add in simple plastic chairs and colorful tablecloths, and you’ve got a spot that’s focused more on the food than anything else.Plus, lunch will only set you back by about $3-4 USD.
Restaurante Doña Luisa Xicotencatl
This cafe in Antigua introduced sweets and baked goods that were previous unknown to Guatemalans in the area, like fresh banana bread, carrot cake, or cinnamon-raisin bread. While you’re in Antigua, stop in for a coffee or cappuccino while you enjoy breakfast classics like french toast or huevos rancheros. Smell the breads as they bake from the kitchen. Once breakfast is over, they also serve comforting, savory baked potatoes and even hamburgers. There’s something for everyone here, perfect for picky eaters and kids.
Puerto Quetzal only began operating in the 1980s, so it’s a relatively new port of call. There isn’t as much to do while stopping through on your Puerto Quetzal cruise as there is in neighboring towns because Puerto Quetzal simply isn’t built up as a standalone tourist attraction. The town of San Jose is about a mile away, and this once was used as the primary port for Guatemala before Puerto Quetzal came about.
If you head inland on an excursion to Antigua, you’ll discover the area’s history. Antigua was founded in 1524, and the capital of Guatemala moved several times as a result of fires, uprisings, and other destructive events. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, Antigua was a hub for cultural, artistic, architectural, and political movements in Guatemala, home to stunning Spanish-Baroque structures that continue to captivate visitors. In the 18th century, Antigua’s coffee trade there grew, and restoration efforts for the city boomed with it. In 1979, Antigua was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and today it’s one of Guatemala’s most visited cities by tourists, whether passing through via a cruise or exploring solo.
Puerto Quetzal is the biggest Pacific Ocean port in Guatemala, making it a hub for both cruises and cargo. The Marina Pez Vela has two piers where cruise ships dock: one is the cruise terminal and the other is typically reserved for cargo. Passengers at the cargo pier will take a free 10-minute shuttle to the cruise terminal. As you leave the cruise terminal, you’ll find a comprehensive visitor center where you can grab a quick souvenir, a postcard for your loved ones, or book an excursion to other parts of Guatemala.
The best way to get around is by booking a shore excursion to nearby Antigua, which is 90 minutes away from Puerto Quetzal. You can also browse available excursions at the Visitor’s Center in Puerto Quetzal. Taxis can be expensive if you’re headed to Antigua, so take a taxi only if you feel comfortable paying more than you normally would.
On your cruise to Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, stop in the Visitor Center at the cruise terminal for postcards or tiny souvenirs after you exit the ship. As you leave, you’ll see vendors lining the streets selling hand-woven goods like scarves and blankets. Some vendors sell handcrafted jewelry there too. If you take an excursion to Antigua, there’s a lot of higher-end shopping there. Jade is a popular product there, particularly at La Casa del Jade and other shops. Antigua’s markets and street fairs are massive, used by both tourists and locals alike.
Most places accept U.S. dollars, especially if they can tell you are a tourist, because vendors and restaurants in Guatemala want to create a positive, seamless experience for you. The exchange rate for Guatemalan currency isn’t very good outside of Guatemala. Be sure to exchange currency once you’re in the country to make the most of the exchange rate. Credit cards—specifically Visa, American Express, and MasterCard— are also widely accepted in the area, but it’s recommended to carry smaller bills for day-to-day expenses and save your credit card for shopping or larger purchase items.