Exploring the National Art Museum in Antigua Guatemala

Have you ever visited a museum and felt like you were traveling through time? That’s exactly how I felt when I stepped foot into the National Art Museum in Antigua Guatemala. Well, to be honest, I had that feeling in all of Antigua. 

The museum is right next to the central park and it has an impressive collection of mostly colonial and pre-colonial art, but it also has some (not a lot) modern art on display. And maybe the best feature: it’s free to enter!

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National Art Museum in Antigua Good To Know Before You Go

These are the vital things you should know if you plan to visit the Museum on your trip to Antigua;

Opening times: 10 am – 6 pm every day

Entry Fees: FREE

Guided tours: A free audio tour in English

Facilities on site: They have a gift shop with unique souvenirs but the great thing about shopping here is that much of the money made goes to a charity providing healthcare to people who are living in poverty.

Accessibility on site: Not wheelchair accessible

How to get there: 1-minute walk from Central Park, in the center of Antigua.

Amount of time needed: At least 90 minutes.

How long do you need to visit the Museum?

The route through the museum will take you about 2 hours. So it’s great even if you’re short on time and one of the best free things to do in Antigua. The audio tour will make this somewhat longer because they occasionally play music to really capture the moment and tell the story. The tour is available in multiple languages, including English.

The route around the museum will also take you out onto the Balconies where you can sit and enjoy watching the locals go about their business below.

About Antigua Guatemala

Probably my favorite town in all of Central America. Long after leaving it still had me daydreaming about the pretty but wobbly cobblestone streets and stunning buildings. Churches, ruins, markets, and the central park. It’s full of great places to visit and see, including multiple fascinating museums. But my favorite was the National Art Museum: Museo Nacional de Arte de Guatemala (MUNAG).

Antigua is also visited for the infamous Acatenango Volcano hike. An overnight trek up a dormant volcano then spend the dark evening stargazing and watching Volcan Fuego erupt.

Other than those great reasons, Antigua is also a hotspot for retirees and digital nomads. There is a great mix of locals, indigenous, and expats. A mixture of ethnicities and nationalities gather around Central Park to spend the afternoons feeding the pigeons and chatting with each other.

What to expect from the National Art Museum in Antigua

Traveling is always a window into different cultures and their history. It’s often like stepping into a time machine. As you walk through the halls, you’ll see colonial art pieces that tell stories of conquest and resilience. 

The Museum has a set route and will take you through the story of colonial times, using art to tell its tale. To finish off the story of the colonization: The Declaration of Independence of Guatemala is on display (is this the place or time to make a Nicolas Cage reference?).

Back in 2021, the government realized the potential of the building. There were forgotten pre-Hispanic artifacts stored away in museum warehouses and archaeological sites. A shame, which was luckily recognised but both the local and national governments. They decided these artifacts should be displayed.

During the second phase, the museum was transformed into what it is today. A story of cultural richness, not only about pre-Hispanic, but the complete history of Guatemala. The president decided that Antigua Guatemala was the place where the story should be told. 

Antigua got its name from the fact that it is the old capital city of Guatemala. Before Guatemala City. Before this change, the city was called Santiago de los Caballeros. If you’ve seen their flag, it now makes sense. It displays the surrounding volcanoes with a Caballero: a horseman (or nowadays: a gentleman).

With its collection of pre-colonial art, you can get a look into the lives and traditions of the indigenous peoples who called Guatemala home before Spanish colonization. Ceremonial items, clothing, and statues are all ready to be admired. Including some wooden carvings found at the famous Tikal Ruins in Northern Guatemala.

The History of the Museum Building

But it’s not just the artwork that makes this museum a must-see. The building from 1558 itself is a beautiful sight to behold, with its colonial architecture and beautiful colors. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a painting yourself! 

The building is the Captain General Palace, which also houses the local police, the Tourist Association of Antigua, and the regional government.

This building has had a rough ride. While the basis of the building dates back to 1558, the rooms and such are slightly younger (but still quite old!). During the 1700s, Santiago de los Caballeros suffered from a series of strong earthquakes. Parts of the Palace were destroyed, and then rebuilt, improved, and changed. 

These earthquakes were the reason the capital city of Guatemala moved from what is now Antigua to Guatemala City. The whole city was supposed to move, but the inhabitants were so against it, that in the end, only the governing organizations moved away.

Because of all this restoration and rebuilding, the Palace is now what it is. A beautiful, well-kept, two-story building with a fantastic balcony that creates a great backdrop for photos, and has the best view of Central Park.

National Art Museum in Antigua Summary

This museum felt special because it takes you on a journey through time. From pre-colonial to recent times, the art will tell you a story of ancient rituals, colonization, and the daily lives of the people who lived through history. 

Not just the people of Antigua, but all of Guatemala. It is a story of the Mayas and the Spanish, and all the events that happened in between. And the story of religion in Guatemala, both pre-colonial and colonial.

From artworks recovered from colonial churches to Mayan artifacts used during ceremonies and offerings. You’ll witness Guatemalan history through their unique art and craftsmanship.

Written by Callie, Author of Counting Our Footsteps Blog

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