Guatemala: Discovering A Hidden Gem

Full disclosure: Guatemala was never on my radar of places that I wanted to visit. However, one of my best friends and her husband moved there to teach abroad, and so, it very quickly took a spot on my list. Two of my favorite people were there, and I hadn’t seen either of them in over a year. So, of course, we were due for a visit.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know much about Guatemala. What I did know: My friends were thoroughly enjoying their new home away from home. And they had nothing but good things to say about the places we were staying.

So after I finally got around to doing a little research as well, I was sold.

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After my trip, what I’ve come away with is this: Guatemala is a hidden gem.

There are political conflict and poverty that’s prevalent. Those things seem to keep tourism rather lower when compared to its neighbors. But I personally experienced a very beautiful side of Guatemala. I got stay in the mountains of Antigua, at a hidden resort on Lake Atitlán, and be humbled by gigantic volcanoes. And I got to experience a people that were incredibly sincere, helpful, and caring. In fact, I’m pretty sure I made this comment out loud a few times during my trip: “Everyone here is so incredibly nice.”

So, on that note, I’d like to share my time in Guatemala with you.

First up, our trip to Antigua and a one-night stay at the Earth Lodge.

THE CITY OF ANTIGUA

Antigua is a colonial town about an hour west outside of the capital of Guatemala City. It actually used to be the original capital of the country. There’s some history there if you really want to dig into it.

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You’ll know when you hit the city limits of Antigua because the roads turn to cobblestone. Sure, the car ride is a little bumpy through the city, but I think it adds to the charm. Plus, it’s located in a valley below three volcanoes, which is pretty amazing for a girl that has never seen one.

So what to do when you’re in the city?

Go on a coffee tour. We did ours at De la Gente, which I’d say was a very authentic Guatemalan experience. What I mean by that is that it wasn’t your typical large-group tour. Instead, you’ll get a private tour with one of the farmers. You’ll walk around with him as he explains the history and process of coffee cultivation. At the end of the tour, the farmer’s wife will show you how they grind, roast, and brew coffee beans. All without the use of machinery. You’ll even get to try just-brewed Guatemalan coffee on the spot!

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Why go? If you’re a coffee lover like me, the tour is super interesting. I enjoyed learning everything that goes into getting the coffee beans ready for consumption. Especially without the use of modern technology. Plus, you’ll get a bag of De la Gente coffee as part of the tour! Quick tip: The tour is in Spanish, so if you’re not fluent, I’d recommend paying extra for the translator.

If you are looking for something a bit more mainstream, I’d recommend Finca Filadelfia. It’s a coffee plantation and a resort, so you can spend a night or two there and take a tour on the property during the day. Book a room here.

Explore the Mayan ruins around the city. We didn’t actually get to do this, unfortunately. By the time we got there, the site had closed. So make sure to check on timing. But I was able to snap a few photos from behind the gate

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If we had more time, I wanted to check out the Convento Santa Clara, the Church and Convent of las Capuchinas, and the Convento la Recoleccion.

Walk around the central plaza. It’s a busy city park with an old (semi-inappropriate!) water fountain, surrounded by old historical buildings. It was fun to just walk around, take photos, and enjoy the energy and history of the city. You’ll also find the famous Santa Catalina Arch close by.

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Find a spot for food and/or drinks. Surprisingly, there are all kinds of options for food in Antigua, so take your pick. We stopped at a bar with a rooftop patio to try some Guatemalan beer. We also checked out the mysterious Café No Sé for one last drink before heading back to the Earth Lodge for the night.

ONE-NIGHT STAY AT THE EARTH LODGE

Side note: To get back up to the Earth Lodge, we ended up riding in the back of a truck. Sure, this could be dangerous, but I found it to be quite exhilarating! It was a warm night, the roads were curvy, and it made you feel alive. Plus, as we got higher up into the mountains, you could see the lights of the city below. It’s one of my favorite memories.

The Earth Lodge is an eco-friendly retreat and located about 6,000 feet above the city of Antigua.

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I had done some research before our stay, and what intrigued me most about the Earth Lodge was its volcano views. The main lodge has the most amazing vista showing off the three volcanoes that guard Antigua: Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego.

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During our one-night stay, we had booked Casa Buena Vista. It’s a lofted A-line house with a view of the volcanoes and the valley below.

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There’s a bed upstairs in the loft and two beds on the main level. The bathroom and shower are out in a logged shed next to the house. There’s also a private roofed patio with hammocks next to the house which makes for a nice little retreat to read a book in the afternoon.

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At night, the main lodge hosts family-style dinner for guests. We didn’t realize that our stay included dinner, so, unfortunately, we missed out on this. But, we were able to enjoy a cocktail, music, and trivia before turning in for the night.

Some of my favorite things about the Earth Lodge:

  • The staff was super friendly and helpful. I had booked a room over email, and they responded to all my questions very quickly. They even followed up with me when I got into the city to make sure I  had transportation to the lodge.
  • Our private outdoor shower had the BEST water pressure. It was a great way to start the day.
  • The smoothies are so good! I had one for breakfast and would definitely recommend ordering one while you’re here.
  • At night, the lodge stays open until about 10pm. It’s a great time for guests to enjoy the company of other travelers, drinks, bar bites, and live music. Make sure to check out their website to see what they have scheduled during your visit.
  • The lodge is also a fully-functioning avocado farm! I didn’t realize this until I started to notice all the avocado trees on the property. How cool is that?
  • They offer yoga in the mornings and they have a traditional wood-fired Mayan sauna that you can use as well.

I so wish we could have stayed one more night at the Earth Lodge. I would have soaked up everything the property had to offer. A yoga session in the morning followed by a trip to the sauna, breakfast, and then lounging in a hammock all day. Casually glancing out at a volcano or two. No big deal.

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Plus, I loved the energy of the Earth Lodge. It felt as though you were part of a traveler community with the guests who were staying there with you. It’s was a fun vibe and a place I’d definitely recommend if you’re in the area.

Ready to move on? Up next: Our trip to the beautiful Lake Atitlán that is forever in my heart.

LAKE ATITLAN

Lake Atitlán took my break away. Geographically, it’s a crater from a volcano eruption that happened way back when. Today, now filled with water, it’s surrounded by three volcanoes, which makes for an incredibly beautiful setting.

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Did you know? Guatemala has 33 volcanoes in total. Three of them are active.

During our visit, we stayed at La Casa del Mundo. It’s this little resort that’s built into the cliffs over Lake Atitlán. To get there, you have to take a boat from Panajachel. So, as you can imagine, it’s very secluded and peaceful. Book a room here.

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My stay at La Casa del Mundo was quite magical for a few reasons:

  • The resort is full of beautiful flowers, foliage, and amazing views. Plus, it has all these hidden little spots where you can relax in a hammock along the cliffside.
  • It has this terrace overhanging the water, where you can jump in or just hang out for the day. We spent a lot of time here, reading, eating, and enjoying the sunshine.
  • There are a few balconies that are underwater, which I thought was so cool! You can literally walk right into the water and onto these balconies. It’s a great spot to swim around for a bit when you need to cool off.
  • Lake Atitlán has the most beautiful sunrises. The day I woke up early to see for myself, I also got to see the volcano Fuego erupting in the distance. It was one of those moments you realize will forever be unique.
  • Breakfast is spent on a balcony overlooking the water. You’ll get treated to fresh juice, coffee, and a good assortment of morning faves.

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So what types of things can you do?

  • For us, we had been traveling quite a bit, so the majority of our time was spent relaxing. But we did rent kayaks one afternoon, which was a lot of fun. We also booked the hot tub one night after dinner, which I’d definitely recommend.
  • You can book a massage at the resort. It can even be setup in the privacy of your room.
  • Hop on a boat and visit the villages around the lake. There are great markets if you’re looking for local artwork, spices, textiles, or jewelry.
  • Hike around the lake. The Indian Nose trail takes you up to a summit where you can see all the volcanoes surrounding the lake and beyond.
  • Similar to Earth Lodge, La Casa del Mundo also does family-style dinners, which you can opt into. It’s a great way to meet new people and hear their stories.

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Travel tips while you’re visiting:

  • Anywhere you go at La Casa del Mundo, you’ll be going up or down stairs. So get ready to work those calf muscles!
  • Try to get your activities in during the first half of the day. Wind, fog, and sometimes rain, can take over during the later part of the afternoon. Meaning that it gets a little cool and choppy on the lake.

We only had about 2.5 days on Lake Atitlán, so I was a little sad when we had to say goodbye, to say the least. But I’m forever grateful to have spent some time in this beautiful part of the world. I’ll be back again some day!

Well, that’s all I have for you, folks! I hope that after reading this, you’ll have different thoughts about visiting Guatemala. I know I do. I’d love to go back some day. Especially since there is so much more to explore. Like the Mayan Ruins of Tikal and the Semac Champey, just to name a few. Plus, you can make a long trip of it and visit Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador as well.

Let’s go places,
Sarah

Have you been to Guatemala? Share your favorite spot in the comments section.

All photos on this blog are mine. Feel free to share but please credit me with a link back to the blog. Much appreciated and thank you for your support!

I have collaborated with The Earth Lodge for this post. All opinions are mine.

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