Just Back From Guatemala
June 1, 2022 by Laura Fishman
Guatemala: The Land of the Eternal Spring
Guatemala is a fascinating country and a transformative place, one that is deeply connected to its ancient Mayan traditions and that offers a distinct culture and breathtaking natural beauty. Straddling the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Guatemala is home to stunning topography, including 37 volcanoes–the highest density in all central America–archeological sites, and incredible biodiversity. It is the perfect destination for your soul-searching clients and those up for an adventure closer to home.
Learn about our latest stay at Casa Palopó and Villa Bokéh, which makes any journey to Guatemala incredibly special. These family-owned Relais & Chateaux boutique properties are founded by Claudia Bosch, President of Grupo Alta, who is passionate about preserving Guatemalan traditions and artisanal craftsmanship.
Lake Atitlán is one of the most sought-out places in Central America, and its sweeping views are reminiscent of Italy’s famed Lake Como. There are four soaring volcanoes that surround the lake, creating a mesmerizing landscape and attracting hikers and adventure addicts from around the world.
Our group began our journey driving from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlán, where we checked in to Casa Palopó, the first Relais & Chateaux property in the country. We traveled to Guatemala in the beginning of Green Season, which begins in May. Discreetly tucked away in the lush hilltops surrounding the lakes, this chic 15-room boutique hotel feels more like a stylish friend’s secret vacation home hideaway. Its parent company, Grupo Alta, preserved a lot of the original architecture and interiors. Their staff is so gracious that they feel like family.
Each guest room and suite is named after a Saint and is individually designed using hand-woven textiles, soulful paintings, and furniture made by local artisans. eight rooms located in the main house, four of which have sweeping balconies located adjacent to the hotel’s entrance. For those seeking more space and ultimate privacy, there is a three-bedroom villa with a full kitchen, dining room, balconies and private pool located at the top of a hill.
Guest can take a 20-minute scenic helicopter ride to the hotel’s on-site helipad.
A day at Casa Palopó begins with a Guatemalan wake-up call of birds chirping in the garden. Breakfast is served on the terrace with sweeping views of Lake Atitlán and the surrounding volcanoes. Executive Chef Manual and his culinary team integrate Guatemalan traditional favorites with contemporary cuisine. Dining highlights include a tortilla bar where you can learn how to sculpt, pinch, and pat the perfect tortilla. In the afternoon, enjoy traditional Guatemalan tea on the veranda, which serves local favorite bites such as pupusa, tostada de guacamole, chuchito, magdalena, and Guatemalan pastries, along with a hot sweet corn milk or a selection of teas and horchata.
At night, we gathered around an altar to experience a traditional Shaman ceremony as the blazing sun set behind the three soaring volcanoes. Our Shaman Tomas talked of his culture’s ancient Mayan ceremonial traditions and beliefs. The Mayans strongly believed that there are no coincidences in life and that everything has a purpose; our lives are deeply intertwined with the earth, nature, fire, the moon, and the stars, and our purpose is guided by the subtle act of setting intentions to achieve personal fulfillment in our lifelong journey.
Our Shaman Tomas talked of his culture’s ancient Mayan ceremonial traditions and beliefs. The Mayans strongly believed that there are no coincidences in life and that everything has a purpose; our lives are deeply intertwined with the earth, nature, fire, the moon, and the stars, and our purpose is guided by the subtle act of setting intentions to achieve personal fulfillment in our lifelong journey.
“With smoke swirling around us, he patted us with leaves and chanted an ancient Mayan blessing that called for us to “wake-up” and be present in the moment, to feel joy again and to be alive.”
Tomas’ intention for this evening was to guide our group through a Mayan ceremony focusing on death. He emphasized that this type of death is not a physical mortality but a disconnection from being present in the moment. He described how our connection to the natural elements of the earth was so important to discovering our spirituality and purpose.
Our Shaman then ended the ceremony by giving us each a blessing. Just as the crackling fire was dissipating, there was a sudden clap of thunder, and then it began to rain.
Beyond Casa Polopó’s incredible Shaman experience, there are a variety of other activities to choose from, including kayaking, yoga, hiking, and paragliding for the adventurous. Our group took a boat ride to discover the nearby towns surrounding Lake Atitlán. We visited San Juan de Laguna, which is known for its artist community and production of chocolate, honey, and art and textile weaving.
For those who are seeking a deep connection with a local community, Pintando Santa Catarina offers guests the opportunity to help paint homes and buildings in their village in vibrant colors and geometric patterns, which symbolize different aspects of their Mayan culture. This project, which was launched in 2017, has been instrumental in uplifting this vulnerable community and transforming bleak concrete buildings into a feast for eyes.
Our next stop was to the soulful city of Antigua, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its historic churches. We checked in to Villa Bokéh, Grupo Alta’s latest gem located just a 15-minute drive from Antigua. This stunning 16-room boutique hotel was designed by Guatemalan artisans, and each room is named after a color with hand-crafted artisanal tiles, textiles, and interior touches.
The property is a true oasis nestled on six-acres of lush botanical garden, which is a place of tranquility and inspiration, whether it is to write, paint or just savor the moment. For curious children, there are gnomes tucked away in the flora and fauna waiting to be found. There is also swimming pool dotted with chic blue fringed lounge chaises and a bar that serves refreshing drinks, cocktails, ice teas and lunch.
Design mavens will love how intentional the details of the property are: some rooms have a fire pit that feels like you are connecting to the natural elements of the earth, all converging into one. At turn down, the hotel offers a pillow menu of different scents to choose from along with other unique turndown amenities to promote Xo’qa’-an ancient Mayan term known as sweet dreams.
In the morning, you ease into your day with a Guatemalan wake-up call that consists of exotic bird calls and crickets chirping in sync in the garden. The Concierge can arrange a picnic in the garden or a Notebook Experience with a curated boat trip. Guests can take a guided tour to learn more about the hotel’s artwork; the former owner is a renowned photographer, and his works are displayed throughout the property.
Dining at Villa Bokéh is a feast for the senses. Executive Chef Marcos and his culinary team have created a new menu using the traditional flavors of Guatemala. Highlights include fresh ceviche, patatas bravas, tuna tostadas, and grilled shrimp with vegetables and polenta. For dessert, enjoy tiramisu made fresh in front of you, or try a delectable cheesecake and hand-made ice cream made by Grupo Alta’s ice cream shop, Helados Adela. Guests can dine on their terraces overlooking the lake and garden, or in the open-air private dining room with beautiful detailing, and a large domed ceiling accented in brick.
Similar to its sister-property Casa Palopó, Villa Bokéh is all about enjoying the moment and reconnecting with nature and loved ones. Their staff is incredibly gracious and their attention to details is intuitive. The hotel is the perfect place to gather for a fun getaway or to celebrate a special milestone. For those celebrating a special occasion or wedding, Villa Bokéh offers many picturesque locations including the garden, where the glass atrium can host up to 500 guests.
Today Antigua feels like there is another world beyond its walls. Walking by its colorful facades along cobblestone streets, you can spot beautiful courtyards and cool boutiques while peering down each corridor. Days can easily be spent meandering around, shopping at local boutiques both artisanal and contemporary, visiting the markets, and people-watching in one of the city’s sweeping plazas. In the evening, enjoy specialized cocktails at a speakeasy, Ulew, followed by a savory dinner at Santo Spirito.
For those interested in natural plant dyes workshop and shopping, a visit to Luna Zorro is a must. Founded by American textile designer Molly Berry, Luna Zorro Luna Zorro’s mission is to preserve Mayan culture and traditions through textiles. They recently launched a partnership with La Patrona offering natural wine tasting and Mercado 24 for seafood and tostadas. Just a 10-minute drive from the city center, the studio is tucked away on a 150-year-old coffee farm called Finca la Azotea.
As we were savoring breakfast outside at Villa Bokéh on our last morning in Guatemala, we could see the clouds lifting to slowly unveil the majestic volcano set behind the hotel’s garden and lake, where a rainbow suddenly appeared, gifting us with the perfect send-off. Traveling to Guatemala truly felt like a wake-up call to live in the present moment, connect with nature, feel joy, and share life and experiences with others.
From the United States, there are direct flights to Guatemala City (GUA) international airport via American Airlines, Delta JetBlue and United Airlines from Atlanta, Houston, Miami, and New York (JFK).
Casa Palopó is located in Lake Atitlán and is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from GUA airport. Alternatively, guests can take a 20-minute helicopter ride from the airport to the hotel’s helipad for $1,800 each way. Casa Palopó is approximately a 2.5-hour drive from Villa Bokéh, which is set just 10-minutes outside of Antigua. Villa Bokéh is also a 2-hour drive from the GUA airport. Guests can also take a helicopter to Villa Bokéh.
An Ideal Time to Go:
The ideal time to visit Guatemala is during the dry season from November to April. However, the country has a very pleasant climate that lends itself to year-round trips with daytime temperatures between 72F and 90F. The Green Season, which starts in May, lends itself to afternoon showers but the landscapes are lush and there is a refreshing breeze after the storms.
Extending Your Stay:
Your stay at Casa Palopó and Villa Bokéh can be paired with exploring Tikkal, known for its Mayan antiquities and temples. You can seamlessly combine a trip to Guatemala with time in Belize or Mexico City, D.F.
Shopping Around Antigua:
- Luna Zorro: Clothing & Home Goods and Plant Dye Workshops
- La Casa del Algodon: Clothing and Home Goods
- Nativos: Clothing
- Nimpot: Authentic Guatemalan Accessories
- El Telar: Beautiful Home and Textiles
- Ixcaco: Jewelry and Clothing
Casa Palopó | Website | Reservations
Villa Bokéh | Website | Reservations