On a tour through Guatemala, JS photo editor Gretchen Moosbrugger discovers ancient Mayan towns, artisan markets, and some of the most gorgeous landscapes in Central America.
Just an hour’s drive from Guatemala City, Antigua will not disappoint. The historic city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with several-hundred year old Spanish Colonial buildings, bougainvillea draped streets, and is surrounded by volcanoes.
Check into Menson Panza Verde, a boutique hotel that is utterly romantic. The 12-room Guatemalan icon is complete with a yoga studio, art gallery, lap pool, live music, and award winning restaurant. Climb the ivy-covered staircase to take in vast city views from Panza Verde’s roof terrace.
You could spend a few days wandering around Antigua’s cobblestone streets, but be sure to stroll by the vibrant 17th-century Santa Catalina Arch and the take in the colonial architecture of Plaza Central Park, the city’s main square. When it’s time for a coffee break, a cortado at Y Tu Pina Tambien was our go to.
Make it a point to wander through the artisan markets, Guatemala has no shortage of beautiful textiles. I stocked up on woven blankets and rugs, colorful masks, and I couldn’t resist a handmade huipil blouse, the brightly embroidered tops worn by the region’s Mayan women.
Save an afternoon to visit the Filadelfia Coffee Resort, where tours of the property’s active coffee plantation explain the cultivation process from bean to cup.
After three days in Antigua, we hopped in a shuttle headed west. After a 2.5-hour car ride through the verdant countryside, we arrived at Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range. Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in central America, and some say, the most beautiful lake in the world.
Give yourself a few days at the glamorous yet cozy Casa Palopo. The boutique hotel feels secluded and private; it’s decorated with an array of local furniture and textiles, has an impressive collection of art on display, and the rooms are luxurious and rustic all at once. We spent hours on our private balcony, reading and taking in the stunning view of Lake Atitlan and it’s three volcanoes.
The lake is dotted with many small Mayan towns; Panajachel is a quick tuc-tuc ride away, and is the recommended starting point for any day trip. From there you can check out the local street vendors, grab an amazing iced coffee at Café Loco, and head down to the docks to catch a boat headed to the next village. We’re partial to San Marcos La Laguna, a small hippie town where you can have breakfast with the backpackers and expats at Moonfish, have your chakras balanced, and take a yoga class all in one day.
San Juan La Laguna is another must-see. Take in the colorful paintings in San Juan’s galleries, visit Atrio de la Iglesia, the local church, and take a walk through the traditional Herbal Medicine Garden, where locals grow herbs used in medicinal teas and salves. The highlight of our time here was a tour of one of San Juan’s many female-run weaving co-ops, where women produce beautiful textiles by traditional methods passed down through the generations. Starting with local cotton and natural dyes, then setting up their weaving on the loom, they walk you through the process from start to finish. It’s particularly gratifying to shop the textiles at San Juan’s co-ops, where you know the profits are fed right back into the community.
On Thursdays and Sundays you can snag a spot on an early morning shuttle from Panajachel to Chichicastenango Market. Chichi market, as it’s more commonly known, is reputed to be the largest in Central Market, and it’s truly a sight to see.
Make your way between the narrow stalls and crowds of people to the vendors selling everything from wooden masks and woven textiles, to live chickens and turkeys.
The flower vendors gather on the steps of the Santo Tomas Church
Having already made the commute to Chichi market, you can’t leave without making the short walk to Chichi Cemetery. Gravestones are painted in candy-colored hues and it’s not unusual to catch sight of a Shaman, or two, performing a cremation or ceremony.
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