When I told my friend Nina Bo Bena that I’d be house sitting in Antigua, Guatemala, her response was less than enthusiastic. Although Nina loves Guatemala, she’s not a big fan of Antigua. According to Nina, “Antigua feels a bit like you took a little piece of Europe and put it in the middle of Guatemala”.
It turns out, I’m living on the edge of Antigua, straight up a twisty mountain road. As a result, I’m much more immersed in the Guatemalan culture than if I had been based in the tourist mecca of Antigua. Just north of Antigua lies the small village of El Hato. Just up the road from El Hato is my temporary home for my five-week house sitting gig (organized through Trusted Housesitters).
The quaint city of Antigua does have a European vibe. The city draws tons of tourists eager to explore the culture, history, and nature of this beautiful area. People also come for the humanitarian work, with many NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) based in Antigua. Even during the rainy season, Antigua is a beautiful but busy little town.
But just a few kilometers up a windy mountain road, the air is cooler and the tourists disappear as you approach the tiny village of El Hato.
El Hato consists of a small convenience store, a school, the cute yellow church, and a fruit stand open only on weekends. But what it lacks in tourist conveniences, it makes up for in peace and quiet, hiking trails, and stunning volcano views.
The main draw for tourists to this area: Earth Lodge, an avocado farm turned eco-lodge. It’s such a cool place I spent the night in this little slice of Guatemalan heaven!
Earth Lodge describes itself as “a unique natural retreat with legendary home-cooked meals, a relaxed atmosphere, and stunning volcano views“. After spending a night in one of their cabanas, I have to agree. It truly is serenity on the edge of Antigua!
The day of my visit, a monstrous thunderstorm rolls through the neighborhood and I begin to doubt that I’ll even get to Earth Lodge. Getting there is not an easy task – even on a clear day. But I’m determined, so I wrap my electronic gadgets in plastic bags and fashion a backpack cover out of a large garbage bag. Sensing a break in the thunderstorm action, I make a run for it and drive straight down the mountain from the casa where I’m house sitting.
I make it safely to El Hato and take a sharp right turn onto the main road that runs near Earth Lodge, well-marked from the El Hato town square. The road is a mess after a morning of pouring rain, muddy and rutted, and I’m thankful I’m driving an SUV.
Fortunately, parking is available at the neighbor’s house (15Q per 12 hours), located just before the steps leading the down to Earth Lodge. No, getting to Earth Lodge is not easy, but that adds to the charm and the feeling of isolation of the place. You need to be reasonably fit, leave your high heels at home, and pack accordingly (roller bags are not recommended!)
(Earth Lodge also offers a shuttle service from three pick-up points in Antigua. Call or email for pricing and reservations.)
The trail running the last 300 meters is a path flowing straight downhill. Signs dot the pathway, welcoming you and whispering words of encouragement: “Almost There!” (My favorite sign posted on the way out “Maybe you’ll pack lighter next time!“)
Earth Lodge offers a wide variety of accommodations starting with the lower-budget dormitory for $8 USD per night. Mid-priced cabanas are priced at $22 USD per night. The most luxurious Deluxe Tree Cabin is $43 USD per night. All offer the most stunning views of Antigua down in the valley and volcanoes rising in the distance.
I stayed in one of the three cabana cabins (full disclosure – they offered a 50% “travel writer” discount.)
The cabana has a comfortable double bed, a small patio with a bench for relaxing, and a view of Agua and Fuego volcanoes from the bed. The three cabana cabins share a bathroom, which is quite modern and very clean.
Later at dinner, I met Miranda, a solo traveler from Scotland, who is spending three nights in the dorm and is loving it. She got the rainy season discount “buy 2 nights – get 1 free”.
According to the staff, the tree houses are so special and unique they tend to fill up months in advance. Travel tip: book ahead!
Stuff to do
Suggestions: wander down the stone stairway and sprawl in one of the hammocks. Stare at the view across the valley to Aqua volcano. Relax!
I hang in my hammock and stare into the distance, enjoying the amazing views until happy hour. Happy hour runs daily from 5 pm – 7 pm and offers 20Q off any mixed drinks. (But since I’m a beer drinker, I opted to pay the full price of 19Q / $2.50 USD to try a new beer!)
For a little more strenuous adventure, check out the hiking trails located throughout the property. Hiking trail maps are available at reception and, for bird lovers, there are guided bird-watching walks every day. Earth Lodge is also “kid-friendly” with a playground area and large open field for them to run wild and free.
Dinner is served family-style, promptly at 7 pm, and is delicious: Coconut curry with chicken (or a vegetarian option without), lentil dal, roasted potatoes, and a sinfully sweet traditional desert of “Islas Flotillas”. During the week, dinner costs an additional 65Q ($8.80 USD) and is well worth it! On weekends, the accommodation prices increase slightly to include dinner. My dinner companions are all young, single women and the conversation flows (thank God – because I usually dread small talk!).
I crawl into my comfortable bed by 9 pm, not really tired so I stare out the window for a while. The view of the twinkling lights of Antigua in the valley below is mesmerizing. Finally, I drift into my typically restless sleep, lulled by the sound of forest creatures.
Good Morning Antigua!
Morning arrives early at Earth Lodge and I’m up by 6:30, just waiting for the coffee to be brewed. This morning brings with it something rarely seen during this rainy season – THE SUN! I pour a cup of delicious Guatemalan coffee, grab my favorite seat, and watch as the volcano views changed with the shifting sunlight.
Finally, the coffee kicks in and I wander down the steps for the 8 am yoga class. It proves to be the perfect start to a beautifully sunny day! There are only two students in our class (myself and Miranda) and the instructor guides us through a beginner Hatha Yoga class. Classes are offered every morning for an additional 40Q ($5.50 USD) per person, and the start time is flexible.
And now I sit here in the comfortable dining area, using their free wifi (available only 7 am – 7 pm). I watch white, puffy clouds clinging to the distant volcanoes and feel hesitant to go home! But the dogs need to be fed and the plants watered. Reluctantly, I grab my backpack, climb the steep pathway out of here. I find my car and head up the mountain to my temporary home.
But I’ll actually miss this place! I’ll miss the serenity hidden in the forest on a quiet mountainside near Antigua!
For more information and to check rates, please see the Earth Lodge website – click here!