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”.
As it turns out, I’m living on the edge of Antigua, straight up a twisty mountain road, and am 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, and just up the road from there (with AMAZING volcano views!) 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 and draws tons of tourists eager to explore the culture, history, and nature of this beautiful area. Many 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 becomes cooler and the tourists disappear as you approach the tiny village of El Hato.
El Hato really is just a tiny dot on the map, consisting 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 perched on the side of a mountain.
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 rolled through the neighborhood and I had doubts that I’d even get to Earth Lodge because it’s not an easy task – even on a clear day. But I was determined, so I wrapped my electronic gadgets in plastic bags and fashioned a backpack cover out of a large garbage bag. Sensing a break in the thunderstorm action, I made a run for it – driving straight down the mountain from the casa where I’m house sitting.
I made it to El Hato and took a sharp right turn onto the main road that runs near Earth Lodge, well-marked from the El Hato town square. The road was a mess after a morning of pouring rain, muddy and rutted, and I was thankful I was driving an SUV.
Parking is available at the neighbor’s house (15Q per 12 hours), located just before the steps leading the last 300 meters down to Earth Lodge. 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 with “welcome” signs dotting the pathway, 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 ranging from the lower-budget dormitory ($8 USD per night) to small mid-priced cabanas ($22 USD per night) to the most luxurious Deluxe Tree Cabin ($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.
At dinner, I met Miranda, a solo traveler from Scotland, who spent three nights in the dorm and loved it. She got the rainy season discount “buy 2 nights – get 1 free” and absolutely loved her time spent at Earth Lodge.
According to the staff, the tree houses are so special and unique they tend to fill up months in advance – so book ahead!
Stuff to do
After I arrived at Earth Lodge, the rain finally stopped leaving just a few light clouds. I wandered down the stone stairway and sprawled for a while in one of the hammocks, staring at the view across the valley to Aqua volcano.
I hung there for a while, swinging in my hammock and staring into the distance, until 5:00 when I was morally allowed to buy an ice cold Victoria beer and enjoy 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, hiking trails are located throughout the property with maps 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 was served family-style, promptly at 7 pm, and was 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 are slightly increased to include dinner. My dinner companions were all young, single women and the conversation flowed (thank God – because I usually dread small talk!).
I was tucked into my comfortable bed by 9 pm, not really tired so I stared out the window for a while, a view of the twinkling lights of Antigua in the valley below. And then I drifted into my typically restless sleep, lulled by the sound of forest creatures (and slightly annoyed by a couple of squirrels doing the samba on my tin roof!).
Good Morning Antigua!
Morning comes early at Earth Lodge and I was up by 6:30, just waiting for the coffee to be brewed. This morning brought with it something rarely seen during this rainy season – THE SUN! I poured a cup of delicious Guatemalan coffee, grabbed my favorite seat, and watched as the volcano views changed with the shifting sunlight.
Once the coffee kicked in, I wandered down the steps for the 8 am yoga class and found it was the perfect way to begin a beautifully sunny day! There were only two students in our class (myself and Miranda) and the instructor guided 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), watching white, puffy clouds clinging to the distant volcanoes and hesitant to go home! But the dogs need to be fed and the plants watered, so I’ll grab my backpack, climb the steep pathway out of here, and head up the mountain to my temporary home.
But I’ll actually miss this place and 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!