Guatemala: A Gateway to Mayan Culture

Guatemala_JAN14

By Hillary Latos

Guatemala is one of those rare countries where time seems to stand still.  The Mayan way of life has been preserved from their customs to the traditional dress and has not succumbed to the homogenization of the Western world.  To truly experience the gorgeous landscape of Guatemala, eco tourism sports and the fascinating Mayan culture, stay at the luxurious boutique hotel, Casa Palopo on Lake Atitlan and Antigua where the proprietor Claudia Bosch will create an unforgettable itinerary from a local’s point of view of this unspoiled country.

From the airport, you will be whisked from the bustling Guatemala City and immersed into the colonial life that once presided over the country in the charming ancient city of Antigua.  This UNESCO heritage city oozes with charm where cobblestone streets set the stage for meticulously preserved ochre hued Spanish colonial buildings housing antique and handicraft stores.  By night, the city is brimming with lively bars and restaurants populated by locals and Westerners, many of whom are learning Spanish at the local schools in town.  Tucked away behind a side street off the main road is the Casa Palopo Antigua, where you will feel like an aristocrat in the beautiful private 3 bedroom villa decorated with Spanish and Latin American antiques and furnishings.  A private gourmet chef and driver remain at your disposal, who will take you to the breathtaking Casa Palopo in Lake Atitlan.

A three hour scenic drive from Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan takes one through a deep volcanic crater  surrounded by 3 active majestic volcanoes.  A weekend and summer retreat for the rich and famous, Lake Atitlan is characterized for its small Mayan villages that specialize in indigenous handicrafts such as beading, woven fabrics, paintings that dot the shoreline.  The easiest way to access these villages is by motorboat, providing an unsurpassed view of the stately lakeside mansions and preserves.  Santiago is the largest village and is known for its worship of Maximon, a rogue idol representing a fusion of deities.  His precious effigy is housed in various houses for a designated time period and is used by locals and tourists to perform religious Mayan rituals and ceremonies.   San Juan is famous for its woven fabrics, where everything is made by hand just as it was centuries ago.  Visit one of their collective studios and see how yarns are dyed from vegetables and hand woven on a loom.  Panajachel is the village most frequented by tourists that is known for their active nightlife scene.

Casa Palopo sits high on the hills of Santa Catarina and was once a private 7 bedroom villa that was converted to a luxury boutique hotel with an adjacent two bedroom home.  Once inside you feel the conviviality of a wealthy friend’s retreat with exquisite taste in furnishings and artwork that evoke Guatemala’s Mayan heritage.  Each oversized room features a different décor and color scheme, all of which have unparalleled views of Lake Atitlan and some with private terraces.  The best suite is the blue hued room #1 that feels like a master bedroom with a large bathroom featuring a sunken tub and an expansive private terrace.   There are also many places to relax and rejuvenate, by the pool, on a chaise on the serene terrace, the cozy library or end the night with a nightcap by the stately indoor fireplace.   For families or groups, the luxuriously appointed private villa above the hotel is an ideal choice with 2 bedrooms, a separate entrance, gourmet kitchen, private pool and Jacuzzi, and outdoor fireplace.

The fine dining at Casa Palopo 6.8 restaurant is legendary in this region.  Many locals from Guatemala City will arrive by boat or make a day trip out to watch the sunset and dine at this intimate romantic venue decorated with flickering candle lit chandeliers overlooking the twinkling lights of the cities at the base of the lake.  The chef takes a modern contemporary approach to Latin American cuisine using farm to table ingredients and infuses his dishes with an international flair.  For breakfast try the traditional Guatemalan breakfast, Chilaquiles, with crunchy tortillas in a tomato and chorizo sauce with melted mozzarella.  Their dinner menu offers savory combinations such as the tuna tartare with avocado and orange juice, crunchy jumbo shrimp wonton with a ginger, sake and mirin sauce, and juicy sirloin steak paired with a Porto sauce.

Of course a luxury destination wouldn’t be complete without jetset amenities.  Not only can you reach Casa Palopo by car, but there is also have a private marina and a helipad on the grounds.  In only 20 minutes by helicopter you can be whisked back to the Guatemala City International Airport. •

For more information: casapalopo.com

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