Hope Smith, Founder of Born to Travel, spent time in Guatemala with Maya Trails in December 2020, visiting famous places such as Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Tikal, as well as off the beaten track sites such as Semuc Champey and Rio Dulce. Here she shares some of the highlights of her trip.
It had been almost 30 years since I last visited Guatemala and I couldn’t wait to return. Would the sites be as wonderful as I remember them? Is the culture so colorful? Would the âland of eternal springâ delight me once again? How comfortable would I be with COVID protocols in the country? All were answered with a happy yes!
On arrival I was greeted by my guide Maya Trails, Juan Carlos. I know Jimmy Rogers, the owner of Maya Trails, luxury travel shows “Emotions” and “Remote Latin America”. Our long-standing relationship meant I knew I would be working with one of the best operators in the country and could expect incredible service before and during what would undoubtedly be a trip to remember.
Meet the people of Guatemala
I have felt incredibly safe during my travels. From the moment I landed, protocols were applied across the country, both by Maya Trails and all the establishments, markets and tourist sites I visited. Even when we stopped to buy fresh tortillas by the side of the road, the vendors were masked and hand sanitizer was available. Wearing a mask was mandatory and these procedures disappear over time as they become routine. It was good to feel that the trip was safe, both for me and for the Guatemalan people.
I chose Guatemala because I thought it would be uncrowded at the time, and I was right. Most of the places I visited I was the only tourist. It gave me an incredibly exclusive experience. Luxury for me is not only a question of the number of threads and amenities, it is also the happiness of exclusivity. There has never been a time like now to travel.
The view from the terrace of Casa Palopo over Lake Atitlan.
At Lake Atitlan, I stayed in the Relais & ChÃ¢teaux property Casa Palopo. The boutique hotel is perched above the lake and offers breathtaking views and incredible cuisine. The quiet moments I spent admiring the volcanic view from the terrace with my morning coffee will stay with me forever. This 16-room boutique hotel was the perfect and luxurious base for exploring the region, known for its charming villages, galleries, textiles and cooperatives. This region offers the best of community tourism.
Antigua was more beautiful than ever with its magnificent architecture, beautiful surroundings and bustling streets. I chose another intimate place as my base – Posada del angel. There is plenty to keep travelers engaged in Antigua, and it’s worth taking the time to slow down and explore. Maya Trails has fun adventures in the area for her travelers. I love to hike, so Maya Trails suggested I climb close to Volcan Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes. It was really a highlight. My guide and I had the trail to ourselves – except the company of a friendly local dog. You can also take an evening hike with Maya Trails where you can cook pizza or toast marshmallows on the lava!
Street scene in Antigua, Guatemala.
Another highlight of my trip was the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. We were early risers visiting the ruins, and upon entering the Grand Place, I realized that once again we were the only ones there. In calm, I looked at the pyramids and felt like I could have been the first person to see them. It was almost a spiritual experience.
I recommend staying out of the park either La Lancha or Las Lagunas. Just plan an early departure to get to Tikal when it opens. If you stay at The Jungle Lodge, located at the entrance to the national park, note that it does not offer in-room Wi-Fi (although it is available in the restaurant) and that it turns off around 9 p.m. It does, however, give you exclusive access to a Tikal sunrise or sunset tour.
A room inside La Lancha, a Francis Ford Coppola hotel.
Traveling during COVID can sometimes take a little more patience, but the rewards are more than worth it. Having these incredible natural and historic sites for me was a privilege that I never imagined. While I was traveling solo, I was never alone. I was always accompanied by my guide and always had the chance to connect with the warm and wonderful people of Guatemala. Traveling solo has also allowed me to set the pace – slow down, take the time to breathe, sit down and really enjoy my surroundings.
The quay of La Lancha, a hotel of Francis Ford Coppola.
I have to say a special thank you to the Guatemalan people for reminding me of all you have to offer. Also, to each of my Maya Trails guides and drivers who kept me safe and laughed everyday on the road. Every protocol and beyond is taken in Guatemala – kudos to them for a job well done!
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