Day 1: Antigua
On your first day in Antigua, you’ll arrive at the international airport in Guatemala City (there are no direct flights from the United States into Antigua) and take a private ground transfer to El Convento Boutique Hotel in Antigua’s old world city center.
With its iconic Colonial architecture, colorful stucco homes, melancholy ruins and winding cobblestone lanes, Antigua feels a bit like time may have stopped in the 16th century, but it’s also a highly cosmopolitan city of nearly 35,000 Antiguenos brimming with luxe hotels, fine dining and boutique shops. The city once was the capital of Guatemala and one of the most integral Spanish colonies in the Americas. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its timeless appeal and seemingly mythical ruins and relics.
At El Convento Boutique Hotel you’ll be intoxicated by the traditional simplicity, modern convenience, gracious service, thoughtful amenities and quiet sanctuary that has garnered the 26-all-suite hotel numerous notables, including a Condé Nast Johansen Best Hotel in Central America nod and a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice award. The boutique hotel is situated on a charming cobblestone street near the well-known Capuchinas Convent and plays host to the renowned Elu Restaurant and Lounge. All rooms are richly appointed and very spacious. Some include private gardens, fireplaces, cedar-beamed ceilings and hot tubs.
Day 2: Walking & Coffee Tour OR Pacaya Volcano Hike
If a coffee and walking tour is up your alley, you’ll begin the day by meeting your bilingual driver for a DLG Fairly Traded Coffee Tour that includes lunch. Your driver will meet you at reception for a brief transfer to the nearby village of San Miguel Escobar. Once in town, you’ll be met by a local guide from As Green as it Gets (AGAIG) for a tour that takes you to visit local farmers, whom you can work alongside before sampling their delicious craft. You’ll learn about daily coffee production and grading, before enjoying a simple traditional meal with a local family at home. AGAIG is a non-profit supporting independent coffee producers and promoting sustainable agriculture throughout Guatemala. Coffee season is from November through March, and this tour includes a donation to AGAIG.
Upon return to Antigua, our expert guide will meet you at hotel reception to begin your half-day walking tour of Antigua’s historical, cultural and social highlights. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the most recognized features of this Colonial city, including some of the abundant cathedrals, churches and convent ruins. Entry to La Merced Church, the Cathedral and Iglesia San Francisco are included, but guides are flexible, so if you want to see other specific sites and monuments, just ask and pay the entry fee directly. You may also use tuc tucs during this tour, and these fees are included.
Have something a bit more fiery in mind? Why not make the daring trip to the active Pacaya Volcano. The half-day and somewhat strenuous journey begins with a morning transfer to the foothills of this active volcano. The trek begins through a scenic pine forest and ascends into a much trickier molten rock area where hot steam vents dot the constantly-changing landscape. Your expert guide will teach you about the formation and evolution of Pacaya, and you’ll enjoy picturesque views of the Pacific lowlands and northern Guatemalan volcanos. You’ll stop on the way back down for a picnic lunch in the shadow of this impressive giant before connecting with the support vehicle for your trip back to Antigua. Private guides, transfers entrance fees, lunch and horse support (if needed) is included.
Enjoy dinner on your own at one of Antigua’s many outstanding eateries or more adventurous eaters can grab some street food from any number of vendors or even the local market. Keep a look out for long lines of locals to find street vendors with well-prepared, authentic and delicious Guatemalan cuisine. If you’d prefer, we also can schedule a private Street Food Tour for the afternoon/evening (not included in package price), in which you’ll discover some of Antigua’s most popular street food and learn the historical and cultural significance of the cuisine on offer here.
Day 3: Lake Atitlan & Chichicastenango
On day three of your Guatemala Coffee and Culture tour, you’re headed to Lake Atitlan for a stay at the exclusive Casa Palopo Atitlan and day trip to the Chichicastenango (Chichi) Market. For the next 3 days, you’ll experience the colorful, rich and varied Highland traditions of Guatemala.
Surrounded by three dormant (yet imposing) volcanoes, verdant hills and a dozen or so authentic and diverse Maya towns, Lake Atitlan has been described as the most beautiful lake in the world and compared to Italy’s Lake Cuomo, but it often is erroneously referred to as one large and cohesive region. In actuality, Lake Atitlan is a spattering of small villages each with its own individual personality. This distinctive quality makes it possible to explore totally unique experiences at each stop on a tour of Lake Atitlan and its charming villages where locals still wear traditional, vibrantly colored clothes and practice ancient Maya customs.
Upon arrival in the region, you’ll check into the adults-only (15+) Relais & Chateaux playground that is Casa Palopo. Here, individualized service in a truly unparalleled setting will leave you absolutely breathless. Nestled on the scenic shores of Lake Atitlan in Santa Catarina Palopó Village, this exclusive hotel, including seven rooms in the main building and a two-bedroom villa, feels a world away from from the hustle and bustle of daily life and even seems a slower pace than unhurried Antigua. It was converted from a private home in 2000 and boasts an eye-catching blend of contemporary and local art while retaining the private home feel.
Next, get ready to hit the road for a private drive through the Central Highland region en route to the Chichi Market. On the way, you’ll see many local Maya people going about their lives, whether selling their wares, collecting firewood, working in the fields or traveling between markets. Upon arrival at Chichi Market, about two and a half hours later, your guide will take you to discover this prominent market where you’ll find everything from locally-grown fruits and veggies to beautiful handmade crafts and textiles. Market days are each Thursday and Sunday throughout the year. Another highlight of this trip is the Pre-Colombian Santo Tomás Catholic Church, where local Quiche priests still practice traditional Mayan rituals. This unusual dichotomy of ancient Maya rites and Catholicism illustrate the interesting manner by which the two different faiths have combined in the Guatemalan Highlands.
We also suggest making the hike up to Pascaul Abaj or to the cemetery on the outskirts of town to see if there are any shaman performing rituals there. You should have plenty of time to walk to one or the other and still get lunch at a local restaurant before heading back to Lake Atitlan and Casa Palopo for the evening.
Day 4: Lake Atitlan & San Juan
Remember the unique spattering of villages situated along the shores of Lake Atitlan? Today is the day to experience several of them firsthand. You’ll be picked up from Casa Palopo and transferred to San Juan La Laguna Village to visit a local textile co-op, learn about using natural dyes and see a back strap loom used in the traditional way. Once you’ve gotten a firsthand look at Guatemala’s colorful handmade textiles, you’ll visit the home and workshop of local naif painters before boarding a boat to make the crossing to Santiago Village.
In Santiago, you’ll stop for lunch before walking with your guide to find the home where the Mayan god Maximon currently lives as part of an ancient ritual. Each year his location changes, as a new member of the “brotherhood” is bestowed the privilege of caring for the Maya god. Although it can’t be guaranteed, you may see the local shaman performing rituals for locals here.
After experiencing the rituals of Maximon, we recommend visiting the local church to learn all about this very traditional town’s history and seeing the local market to learn about the primitive art and textiles of the area. The guide will take you back to Casa Palopo when you’re ready to enjoy the rest of your evening lounging in the gazebo near the fire, poolside on the terrace, in the hot tub overlooking the lake or grabbing a bite at the on-site gourmet restaurant.
Private guide, boat transfer, entrances and lunch are included.
Day 5: Departure from Guatemala City
After your last morning in the majestic Lake Atitlan region, you’ll take a private transfer to the Guatemala City Airport for the return flight home.