One of the reasons I love to travel to Central and South America is the rich and deep history of this beautiful land. The fact that prices for just about anything are well under other vacation destinations doesn’t hurt either.
We landed in Guatemala City and went directly by hired car ($50) to our hotel in Antigua (the former capital of Guatemala). The Cloister property is a seven-room former villa (not really an updated cloister, although the aura of that ilk prevails) framed around gardens, sitting areas, and gorgeous works of art and crafts indigenous to the area. The owner, an American woman 16 years in Antigua, is rarely seen but not missed at all, as the staff is efficient, friendly, and very experienced. The Cloister is more of a B&B than a hotel, so go there for its beauty, serene and quiet atmosphere, and safety. It’s not the place for the usual amenities and services of a hotel.
The weather was gorgeous – 50°F at night and 70°F during the day, with crisp sunshine and wonderful views of volcanoes. In fact, one of the three volcanoes is quite active and can be seen smoking and spitting on a regular basis.
We walked the city and then took a formal walking tour lead by famed guide Elizabeth Bell. I recommend this walk highly, as it is very informative and takes you places you’d be less likely to visit on your own. We even saw and met the mayor!
We took a day trip to the Chichicastenango, El Quiché market, coupled with a stop at Lake Atitlán, and then followed the next day by a visit to a working coffee plantation and some outlying villages that seemed to cover the shopping, cultural, and exploring needs of the group.
The food was very good – and that goes for both the local cuisine and the meals in the three- and four-star restaurants. Bottled water is served everywhere, which may be the reason my group stayed quite healthy, with no stomach complaints.
Organized activities are strongly recommended, as the possibility of danger, especially in the mountain areas, was discussed openly by the locals.