Guatemala: A Land of Inspiration!
Natural dyes. Horse-drawn carriages. Organic coffee. Smooth jade. Women’s cooperatives. Backstrap weavings. Colorful textiles. Local wine and cheese.
Without a moment’s hesitation, we say that Guatemala is a natural, cultural and artistic wonderland. And we love to explore it.
We’ve created a journey that takes a meandering tour through Colonial Antigua, rural Guatemala and Mayan culture. There are many special moments and cultural riches in store, but here are a few of our favorite highlights, guaranteed to engage your senses:
See: Antigua and Lake Atitlan
Your journey begins with what you see – and that’s Spanish Colonial Antigua and ethereal Lake Atitlan. In the first, glowing green jade, centuries-old metalwork and ancient ruins, rich with memories, prod and stoke your spirit, awakening even the most dormant creativity; at the second, a sparkling blue carpet unrolls onto a backdrop of green hills and conical volcanoes, stirring your soul.
Two spectacular, but very different locales serve as your Guatemalan homes-away-from home. In Antigua, settle into the historic Hotel Casa Santo Domingo, located on the grounds of the Santo Domingo Monastery, at one time one of the grandest convents in the Americas. Both a hotel and a museum, Casa Santo Domingo lovingly preserves the ancestral architecture, an homage to the region’s baroque period – and an everyday, every moment inspiration for your creative spirit.
The next great sight of the trip sits cozied up to the shores of Lake Atitlan: Villa Sumaya, home to thatched roofs and volcano views that set the scene for peace and wellness – and there will be plenty of that! But the real reason we’ve chosen this serene locale is for its location, convenient to the villages that lay scattered around the lake. Many are accessible only by boat, and all offer treasures to tease your creativity and inspire your art. Speaking of…
Hear: Ancient Stories and Ancestral Knowledge
Wander the cobblestone streets of Antigua. Let centuries of memory and tradition soak into your soul. Hear the clip-clop syncopation of horse-drawn carriages. Weave through the city’s myriad markets, their rich colors and lush textures offering ample stimuli. And while these experiences are each rich and wondrous in their own right, the greatest treat is yet to come:
Take your pick of hands-on workshop – chocolate making or jade carving – and learn about ancient traditions, passed down for centuries through Mayan and now Guatemalan culture. And once you’ve heard the stories and absorbed the methods, create with your own two hands – create something that echoes back through the generations, replicating what your artisan guide’s grandparents and grandparents’ grandparents did in just the same way.
To continue our journey through ancient knowledge, we’ll head to Lake Atitlan’s southern shore, to the enchanting and beautiful community of San Juan La Laguna. The town is home to more than 6,000 residents, the majority of which are Tz’utujil, one of the 21 Maya ethnic groups that live in Guatemala and are known for their enduring traditions, particularly their adherence to ancient religious practices and traditional culture.
Step foot in San Juan, and one of the first things you’ll notice is the dress: Women here wear “huipiles,” a type of traditional blouse with stunningly intricate designs around the neck. A closer look reveals that each design is comprised of 24 squares, which together represent Saint John, the town’s patron saint.
The huipil’s colors also represent the lake’s waters, the open sky, abundant nature, and the purity and blood of the Tz’utujil women. These elements are cornerstones of Mayan culture, and are therefore prominently featured in each woman’s dress. And while a Tz’utujil man’s clothing lacks the intricacy of his female counterparts’ lovely weaves, we will find beauty and workmanship in the colorful, supple textiles men wear.
Here, in San Juan La Laguna, we will listen to ancient histories, learn about Mayan traditions, and hear from the Tz’utujil themselves.
Touch: Traditional Tools and Hands-on Methodology
Naturally, while in Antigua and San Juan our artistic creativity is acting on overdrive. And that means it’s time to feel, to reach out and touch our muse!
It begins in your hands-on workshop in Antigua – this please-touch approach to travel that encourages you to look, to experience Guatemala with more than your eyes. You’ll grind cacao with your bare hands or fondle smooth jade between your fingers. You’ll form artisan chocolate bars between your palms, or hold the cool metal blades of traditional jade-carving tools.
At Lake Atitlan, your sensory explorations come courtesy of the Flor Juanera Cooperative, comprised of 14 artisans and born in 1992. The impetus: to foster work to create a better life for the children of San Juan. The founding members – Encarnación, Rosario, Celestina, Martina and Nicolasa – committed to providing for their families while simultaneously preserving Tz’utujil culture.
Mission accomplished. Today, almost 25 years later, the Flor Juanera Cooperative promotes economic growth in the area, thanks to solid training and good marketing. And today, we will visit with these women to hear their stories and learn about natural dye and backstrap weaving techniques.
So come, meet the artisans who weave bright textiles from naturally dyed fabrics. See, touch, and investigate. Then, we challenge you to try your hand at these methods, which have been passed down generation-to-generation, for centuries.
Smell: Women-Grown Organic Coffee
If there’s anything more satisfying than a smooth, flavorful cup of java, it’s following the coffee bean’s journey from field to cup. Near San Juan La Laguna, an organic coffee cooperative invites us to tour their fields and mills, which produce some of the best small-holder Guatemalan coffees on offer today.
On the verdant, volcanic slopes surrounding Lake Atitlan, small coffee farms cluster into cooperatives that manage their own mills – a source of local pride – and produce exquisitely cultivated, dried and roasted coffees. What’s more, they practice earth-friendly farming, growing organic coffee under the shade and protection of the native tree canopy. And even better, the coop we’ll visit is one of the few in Guatemala, and in much of the world, to have a high percentage of women landowners.
Go ahead, drink in the scent of organic, shade-grown coffee, proudly produced by Guatemalan women.
Taste: Guatemala’s Finest Wines & Cheeses
Of course, no cultural tour through Guatemala would be complete without the taste element. And while we’ll taste many new and wonderful things at Lake Atitlan, one of the best comes courtesy of local cheeses and excellent wines.
At El Artesano, a restaurant famed for its wines and cheeses, we’ll discover a wealth of delights from small batch cooperatives around Guatemala. Sample the extensive wine menu, but save room for the 25+ cheeses that grace the menu: produced locally and aged in-house, they’re some of the best we’ve ever tasted. In fact, many say that a trip to Guatemala is incomplete without a stop at El Artesano.
And there you have it: a sensory journey through the Colonial streets, open fields, small villages and locally sourced restaurants in Antigua and surrounding Lake Atitlan.
Interested in joining us on our next trip? We still have a few spaces left on our Creative Spirit Journey in February! Or let us customize a trip for you through this magical country. Contact us to learn more!