I thought I visited Guatemala once before, but after my second and most recent visit to this growingly popular Central American destination, I realized that I had seen nothing during my first trip.
Of course I saw the streets of Antigua and the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City when I first visited the country three years ago. But my first trip didn’t include a resort that had its own helipad on property nor did I sip on fine wine from a Jacuzzi overlooking a gorgeous lake and three volcanoes - until my second trip when I met Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan.
Located 90 miles from Guatemala City, Casa Palopo is a gorgeous, modern chic villa resort on the hills surrounding Santa Catarina Palopo village, on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
There are only nine rooms here. Seven of the rooms are located in one building while a two-bedroom villa is located in the hills. The rooms all come with either a patio or a balcony, depending on whether the room is located on the first floor or not. The sliding doors to the terrace or balcony actually lock from the outside, so be sure to tell clients not to completely shut the doors or they could be locked in. Having said that, this happened to me and all it took was a simple call for help before someone came quickly.
|My room at Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan|
I stayed in room no. 3. Every one of the seven first-floor rooms are excellent and separate themselves with subtle differences. For example, room no. 2 had polished hard wood floors while my room was tile. Perhaps our favroite feature of room no. 3 was a beautiful painting above the king-sized bed. At first glance, it’s a simple, modest painting of a woman holding flowers. But after I asked around, I learned it was the original "Sueños de Izote," the first ever painting by renowned Guatemalan artist, Maria Dolores Castellanos, and is probably worth a pretty penny. Every room is given a hot water pillow during turndown service. It’s resembled and feels somewhat like a whoopee cushion, but its basically a rubber bag that holds scolding hot water to warm your mattress in the event that it gets really cool at night, something quite common in the lake area of Guatemala.
The remaining two rooms are located in Villa Palopo, which is located high above the first floor of the hotel and deep into the hills. Villa Palopo is a villa in every sense of the word. It is very tastefully designed with a very chic overtone. There’s marble everywhere, lots of blacks and whites and very simple, yet effective decoration. The highlight of the villa however is the full length, lap pool that offers full 180-degree views of Lake Atitlan as well as three dormant volcanoes. The weather is very difficult to predict here. If it is hazy, you will not be able to see any of the mountains or volcanoes. There is also a Jacuzzi located just next to the pool and a covered up sitting area where VIPs can enjoy some cocktails, rain or shine. There’s a helipad on property. I rarely see this at any luxury resort throughout the world. The helipad is literally a few shorts stairs bellow Villa Palopo. Booking a helicopter ride one week in advance will ensure your clients' transfer, but rides can be booked 24 hours in advance, depending on availability.
I was told by the property’s owner that a small, one-treatment room spa will open by November. It will be housed in the property’s current fitness center. I was also told that about five more rooms could be added by the end of 2014. The owner’s personal residence is located behind the villa. She told us once she moves, she will include that home into the hotel inventory. Although the spa will open later this year, the hotel offers in-room massages either inside your room or on your patio or balcony.
|Boat tours are available from the hotel to the 12 surrounding towns, where clients can witness women using the Mayan traditional treadle loom to weave colorful fabric|
Restaurant 6.8 Palopo is the hotel’s signature and only restaurant. The cuisine includes a lot of local food with a twist. But the menu could be changing soon. In fact, I, along with other media, was apart of an exclusive group that was invited to take part in a wine pairing dinner that was used to decide the new menu. We can tell you there wasn’t one dish we didn’t like so it’s safe to say the new menu is going to be excellent. There is also a lounge area located next to the restaurant that offers incredible views of the volcanoes.
The property also offers boat excursions for clients looking to get out of seclusion for a bit and into some of the nearly 12 nearby towns. This is the perfect way for clients to get their experiential travel fix in. Any of these towns offer glimpses into the everyday life of a Guatemalan from watching locals make pottery in their shops to children playing soccer in the school yard with volcanoes in the background to watching women using the Mayan traditional treadle loom to weave colorful fabric. I took a tour to San Antonio Palopo, a village on the eastern shore of the lake known for ceramics, textiles and the Saint Anthony Cathedral.
|My room at Casa Palopo, Antigua|
Casa Palopo, Antigua
Now, Casa Palopo isn’t exactly a franchised hotel, but this hotel should be considered more of an extension of Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan than anything. Formerly a private colonial house, this three-bedroom hotel is located on a quiet residential street in Antigua and makes for the perfect resting spot for VIPs who don’t want to make the full trek to Lake Atitlan in one day.
Each room is named after the famous local churches of Santa Clara, La Union and San Pedro and all accommodation is spacious with a blend of colonial and contemporary furnishings. Guatemalan rugs are strewn across dark hardwood floors, and each queen or king-size bed, fronted by an enormous wooden headboard, is located between two bedside cabinets and a comfortably plump armchair and footstool.
Breakfast is served on the terrace overlooking a beautifully maintained garden with an intricate stone carved fountain. The courtyard features a lap pool and cushioned teak sun lounges set atop large stone tiles bordered by neat grass verges. In the evenings, clients can sip cocktails from the bar and relax in the comfortable lounge area.
It takes about 45 minutes to get from the airport to Antigua and about three hours to drive to Lake Atitlan. The better option is staying at Casa Palopo, Antigua for a night, unwinding a bit over some wine and great food and taking a 20-minute helicopter from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan the following morning.
|Famous Guatemalan Chef Mirciny Moliviatis (left) serves one of her specialities with help from Casa Palopo, Antigua employee, Pascual|
In fact, the helicopter rides to and from Lake Atitlan may easily be your clients' best vacation highlights as they offer some incredible aerial views of volcanoes, farms and more. Casa Palopo, Antigua prefers to only do property takeovers because it's so small. Taking over the property for a night, however, costs less than $600 and there is no minimum night stay since the purpose of this property is for a one-night retreat before the real fun begins at Lake Atitlan.
Clients looking to go all out during their one-night retreat at Casa Palopo, Antigua can arrange for an exclusive wine pairing dinner with famed Guatemalan chef Mirciny Moliviatis, who specializes in molecular gastronomy. One of the dishes she prepared for us, for example, during a four-course meal was the whipped merengue frozen with liquid nitrogen.
For all inquiries, advisors should contact Isabelle Torchut, co-general manager and reservations manager of Casa Palopo, Lake Atitlan, at [email protected] or 888-479-6026.