Guatemala can be rough on the traveller. This little Central American nation has more than its share of dirt and heat, crime and mosquitoes. There is poverty, corruption and armed robbery. With just a little bit of planning though, Guatemala can be a traveller's dream. And hidden in the hills above Antigua is one of those lovely gems, the kind of place you brag to your friends about when the trip is over, the kind of place where you sit back, heave a happy sigh, and realise why the hassle at the airport and all those hours on a bus were worth it.
Antigua itself is a marvel. You'll want to spend some time here. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, with beautiful colonial buildings in the shadow of an enchanting chain of volcanoes. The streets are cobbled, which is picturesque, but the combination of stunning views and uneven footing means that the city is filled with tourists who have crutches or bandaged elbows.
You're almost there. Contact Earth Lodge and someone will come down to pick you up, probably a man with very little English in a small and well-used pickup truck. The lodge is a backpacker's heaven, so you'll most likely make the 20-minute drive crowded in the back of the vehicle, leaning on a pile of backpacks. You should be at least slightly fit to visit the lodge, it helps if you can carry your luggage on your back. It's a fairly steep 10-minute walk from the end of the road to the lodge. If you're a little old lady with two big suitcases on wheels, you're going to have a hard time of it.
The lodge has one of those settings that makes you happy you decided to travel. It's on a forested mountainside high above Antigua. A valley stretches out before you, vast, sweeping and lush. Volcanoes rise in the distance, sometimes smoking or even spewing jets of lava. You'll hear the sigh of the wind and the rustle of leaves, but not the whine of mosquitoes. They don't exist at this altitude.
Around the lodge avocado trees slowly give way to jungle. Expect dazzling sunrises, exotic birds, and lazy hours spent in hammocks and Adirondack chairs. The climate is just about perfect. This area of Guatemala is known as the land of eternal spring, pleasantly warm in the day without being hot, cool in the evening without being cold. You will want to bring a sweater or light jacket.
The lodge is certainly not for everyone. You will not be pampered here. The accommodations are simple and rustic. There is a treehouse and several A-frame cabins. The cabins are perfectly comfortable but minimal. There's room for a few beds and that's about it. It's a couple of minutes’ walk to the shared bathrooms. You may want to bring a flashlight at night.
The cabins are cheap enough at $15.00 or so, but you can sleep in a dorm or bring a tent for even less. If that's still too much, you may be able to work at the lodge or on the avocado farm and pay even less.
There isn't another restaurant or bar for miles, but the lodge has good, cheap food and a well-stocked bar. There's a lively communal dinner every evening. Entertainment options include hiking, watching DVDs in the TV room, carousing with backpackers from all over the world and looking at the stars.
It isn't Paree and it certainly isn't the Ritz, but if you want to relax, unwind and generally chill, and to do it for a fraction of what you would spend in the Caribbean, Earth Lodge could be the getaway for you.