We recently took a 7-day family trip to Guatemala. The experience was simply amazing. Here’s a recap of the story –
This trip was intentionally designed from some recent influences and reminders of how little time we have left. To be more specific, my parents [and in-laws] aren’t getting any younger. We all live busy lifestyles and quality time with our parents often loses priority. This has weighed pretty heavily on my mind lately, especially as it relates to time my children have with their grandparents. So I wanted to create a trip that provided true quality time for everyone to cherish.
That said, the trip became a full family affair in the sense that it included almost everyone, including:
- Gabrielle and our kiddos (Everest and Sepia)
- My mother (Sheila) and father (Reza)
- My brother (Amir) from China
- Gabrielle’s mother (Cindy) and father (Curt)
- Gabrielle’s brother (Blake)
- Gabrielle’s nephew (Chase)
The only people missing were Liz and Kiki, Gabrielle’s sister and niece. But all in all, we showed up strong with a group of eleven total. It ended up being a true family vacation!
Our destination was Lake Atitlán of Guatemala. If you’re not familiar, it’s a very beautiful place that’s still quite hidden from most tourism lists, and the world in general. This international lake sits 2 hours west of Guatemala City in the central part of the country. It’s surrounded by 3 large volcanos and plush Guatemalan rainforest.
I chose Guatemala and Lake Atitlán for a few key reasons:
Guatemala is a country that nobody in my family has visited. So it provided a new experience for everyone. This is an important aspect to how I travel, and how I seek personal growth.
When you visit and experience a new location you learn new things and broaden your sense of the World.
I want my children to pick this up at a young age, so the timing was perfect (they’re currently 4 and 2).
Proximity and cost
Traveling to Guatemala from the United States was easy and fairly economical for a large group (11 people). The air travel was about 5 hours total, broken up in two flights. The cost per person stayed within $300 USD. This allowed almost the entire family to participate.
Family travel tip: I took care of all the lodging and transportation to the lake. While this felt good from a “gift” perspective, it also kept the decision process very easy for everyone. They basically knew nothing other than the country we were going to. If you want to get 10+ family members to join you on vacation just pay for the lodging and don’t tell them where you’re going 😉
3rd World country
Guatemala is a 3rd World country. It still lacks technology and tourism infrastructure, even on the famous lake that we visited. While I have the financial means to take my family virtually anywhere on the planet, I was intentional about taking them somewhere less established. I believe these experiences are more meaningful in many ways.
3rd World experiences help us with gratitude and mindfulness that 1st World life often takes for granted.
Again, I want my children to realize this early on, so this type of trip will not be our last.
And now, onto the trip highlights!
The house – Casa de Lago
The house we stayed at was simply amazing. It was the type of house that looked awesome online, but was even better in person. The unique eco-friendly architecture and surrounding landscape made it feel like we had our own private slice of Central America.
Casa de Lago was designed with nature in mind. The multi-story house is built into hilled landscape a few hundred feet up from Lake Atitlán. There are surrounding trees and large rocks that co-exist with the building. Large glass windows and interior landscaping help blend the indoor and outdoor environment to make it feel like you’re actually living outside at times. The house also offered unparalleled views of the lake and surrounding volcanoes with two expansive decks.
Lastly, it has instant access to the Lake via a short 5-minute walk. A well-crafted rock stairwell leads you through beautiful landscaping and down to a private dock with overlooking deck. From there you can swim in the lake, take kayaks out, or just enjoy the quiet and serene surroundings. We spent several days enjoying this space and taking advantage of the lake activities.
Casa de Lago was easily one of the nicest homes I’ve ever stayed in. It also provided the perfect atmosphere to relax and unwind with family.
Lake Atitlán is a large lake with various towns nestled around the edges. There are a handful of larger towns and then several other small towns spread in between. This geography combined with poor outer roads make boat the primary means of transportation around the lake. In other words, you take boat taxis to get across the lake from town to town.
We stayed in San Lucas Tolimán, one of the larger towns on the Southeast side of the lake. However, a lot of the tourist attractions and activities were located on the North and Southwest sides in the towns of Panajachel and San Pedro. As a result we had 3 enjoyable boat trips across the lake during our stay.
Each town has its own unique offering while staying true to the general vibe and culture. For example, San Antonio Paulolo is best known for its textiles and ceramics. Whereas San Pedro is the “backpackers haven” with more bars and tourist activities. Overall, the towns are filled with native culture, vibrant colors, and the 3rd World charm you would expect of smaller municipalities.
Coffee plantation tour
One of our trip highlights was a coffee plantation tour in the town of San Lagunas, which sits on the West side of the lake. We had the privilege of touring La Voz, which is a cooperative coffee plantation run by 175 Guatemalan families.
This tour was super educational from the start. For example, we quickly learned that coffee beans come from a coffee berry, which typically yields two or three beans per berry. Our group had decades of coffee drinking experience yet this was new information to all of us. We also learned about ideal coffee plant farming and how Lake Atitlán provided unique conditions with its 5,000 feet elevation and underlying volcanic soil.
The tour included a great overview of how coffee beans are cleaned, dried and eventually roasted. We also learned about how the plantation harvests 3 levels of beans – premium, medium grade and low grade. The different levels of quality are distributed with economics in mind, with the premium coffee being exported and medium/log grades staying more local.
We concluded the tour with a fresh cup of their finest beans.
Mayan ruins tour
Another trip highlight was a short half-day trip to the Mayan ruins of Iximche. This site was first established in 1490, making it one of the oldest remaining preserved areas. It’s smaller in comparison to other remaining sites but still provided a great experience of true Mayan ruins. We walked the site and learned a bit about the history leading up to this earlier civilization.
One of the towns, Panajachel, offered a great little nature reserve. This gave us some access to native Guatemalan wildlife, including butterflies and monkeys. There were also several rope bridges to cross as we explored the area!
Quality time with family
The last and most important aspect of this trip was the quality time spent with family. As I mentioned, this trip combined my immediate family plus my wife’s immediate family. It’s the first time we were all together in one place for several days since our wedding back in 2014.
Some of the things we spent our time on included:
Our gracious host staff prepared breakfast and dinner every day, relieving us of the cooking and cleaning duties. This created a daily pattern of breaking bread and enjoying casual conversation. We also experienced a few meals prepared Guatemalan style.
The house was designed with families in mind, offering a variety of board games and physical games. The backyard provided a nice field for barefoot soccer. We enjoyed a couple nights of fierce family vs family Taboo… which ended in a 1-1 tiebreak. And of course, we held a one-on-one ping pong tournament round robin style with pre-seeded rankings!
There is no need to declare who the champion was… but let’s just say your boy hasn’t lost his pong skills 😉
Sepia’s 2nd birthday
During our trip my daughter turned two! Grammy (my mother-in-law) put on a great “Minnie Mouse” themed birthday party to make it a special event. Sepia wore her Minnie Mouse backpack from that point on (literally).
A unique aspect of this time together was the lack of phones and mobile devices. Casa de Lago does not offer wifi which forced us to get off the technology and interact the old way. I can’t tell you how refreshing this was and how much I recommend it.
True quality time is being present with your family, not being in the same room on your phones.
All in all, I am blessed and fortunate to take my family on this kind of trip. It was an experiment being the first time we gathered for this kind of trip with everyone included, and the experiment proved to be something we’ll definitely repeat again in the future. I hope my children and family remember this experience and use it to inspire future experiences to come.
If you’re a fellow parent I also encourage you to think about how you might give your family a similar experience 🙂
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