“Just follow these two children. You’ll walk up the road a ways, down a path, do a small hop over a gap in the road and continue descending to the lodge.”
I didn’t realize I’d have to hike to the Earth Lodge, and I immediately regret taking a small rolling suitcase over a backpack. Mario, our transfer driver, has just picked my boyfriend Chris and I up from La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City and brought us right outside Antigua to a pueblo called El Hato. We follow the children, hoping our accommodation is worth the effort.
Helping People Live Better Lives
Despite the steep terrain, we’re immediately transported to a bohemian heaven full of tranquility that wouldn’t be possible if the place were accessible to cars. Colorful garden signs point us to reception while scents of fresh grown herbs fill our noses. Comfortable couches and communal tables litter the space, and a bar beckons you to sip local rum and beer while strumming a guitar and noshing on vegan brownies and organic popsicles. Before even dropping our bags off in our rooms we have a Gallo cerveza in our hands (1 Quetzal from every drink purchase gets donated to the local school!) and are swinging in hammocks, gazing out over Jocotenango Village, Ciudad Vieja, and the volcanoes of Acatenango, Agua and the active Fuego.
Soon I get to talking with Briana, a California native, who opened the Earth Lodge in November 2003 with her husband Drew. Although neither had experience farming or construction before, both knew how to cook and had worked in hospitality. This combined with their passion to create a welcoming space of tranquility, health and innovative ideas — plus the help of local builders — made Earth Lodge a reality, officially opening in July 2004.
“Our main goal when opening the lodge was to give people a place to go where they could be in nature and relax without having to drive three hours,” explains Briana, who also talks about their desire to help the local community. “We are involved with the village public school, we fundraise to buy school supplies for the kids and we also raise money to supplement the government funded breakfast program. We buy fruits and veggies to complement the rice, beans and other foods already given for the kids. We also help out with extra projects when needed, like replacing roofs on classrooms, building new classrooms and helping to keep the town road in good repair.”
While they get most of their produce from the market in Antigua to support the local growers, Earth Lodge is situated on 40 acres (16 hectares) where they grow a number of kitchen plants for us, mainly avocados. Sampling their fresh guacamole, I’m not surprised to learn them lodge has 390 avocado tress on site. Kale, chard, basil, rosemary, dill, arugula, limes, oranges, lemongrass and hot peppers are some of the other ingredients they grow onsite. All their produce, herbs and spices are grown organically, as Earth Lodge uses only organic fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides.
“Luckily we don’t have to spray very much,” says Briana. “We have very few pests and fungi.”
Not surprisingly, the food is a major highlight of a stay at Earth Lodge, all offered in a healthy fashion. Dinner is served family-style, with offerings like moussaka, enchiladas, roasted red pepper pasta, homemade macaroni & cheese and beer bread. Additionally, you’ll often find dips, breads and other foods laced with their homegrown avocados. On Saturdays organic meats can be added to a meal, while Sundays bring live local music and a barbecue to the premises.
Guests With Stories
Another highlight of staying at the Earth Lodge are the guests, as everyone here seems to have a story. Tyler is from Canada and is “wandering the universe” getting involved in community sustainability projects and playing music, while Beth is a 60-year-old widow traveling solo through Central America trying to become fluent in Spanish. There’s also Haley, an expat from Australia who owns her own guesthouse on Lake Atitlan focused on inspiring people through yoga and permaculture courses. It seems as though everyone here is on their own personal journey to enlightenment and doing their part to make the world a healthier place to live.
My boyfriend and I pre-booked their famous Treehouse Room, the highest point on the property. With a private hammock-adorned balcony and almost floor-to-ceiling window we sleep more peacefully than we have in ages, waking up to mountains shrouded in clouds, branches dancing in sunlight, and vultures and swallows gliding over the valley. And after a farm-to-form breakfast of Guatemalan fruits, thick yogurt and homemade granola we feel inspired to hike the many nearby trails. Along the way we encounter cows, chickens, children and farmers as we make our way through corn fields and dangling flowers. While challenging at times, the varied viewpoints make it worth the effort.
Helping Yourself And The Community
If you’re into yoga, Earth Lodge also offers a daily morning class (except Thursdays). Even if you’re not a yogi, it’s an essential part of this calming experience, as is their complimentary onsite sauna that helps to detox your body. Add in a few treks, some bird watching, a few rounds of badminton and a sunset cocktail from one of their valley edge Adirondack chairs, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a truly budget-friendly health and wellness experience that not only helps yourself, but the local community.
Earth Lodge also sells a vegetarian cookbook called “Taste The Nature” that includes over 50 of the healthiest and best recipes, with $2 of each purchase going toward the local Hata School. For an idea of how far money goes in Guatemala, $7 USD buys a child a new sweater, $20 USD covers a year’s worth of produce for one child, and $25 USD can purchase all the school supplies necessary for one child.
Here a sample recipe of their delicious Orange Cinnamon Cake to give you an idea of what you might taste on the property:
ORANGE CINNAMON CAKE
Makes 10-12 servings
2 ¼ cups flour
2 Tbsp Triple Sec Liqueur
2 ¼ tsp Baking powder
½ tsp Salt
1 ½ Tbsp Cinnamon
2/3 cup butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 ¾ cups sugar
Grease two 8×1 ½ inch or 9×1 ½ inch round baking pans or grease one 13x9x2 inch baking pan. Set aside.
Stir together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside. In a mixing bowl beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and triple sec and mix until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating 1 minute after each.
Add flour mixture and milk alternately to beaten mixture, until just combined. Pour batter in pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 375º F or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.
*Featured image via Earth Lodge
Have you stayed at Earth Lodge or another budget-friendly wellness-focused accommodation? Please share in the comments below.
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