Carretera a San Antonio Palopo, km 6.8, Santa Catarina Palopo, Solola, Guatemala
Casa Palopó, situated on the lake's northeastern shores just outside the village of Santa Catarina Palopó, affords a level of pampered luxury previously unavailable in Guatemala.
Lake Atitlán has never really been thought of as a luxury destination; at least not by foreign visitors. While wealthy Guatemalans have long coveted the lakeshore as an idyllic spot for weekend homes amid astounding volcano views, travelers here have traditionally been of the backpacking or hippie variety. All that has begun to change, however, as Guatemala makes its long overdue arrival on the international luxury travel scene.
Guests have the option of staying in the main house, equipped with 7 suites, or the splendid two-bedroom hilltop villa. All rooms have views of the lake and its three sentinel volcanoes. The hilltop villa offers an additional level of seclusion, separated from the main house by a vigorous climb up a vertiginous staircase. You can avoid the climb from the parking lot and main house by flying in to the hotel's private heliport and having your private butler fetch you anything you like.
It's easy to feel like a Guatemalan elite on a weekend jaunt to your private hideaway; and therein lies Casa Palopó's charm. Upon arriving, leave your cares - and your bags - at the door and prepare to be tended to with the warmest of Guatemalan hospitality. Some of the friendly staff speaks fairly good English but somehow any would-be language barriers are not a problem.
The main house Master Suite (Room 1), where I spent my last visit, is by far one of my favorite rooms in all of Guatemala and features bright blue walls, hardwood floors, antique knick-knacks, Italian Frette linens and Aveda bath products. Floor-to-ceiling windows slide open to a gorgeous Spanish tile balcony with commanding volcano views. Should you want to get some work done, there's a sturdy desk where you can set your laptop and tap in to the hotel's wireless internet signal.
The hilltop villa is painted in more muted earth tones and features rooms with hardwood floors, four-poster mahogany beds and all the amenities of the main house. Its downstairs living room affords a private place to take in the surrounding lake views while reading a book in a comfortable chair.
Adding to the hotel's allure and its feel as a private hideaway is the fact that, in essence, this is precisely what the property was meant to be. Casa Palopó is the weekend retreat of 44-year-old Billy Bickford Jr., a Guatemala City engineer who presides the construction company responsible for the recent renovation and expansion of Guatemala City's international airport. Bickford also owns two of Guatemala's fanciest restaurants. Jovial and instantly likeable, Bickford is well-traveled and has a keen sense of style, which is readily apparent from the various African tribal relics and Asian antiques festooning Casa Palopó's rooms and common areas and the fine attention to detail in everything from the villa's layout to the in-room amenities. All of these are lovingly cared for and overseen by the property's manager, Sandra Padilla, a U.S.-educated businesswoman with a knack for good conversation.
For recreation, there's lounging by the pool at the main house or the infinity edge pool beside the hilltop villa. Waterskiing, volcano hikes and kayaking are also available, or you can venture to the nearby village of Santa Catarina Palopó to shop for Guatemalan handicrafts and textiles or just soak in the local Mayan culture. Speaking of soaking, there's also a hot tub where you can rest your weary bones, should you try to pack in too much into one day.
Casa Palopó's restaurant and top-shelf bar are on par with the fabulous accommodations. Among the culinary highlights are black lake bass in a sublime Thai chili and Teriyaki sauce, a delightful roast duck in a dark chocolate and fig sauce and a scrumptious Steak Bérnaise. Take in the spectacular lake views and sunsets from an airy terrace where you can enjoy a drink or romantic candle-lit dinner. You may run in to Guatemala's elite, as I did on my last visit when I was seated at a table next to former Guatemalan president and current Guatemala City mayor Alvaro Arzú. I ran in to CNN's Harris Whitbeck, who has a home next door, at breakfast the next morning.
With too many properties nowadays posing as luxury accommodations, it's refreshing to find a place where outstanding service, impeccable attention to detail and a world class location all combine to make for a true luxury experience. Casa Palopó achieves all of this while feeling like your home away from home.
Web address: www.casapalopo.com
Total number of rooms: 9
Published rates: $125-$1099
Review and photos by Al Argueta.