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Guatemala: a perfect retreat for body and soul

No matter the specifics, most people travel to be happy. When a person can capture happiness in mind, body, and spirit at a destination, that place is bound to remain a favorite for many years. A trip to Guatemala, especially during Semana Santa (the forty days leading up to Easter) can fulfill one’s prescription for happiness.

To get into a happy mind set, enroll in a Spanish immersion course. Antigua, Guatemala, boasts over 70 schools from which to choose. Most offer home stays with selected families, guesthouses with fellow students, apartments, or upscale hotels. I particularly recommend La Union. Its garden campus lies half a block away from San Francisco Church, and it specializes in one-on-one teaching, usually for four hours a day. The teachers are highly trained and motivated, the administration very efficient, and travel and volunteer offerings are available readily through the school. More information can be found at

Once the mind has been renewed with Spanish immersion, it’s time to regenerate the body. A yoga retreat in the pueblo of Santa Cruz at Lake Atitlan is the ideal happy tonic for accomplishing this. Shuttle busses make the two and a half hour drive from Antigua to the lake three times a day. From the private dock at Panajachel, jump on a boat for the twenty minute ride to Villa Sumaya. Disembark at its private dock in Santa Cruz. At Sumaya, enjoy a few days or a week of private and group yoga lessons, delicious vegetarian meals, a wellness consultation, a rebirthing session, massages, and Spanish lessons. The accommodations blend soothingly into the environment. Squirrels jump from tree to tree, birds usher in each new day with their morning chirping, and volcanoes surround the lake to provide a magical view.

It’s easy to catch a shuttle boat from Sumaya to visit other villages alongside the lake, each one rich in its specialty. Santiago is known for its art, crafts, and Civil War history. San Pedro boasts of its hip gringo scene. San Marcos exudes New Age vibes. San Antonio is a great place to pick up pottery, and Santa Catarina is a perfect place to watch Mayan women weave and buy their beautiful products. Definitely, a renewed body is a happy body and a stay at Sumaya and visiting nearby villages will refresh one for months to come.

With the mind and body invigorated, it’s time to renew one’s spirit. This is especially easy to do during Semana Santa back in Antigua. The week before Easter is the highlight of the forty day annual celebration. Alfombras (carpets of colored sawdust designs, fruits, and flowers) cover the city’s cobblestone streets. Men and young boys in purple, women in black, and young girls in white carry heavy floats commemorating Christ’s final days of mortality. The processions last up to twelve hours, with the carriers of the floats replaced every few blocks with others eager to share in this holy event. The carried floats trounce over the alfombras, symbolizing death in preparation for rebirth. Church bells toll. Bands play. Crowds explode in dancing and singing hymns of praise. Doves light up the sky. All enjoy the spiritual feast.

Mahatma Gandhi once remarked, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” While Gandhi never visited Antigua or Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, I am confident he would agree that this special place unites mind, body, and soul, definitely the ingredients for a most happy vacation.

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