Exploring Antigua, Guatemala Rent-Free

Agua volcano’s peak loomed above me as I ran along dirt trails crisscrossing the volcano’s slopes through loquat orchards and between plots of maize and beans. Two more volcanoes, joined at the shoulder, dominated the horizon. Wisps of smoke regularly drifted from one of the craters. This impressive volcanic landscape made me pause, smile and appreciate how lucky I was.

A few miles from the UNESCO World Heritage Site and picturesque, colonial city of Antigua in the Guatemalan highlands, I was staying in an elevated, bright, airy apartment in a quaint village sprawled up the side of Agua volcano.

Sunlight flooded in through a glass wall of windows and a cozy kitchen opened onto a patio overflowing with succulent plants and a melee of exotic orchids. Upstairs, on an ample balcony, flowers and greenery spilled from a medley of earthenware pots and hanging baskets. Village rooftops, coffee plantations, and historical Antigua cradled in a valley surrounded by forested hills, spread below me. Up here I savored the scenery as I practiced yoga, meditated and sipped tropical smoothies in the warm morning sunshine.

In addition to the trio of volcanoes, another highlight of this stay was witnessing Antigua’s world famous Palm Sunday procession. Wandering along cobblestone streets, I photographed locals creating intricate, colorful carpets of dyed sawdust and flowers along the procession route. Then, thousands of purple-robed penitents, dozens shouldering a hefty float with a statue of Christ bearing a crucifix, trampled the carpets underfoot.

Another time, in a peaceful gated community near Antigua, I stayed in a gorgeous house with three feline companions. Against the backdrop of birdsong, squirrels scampered effortlessly up lofty tree trunks as I worked on my laptop on a shaded veranda overlooking lush, manicured gardens.

In the mornings, I practiced yoga, sipped freshly brewed locally grown coffee and relaxed on a spacious rooftop terrace, gazing at the ever-changing vista of volcanoes on the horizon. A maid and a gardener maintained the house and grounds.

After that, I stayed in a quiet, leafy neighborhood just outside Antigua, again with a maid and gardener. Upstairs in the light, roomy, high-ceilinged loft, I worked on my laptop to the whir of overhead fans and the faint aroma of incense while two playful canine companions lounged on the floor beside me. As a welcome screen break, we often played tug-o-war with a chunky rope in the garden shaded by lofty old trees and hedges.

In the mornings, the three of us ran along peaceful dirt tracks and cobbled lanes between avenues of trees and colorful, walled houses. Other times, we ambled leisurely, loitering along grassy verges. Those lively girls brought joy to my days there!

Traveling like this allows me to stay rent-free with home comforts while exploring an area. It offers a richer and more intimate experience than staying in hotels, sometimes in luxurious surroundings that wouldn’t normally be within my budget.

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