Falling asleep to the glow and crackle of a fire is pretty special, especially when you’re tucked up in an antique bed beneath a mound of hand-knitted woollen blankets.
Turns out, Chichicastenango in Guatemala can be cold. At 2,400 metres above sea level, it’s in the early 20s during the day, before dropping to 10 Celsius at night in winter.
But I was cosy at Mayan Inn, thanks to my 24-hour butler, Manuel, who was a dab hand at lighting fires.
Mayan Inn was built by Alfred S Clark, a Mexican sales manager for an oil company. After visiting Guatemala in 1917, Clark fell in love with the country, and wanted to share his secret with the world – so he persuaded American cruise ships to stop in nearby Antigua. To encourage tourists to linger in Chichicastenango, he built Mayan Inn in 1932 – putting the town on the tourist map.
These days, most tourists visit for its market, held every Thursday and Sunday, which is the largest in Central America. Villagers come from miles around to sell fresh produce, from custard apples to pineapple and apricot-like medlar. You can also browse stalls packed with colourful handmade textiles – table runners, ponchos and patchwork quilts decorated with Guatemalan symbols such as mountains and quetzals, the national bird.
If you can, time your visit for the St Tomas Festival every 4th to 23rd December, which is Guatemala’s largest. You will hear firecrackers as loud as bombs and catch a parade of masked men wearing colourful feather headpieces and tasselled costumes with mirrors on shaking maracas, while live bands blast music from a stage. At dusk, sparks from Catherine wheels fly in all directions while a tower ignites with fireworks, resulting in biblical characters illuminated like dot-to-dot pictures. The music and explosions continue through the night.
Mayan Inn has 28 rooms and two suites spread across two buildings opposite one another, each with a courtyard. The original building, on the right, is the largest. It has a restaurant with an enormous fireplace and a piano bar decorated with vintage typewriters and rotary phones. The bar overlooks a courtyard garden, and there’s a tiered back garden with views of the town’s rainbow-hued cemetery.
The building on the left is just as atmospheric, as cheese plants coil out of terracotta pots and a red parrot sits happily on its perch. A staircase leads to a mezzanine decorated with antique chests and benches.
My twin room, A11, had enough space for a wooden chest, antique wardrobe and writing desk and two bedside tables that were old leather drums. Two armchairs by the fire had views of St Tomas church – where the original Mayan holy book was found; alas, it’s now in a museum in Chicago.
High wooden ceilings and a tiled floor meant my room could be cool but as it was only lamplit, with a single candle and rugs depicting quetzals, it felt cosy. Besides, I rang for my butler by pressing a bell by my pillow, so my fire was lit before I even got out of bed.
Hotel Museo Mayan Inn, 8th Street and 3rd Avenue, Zone 1, Santo Tomás, Chichicastenango, Quiché, Guatemala.
Tel: +(502) 2412-4753
Everyone knows Mayan Inn; it’s on the main street behind the church.
Type of Hotel: 3-Star Hotel
Number of Rooms: 28 rooms and two suites, including free Wi-Fi.
Price Band: Medium, with single rooms starting from £91 per night.
Insider Tip: Do visit the town’s cemetery, which is just a short 10-minute walk from the hotel.
Reviewer’s Rating: 10/10
Sarah Riches is a London-based journalist. You can follow her on twitter @healthy_holiday and Instagram @healthy_holiday_
Photographs by Sarah Riches
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