It's that time again... Time to plan your next trip to Mexico, and what better way to spend your next vacation then with your bests by your side while embracing the culture of a new environment? We've recently been inspired by the gang at Aluna Adventures who perfectly curate Yoga Wellness Retreats around the world and cater to your every need while make your girl's getaway dreams a reality. Sound like your kind of vacation?
We recently chatted with Heidi Roland, a Philadelphia based photographer who was asked to document their adventure to Guatemala. Keep reading for the behind the scenes scoop from the photographer herself.
Photography by Heidi Roland
What prompted this trip?
Meghan Dwyer and Meg Townsend of Aluna Adventures asked me to document their adventure to Guatemala and of course I said yes! Photography + Travel + Yoga = is winning combination! They lead retreats worldwide including to Morocco, Colombia, France and Italy. I truly love to travel, it's as if I see the world with new eyes on each journey. I am so open and alive when I am someplace new. It fills me up. Aluna Adventures is the only trip of its kind that I’ve found that gives you a deep cultural experience and really good yoga. And it attracts a vibrant mix of people of all ages with open minds and open hearts. This trip was nothing short of amazing!
Where did you stay?
Held at 5,000 feet in the highlands of Western Guatemala and surrounded by volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. We arrived by boat in the quiet, darkness of night. Our boat took us to the magical eco-hotel Isla Verde, Aluna's home base in Guatemala, which is close to the town of Santa Cruz la Laguna. Isla Verde has amazing little cabins tucked into the mountainside, overlooking the Lake. We climbed the countless stairs to our rooms the night we arrived and awoke to the most spectacular sunrise in the morning! Isla Verde is perched on the lakefront and we dined over the water with views of volcanos.
It looks like you had a blast hanging with the locals... Tell us about the people you met on your trip.
One of the most treasured parts of an Aluna Adventure is that they prioritize authentic connection with the people and places they travel to. So you’re not just in some beautiful resort somewhere cut off from the traditions and locals. The women of Lake Atitlán embody the sweetness and simplicity of the Mayan relationship to life and the world. Laughter is like their second language and heard in every town on the Lake. We also had the most wonderful guide, Alex, who led us on a breathtaking hike (breathtaking because it was both steep and beautiful!) into the Cloud Forest on the Upper Mayan Trail. He shared wisdom from the Mayan Culture and led us through beautiful natural landscapes, kayaking and cliff-jumping on the Lake, an open-air food marketplace, and to a local celebration of the Day of the Dead. Another highlight of our connection with the community was getting to know the people at CECAP. CECAP is a vocational-education center in Santa Cruz, where people of all ages come to learn new skills that bring prosperity to their families and community.
Did you go during Day of The Dead? For travelers booking their trips now, what should they expect?
Yes! Aluna intentionally plans In Lak'ech Yoga Retreat to happen during Day of the Dead because they draw on the energy of the Land and local customs to inform the theme of their trips. This was definitely a highlight for me, of which I'm still trying to find the right words to describe! Alex, our guide, surprised us by taking us to a cemetery where the community was celebrating Day of the Dead. How Guatemalans honor Day of the Dead is by gathering at the graves of their family and playing music, decorating, dancing, enjoying a meal together, and just spending time there as community. Our group bought kites to fly, which is something Guatemalans do on Day of the Dead to represent making a connection to the Spirit world to communicate with their ancestors. The children at the cemetery captured our hearts and our kites and everyone had so much fun giving them out and seeing the kids joyfully flying them. The founder of Aluna wrote a beautiful blog post about a special experience with one woman that day if you're interested in learning more!
What type of cultural experiences did you take part in?
The whole trip was infused with culture as it’s part of the Aluna mission so it’s hard to pick just one thing, so to name a few, in addition to Day of the Dead festivities, we took part in a few Mayan Fire Ceremonies, visited the women's weaving town of San Juan la Laguna, and tasted all kinds of different local delicacies and fruits. We also explored the area around the lake as locals do: taking boats most places, tuk-tuk adventures, and rode in the back of many pick-up trucks. On our big hike into the mountains we learned about coffee and corn farming in the Highlands (volcanoes make for rich soil!) and sipped on fresh sugar cane that was cut along the way.
Let's talk yoga! Tell us about each location/who you practiced with, etc. That waterfront location looks so rad!
Yoga practice is an integral part of the trip. It's the thread that weaves each day together and connects us with the inner and outer world. Morning Hatha Yoga with Meg T. (co-founder of Aluna and all about the inner fire!) was on the deck overlooking the Lake, surrounded by volcanos, flowers, and and the sweet morning sun. One morning, a fresh guava dropped from the sky and onto my mat. It made the perfect post-yoga treat!
Evening practice, Soothing Yin Yoga with Meg D (founder of Aluna and all about the earthy, watery realms), combined postures with meditation, and capped off each day perfectly. It was held in the cozy studio, complete with thatched roof and walls of windows so we could see the rising moon. During one of the evening practices I was bit by a scorpion (it stung, but I was just fine)! One of the things I enjoyed most was the ceremonies.Ceremony was woven throughout the trip, bringing us closer to each other, the Land, and ourselves. It opened me to a whole new depth of understanding about the yoga practice. Just like they don’t just take you to a pretty place without connecting with it in a deep way, the yoga component of Aluna Adventures reaches far beyond physical poses, offering you knowledge and understanding that strengthens and informs your whole way of being.
Tell us about these drinks that you all are holding up?
The Megs strongly believe that yoga and travel are the most powerful tools for transformation, taking an external journey to support the internal journey within. One of the special things that we found at the Lake was the chocolate shaman, who leads ceremony with cacao, the drink that you see us holding up. The simple drink of warm chocolate with spices, and the guidance of the shaman, is a powerful heart medicine for the subtle body. There's not much else I can say about this, it's a tradition shrouded in mystery and magic, and you'll just have to go and see for yourself!
Any travel advice for travelers venturing to Guatemala?
My travel advice about Guatemala is to definitely GO!! Be open to the flow of the country, there's something we call "Guatemala time," which if you invite that in and let go of your attachment of when you think things should happen, it opens you up to experiencing things you may have missed along the way if you were focused on DOING instead of BEING.
Want to book your next Girl's Getaway with Aluna Adventures? Here are the details:
Earth Lodge: This eco-friendly avocado farm (yes, you heard us, avocados everywhere!!) resides 6000 feet into the mountains above Antigua. It’s famous for it’s volcano views, delicious food, and tree-house getaways. There are many places to rest and relax, and beautiful hikes around the property. Aluna has been visiting Earth Lodge to decompress after our retreats, and we are so excited to bring a group here for the first time this year!!
Hotel Isla Verde: Isla Verde means “green island” and to us, it means home. This is truly Aluna’s home base in Guatemala and we wouldn’t think of staying anywhere else! The eco-hotel is beautiful and comfortable. Every person on staff is kind and ready to help out with any of your needs. The tasteful cabins are set on the hillside, so be ready to hike up a few sets of steps to get back to your room each night! Each cabin has a magnificent view of the lake and the open air bathrooms are decorated with nature’s greenery. Words can’t describe the magic this little hotel brings to the lake so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself!
Be nourished by the exquisite cuisine of Earth Lodge and Isla Verde’s Slow Food Cafe. All day long, the sound of music and laughter emanates from the restaurant kitchen as the delightful staff mindfully prepares the meals.
A Typical Day:
Rise with the sun, and as you brush your teeth you’ll enjoy the vibrant colors of the sky that awaken the tranquil Lake from her deep slumber. Make your way through the jungle paths of Isla Verde down to the outdoor yoga space. Join Meg for an invigorating Hatha Flow class that will help you to stoke your inner fire, complete with views of the Lake’s volcanoes to inspire that flame to burn even brighter. After yoga, there will be time for contemplation, journaling, or meditation. Breakfast follows with a simple, delicious buffet of fresh fruit, grains, and protein... and the freshest cup of coffee you’ll ever have! The coffee man, John, selects the finest beans from farms around the Lake and roasts them the day before he delivers them to Isla Verde.
On some days there will be an optional group activity (an adventure on the Lake, a guided hike, shopping and exploring the Lake’s unique towns, and so much more!) or you’re free to RELAX. Isla Verde is saturated with hidden spaces that offer the opportunity to unplug and tune in to yourself. Sun on the beautiful deck that overlooks the Lake, swing in a hammock all day, read a book, commune with the flowers and birds, or delight in a massage by Marcelo. In the afternoons the warm air from the ocean meets the cool air of the highlands, and their dance together creates Atitlan’s famous Xocomil winds. These strong winds that seem to suddenly sweep in, also carry a legend you’ll learn about it and further add to the mystique of the Lake.Before dinner, head to yin yoga inside a cozy, candle-lit hut that has 180 degree windows. The space supports the quiet, inward journey yin invokes, while still bridging a connection to the land around you. (Some days you’ll even hear the laughter of the women making dinner in the kitchen!) Meghan will guide you to sink into the Self deep below the surface as the sun sinks into the horizon.After savasana you’ll greet the waxing crescent moon and be lured into Isla Verde’s tranquil nighttime vibe of low lights, soft music, candles and a crackling fire. Gather with your new friends around the table and listen to the crashing waves upon the Lake shore as you enjoy a three-course dinner. Some nights you’ll be able to enjoy a glass of wine, and some nights we will refrain from drinking to support the practices of healing. Post dinner often involves retreating to the curative hands of fire, whether it’s sitting around the fire inside, participating in a fire ceremony outside, or settling into the Temezcal sauna or the hot tub under the stars. Any of these activities are sure to warm and relax you for a delicious sleep in the chilly night air.
In Lak’ech Yoga Retreat includes:
3 nights at eco-friendly avocado farm, Earth Lodge
all meals at Earth Lodge
5 nights at the eco-chic hotel & retreat space, Isla Verde which sits right on the edge of Lake Atitlán
3 vegetarian meals daily at Isla Verde’s slow-food Restaurant
hotel in Antigua on last night
all transportation in Guatemala
twice daily yoga & meditation classes (Hatha Flow + Yin)
a hot sauna and hot tub experience
a few other surprises!
roundtrip airfare to Guatemala City
dinner and breakfast in Antigua
additional excursions: kayaking, cliff jumping, volcano hike, etc.
Photography by Heidi Roland