Villa Bokéh’s polished terracotta-tiled floors and red pantile rooftops sandwich a gleaming white colonial hacienda complete with fairy-tale turrets and lofty cypress trees out front. Follow the meandering lakeside path to the turquoise outdoor pool with its blue-and-white parasols, or wander the extensive gardens where intoxicating scents of lilies, purple agapanthus, and vibrant bird of paradise flowers are accompanied by a symphony of birdsong. If even a gentle wander seems like an unnecessary exertion, retreat to the vine-draped verandah, where marshmallow-soft sofas provide perfect vantage points for daydreaming as fluffy white clouds drift across the volcano – don’t worry, it hasn’t erupted in over 80,000 years, so you’re quite safe.
12 noon. Check-in is 3pm. Both are flexible, availability permitting. Please request in advance.
Double rooms from £231.73 ($283), including tax at 32 per cent.
Rates include a continental breakfast served in the restaurant, including fresh fruit juice, bread, jam, fruits, cold meats and Guatemalan coffee from nearby San Miguel Dueñas.
Much of the art in the hotel (and there’s a lot of it!) comes from the owner’s private collection. You can take a guided tour of the fine textiles, sculptures and paintings that adorn the hotel’s public areas if you want to learn more about them.
At the hotel
Outdoor pool with separate hot and cold Jacuzzi tubs, spa, gym, gardens, billiards room, boats for exploring the lake, free WiFi. In rooms: tea- and coffee-making kit, filtered water, minibar with drinks and Guatemalan chocolates, bathrobes and slippers, locally made organic toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Each room and suite at Villa Bokéh has been individually designed with its own unique colour palette, and dressed with artworks and textiles from or inspired by Guatemala, such as photographer Mitchell Denburg’s black-and-white portraits of Antiguan locals and fine century-old tapestries curated by Guatemalan textile maestro Violeta Gutiérrez Caxa. You can expect hand-carved colonial-style furniture, vintage mirrors, statement rugs and big, beautiful, tiled bathrooms. All of which makes picking a favourite room like picking a favourite child. That said, we favour the Indigo suite for its fresh tones of white and baby blue, mezzanine seating area, and large balcony that frames superb views of the gardens and volcano beyond.
The outdoor pool promises sumptuous day-beds, swaying palm trees and swoonsome volcano views. Add an ice-cold margarita and 10 minutes in the Jacuzzi tubs for ultimate chill.
Adjacent to the pool area, the spa offers a range of massage and facial treatments.
Antigua isn’t exactly known for its shopping, so nipping out to replace the designer bikinis and budgie smugglers you left in a drawer at home is likely to end in disappointment. It’s also worth taking some stout walking boots, binoculars, water bottles and insect repellant if you’re planning on hiking up the volcano.
Spacious suites and extensive grounds mean there’s plenty of room for pets to roam. Pampered pooches up to 15kg are accepted at a rate of $220 for up to five days, and $50 for each additional day. See more pet-friendly hotels in Antigua.
Kids are welcome, and there a few diversions in the gardens to keep younger ones entertained, including a gnome trail, boating on the lake and a small play area with a swing and slide. Babysitting services are available on request.
Villa Bokéh is commendably committed to keeping it local, with just about every design element in the hotel – from bathroom tiles to candles to the (many) fine artworks on display – made in Guatemala. A kitchen garden provides the restaurant with a steady flow of fresh seasonal herbs and vegetables, while local farmers supply all other edibles. The zero-plastic policy here means reusable glass containers and compostable cardboard and bamboo straws are the norm. Indeed, everything here is composted or recycled where possible: used coffee grounds become fertiliser, cooking oil is passed on to a local paraffin-making company and rainwater is collected to irrigate the kitchen garden.
Grab a candlelit table by the lake for a romantic evening accompanied by the moonlight silhouette of Volcán de Agua and soundtracked by cicadas singing in the trees.
Pressed pastel linens and bold tropical prints are the order of the day in these lush colonial-style surroundings. Bring a light jumper or woollen shawl for long evenings on the terrace.
Diners at Bokéh 3.1 spill out onto the huge terrace that overlooks the lake and volcano. Cuisine is international, but informed by fresh, seasonal Guatemalan ingredients sourced from the garden and local farmers. The signature dish is as good a place to start as any: grilled sea bass with corn mousse and tomato fondue, served with charred fennel and zucchini. It’s open from 7am–10pm for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, with special weekend brunches also served in the glasshouse in the grounds.
Bar el Burro’s clean white walls, terracotta-tiled floors, beamed ceilings and volcano views provide a relaxed setting for wine, beer, cocktails and snacks.
Bar, restaurant and room service all take orders until 10pm.
Available during restaurant hours, from 7am to 10pm.
Villa Bokéh is a colonial-style luxury hacienda set in six acres of flourishing tropical gardens in the Guatemalan Highlands, just outside Antigua’s colourful old town.
La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City is around 25 miles from the hotel. The drive, across densely forested mountain highways, takes around an hour. One-way transfers can be arranged at a cost of $115 for up to three passengers and $150 for four to eight people.
You can hire a car at the airport if you fancy exploring the volcanic region around the hotel – including the vast Lake Atitlán a couple of hours away. We’d recommend a four-wheel-drive vehicle for negotiating dirt tracks, especially during rainy season (April to October). There’s a free, secure parking lot at the hotel.
Make like your favourite Bond villain and touch down at this secluded highland hideaway in a helicopter – the journey from the airport in Guatemala City takes less than 10 minutes.
Worth getting out of bed for
The tranquillity of the sun-kissed terrace, broken only by the chatter of native birds and the gentle clink of ice in your gin cocktail, can make starting outside the Villa Bokéh grounds something of a wrench. So here’s the good news: you don’t have to go anywhere. There are plenty of lazy pursuits right here at the hacienda. Find a shady spot beneath the palm trees and get lost in a book for a few hours. Take a boat onto the lake and drift beneath the arched bridge and out among the lush foliage that lines its banks. Fancy a romantic picnic against the backdrop of that picture-perfect volcano? Go for it! Staff will even lead you on a tour of the extensive gardens, pointing out interesting plants and native wildlife such as pink-headed warblers and, if you’re lucky, wine-throated hummingbirds, with their distinctively shiny pink bibs.
You can (and probably will) easily spend several days eschewing the colonial treasures of nearby Antigua in favour of shuttling gently from massage room to pool to hot tub to day-bed. But visit Antigua you must – its baroque Spanish-style architecture, colourful buildings, cobbled lanes, and crumbling colonial churches are manna from heaven for even the most amateur photographer. The view of our old friend the Volcán de Agua through the mustard-yellow Santa Catalina arch is one of the city’s finest.
But why stop at just looking when you can warm your toes on a hike up the volcano’s jungly slopes instead? The moderately challenging 10-mile round-trip from Santa María de Jesús takes around eight hours, or less if you take your four-wheel drive to the designated parking zone part-way up. Expect picturesque coffee and corn fields along the way, as well as increasingly fab perspectives on the neighbouring volcanoes and mountain ranges as you ascend. Should you reach the rim of the crater, you’ll be rewarded with splendid views across the valleys as far – on a clear day – as the Pacific Coast, some 50 miles distant.
Some of the best food in Antigua is also some of its cheapest: head for the plaza by the baroque lemon-yellow confection that is La Merced church for authentic Guatemalan street food at the weekend market. We’re taking meat-stuffed plantain, tortillas with pork crackling and cheese, empanadas, chimichurri hotdogs and entire (peeled) mangos on sticks for a dollar. You’ll find the best eats at the end of those long queues of locals but, trust us, it’ll be worth the wait.
For something a little more refined (i.e. with actual seats) there’s Los Tres Tiempos, best known around these parts for its signature take on pepián, Guatemala’s national dish. This thick, spicy, meaty stew is the happy result of Mayan and Spanish cultures colliding and is best enjoyed on the restaurant’s rooftop terrace with a zingy Limonada Electric cocktail or, should you favour yet more spice in your life, a cardamom G&T. Or head to buzzy Bistrot Cinq for French classics such as steak frites, moules marinière and confit duck served in generous Guatemalan portions that won’t break the bank, but may require loosening of the belt.
Who can fail to be seduced by the intoxicating combination of mild tropical climate, rooftop terrace and cool craft beer? Step forward the Antigua Brewing Company which offers all three with – natch – views of the city’s colourful colonial architecture. Try a fruity Fuego IPA and try to catch sight of its fiery volcanic namesake belching smoke in the far distance (yep, the Volcán de Fuego is still active). Or savour the rich caramel and coffee notes of a punchy Excelentisima stout then try not to stumble over the name when ordering a second.
It doesn’t take a linguist to work out what to expect at Tabacos y Vinos, a tiny and charmingly old-school bar tucked away beneath the Santa Catalina arch. Wine here is excellent, cheap and plentiful, with a range of South American and European varieties to sample. Cheese boards and cigars are also available should you require something a little more solid to chew on.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this tropical paradise in Guatemala’s Central Highlands and found somewhere to put all those carved wooden masks and handwoven rugs from the local market, a full account of their stay at this historic hacienda will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Villa Bokéh near Antigua…
Villa Bokéh is a hotel that wears its art well and truly on its sleeve. Walls and corridors are festooned with paintings, photographs and sculptures by local artists. In the cosy sitting room, with its huge fireplace flanked by antique cellos, guests can admire Guatemalan textiles that date back 100 years or more and take afternoon tea on the plush cream sofas. Heck, even the public bathrooms are something else, with elaborate mosaic-tiled floors and self-contained cylindrical red-brick washrooms.
Individually designed rooms and suites follow the colonial template – dark beams, terracotta-tiled floors, whitewashed walls – set out by this lovingly restored villa, and throw additional contemporary flourishes like boldly patterned wallpapers and bathroom chandeliers into the mix. All rooms overlook the lush vegetation that surrounds the villa, and many also have gardens or terraces with views of the volcano. Notably, none have TVs. But with views like these, who needs one?