There are not all that many places in the world where you can be on a black-sand beach, a gorgeous volcano-surrounded lake, hiking to waterfalls, climbing Mayan pyramids and temples in the rainforest, wandering on 16th-century cobblestones and eating world-class cuisine all reachable within a few hours by car, helicopter or plane. If that sounds appealing, consider Guatemala for an epic honeymoon that offers way more than you realized. And while it might sound like you’d break the bank doing all this, the other thing that makes this accessible paradise with many smiling, English-speaking locals a winner is that it’s actually very affordable.
Guatemala City, the capital and largest urban center in Central America, is where you’ll start your dreamy adventure, but you probably don’t need to spend too much time, except to eat. Zona 4 is the place to find cute and cool restaurants like the food hall–esque La Esquina, where you’ll be tempted to put back on all the weight you lost pre-wedding with mouthwatering ceviches, tacos, pizzas and donuts and elaborate milkshakes the size of your head. If you have a sweet tooth, head across the street for more fantastical ice cream creations at Helados Adela.
Now that you’ve fueled up for the hour-long journey, hit the road for Antigua, a charming colonial town of Spanish architecture, cobbled streets and excellent eats and shopping, surrounded by volcanoes and manageable mountains for hiking or watching the sunset with a bottle of wine. Here the largest hotel is Casa Santo Domingo, which rose out of a former convent and offers many romantic nooks, especially in its new sprawling spa. Other overnight options that are quaint, intimate and Zen are Hotel Sor Juana and Villa las Pilas, with gardens so cute you may just want to hang there. When you’re ready for activity, book with Antigua Tours and get a bit of a cultural education and history of the area—it’s pretty fascinating.
Guatemala is essentially a secret foodie destination, and Antigua is at the center of the deliciousness. There are former Nobu chefs who serve incredible Japanese tapas with little Guatemalan twists (Izakaya), and an Italian expat who goes to the market daily for the freshest produce to put in his ever-changing pasta dishes (Caffe Mediterraneo). Either of these eateries is perfect for a date night dinner, followed by—if it’s January through July—a curated selection of Japanese whisky at Alquimia Cocktail Room, where the passionate mixologists are like magicians with aromas and essences. (To get a little tipsy you can also visit the beautiful Ron Zacapa tasting room in town.) Other hot spot restaurants include Tartines and Bistrot Cinq for French, Doña Luisa for incredible banana bread, and Cafe Sky for rooftop tacos with a photo-worthy view.
Food is certainly not the only reason to go to Lake Atitlan’s spectacular Casa Palopó, a Relais & Chateaux boutique hotel that’s supremely romantic. But it’s certainly a big plus. You’ll want to ask for table number one at the intimate property’s 6.8 Palopó restaurant—perched on a terrace overlooking the tie-dye blue lake and its trio of volcanos, it’s in its own little nook, lit by candles, and is a popular place for proposals, in case this is not yet a honeymoon. For even more privacy you can also dine on your lake-facing room’s balcony, or have something set up in a remote corner, too, say after a blessing by the resident Mayan shaman or couples’ treatment in the brand-new spa.
Boat trips across Central America’s Lake Como to the various little towns surrounding it—one renowned for for yoga and meditation, while others have reputations for weaving, ceramics and even nightlife—are advised, and if you’re hikers, grab a guide and climb one of the volcanos or to waterfalls in the verdant, picturesque area. Whatever you do, don’t miss sunset—preferably with a refreshing and fruity cocktail and just-made blue-corn tortillas and guacamole by the pools or hot tub—over the lake.
Sunsets are a bit different but also epic from the west coast’s black-sand beaches (thanks to all the volcanos in Guatemala) and also in the north, near Belize, at the deluxe Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel, Museum & Spa. There you can hop a pontoon boat and glide through the lagoon with wine and charcuterie as the sun sets and moon rises. The water is different but the idea of their spacious and private over-lagoon stilted suites (each with a jacuzzi on the deck) is almost like being in the Maldives—here instead of sea turtles you can head out on a boat to commune and share coconuts with spider monkeys, or check out the private nature reserve’s jaguar on a thrilling quad tour. For pampering, hit the new spa for hot volcanic stone massages that will melt any leftover wedding stress.
In this lush rainforest locale everything seems oversized, from the lush palm fronds to the massive Mayan temples and pyramids that were built starting in the second or third century AD and have survived to a great extent in nearby Tikal, an ancient ceremony site for the indigenous people. Get a history lesson, awe-inspiring photo ops and your steps in, all in one tour through Tikal. (The views from the tops of the temples, one of which has appeared in Star Wars, over the rainforest canopy, are worth the many climbs.) And because this is Guatemala, and the smoke-infused cuisine is way better than anything you can get at home, wrap things up with a candlelit feast on the private dock where it’s just you two in the moon’s spotlight.