San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, is known for its spiritual practices, holistic therapies and dread bearing hippies therefore it comes as no surprise that it is also home to an incredibly unique eco hotel called Lush that works with Mother Nature rather than against her. Lush is built into the volcanic mountainside and set far enough back from the lake that its residents can bask in blissful privacy whilst still hearing the water lap upon the shore. It is accessed through an antique gateway which leads you into its verdant gardens. It’s hard to imagine a world beyond it’s flora filled borders.
The owner, Niels Gronau, began to build Lush (previously Hotel Aaculaax) in 2000 despite having no previous building experience. With the help of the local Mayan community he began to construct his retirement home. Being German, sustainability was ingrained in his consciousness so naturally his method of construction followed suit. Chicken wire partitions were stuffed with plastic bottles and containers to create garbage walls, scrap wood became doors and window frames and whenever a bottle or glass was smashed it would be reborn as a lamp or part of an intricate glass window. Niels worked hard to recycle whatever garbage was produced via compost toilets and grey water recycling.
Niels fell in love with the process of building and as he did, his little house slowly and organically crept up the rocky mountainside to create what is now, seventeen years later, a luxury boutique hotel on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Over the years, Niels and his wife Lily have welcomed numerous artists, designers, carpenters and photographers to stay at the hotel and create their art. Because of this, Lush boasts an eclectic mix of artwork as well as displaying creative examples of upcycling and recycling throughout. Niels’ wife Lily never ceases to be amazed by his talents: “Niels has an innate instinct to source materials that later create eclectic and magical masterpieces”.
Petrified wood is a particularly endearing feature used throughout as towel rails and lamp shades. This wood is found nearby on the surrounding volcanoes, having reacted to the lava to create this almost flowering effect.
Juan Villatoro, a Mexican stained glass artist known as Patik, came to Lush in the very early days. Patik brought his technique of working with papier-mâché made from recycled paper and egg carton boxes (instead of lead) to create glass windows, lamps and other home decor items. He developed this medium after getting ill from lead poisoning but he couldn’t give up his passion of working with stained glass. Patik taught numerous volunteers how to transform leftover glass from old windows, broken bottles, dishes and paper into highly durable windows and light fixtures. One of the volunteers, Alain Galtie (otherwise known as Merlin – he looks the part), became the in-house window maker after Patik moved on with his travels. Niels’s now wife Lily came at this point and stayed as a volunteer, learning from Merlin. Each volunteer sculpted the medium in different ways, creating a variety of styles and artistic visions at Lush. The glasswork is just one example of the varied and environmentally focused mediums employed at Lush.
The hotel is now home to three beautiful bedrooms and seven luxury suites, one of which is a two story honeymoon suite built into the mountainside with incredible views of the lake and the surrounding volcanoes. Some suites are kitted out with fully equipped kitchens on rooftop terraces, others are quite literally built into the rock face so you shower surrounded by stone.
During the wet season rain sometimes finds its way into the Cascada suite. Instead of making an issue of this, the innovative duo make a feature of it. These two intertwining serpents direct the water down the rock face so that the residents gain a bedside water feature.
The Mirador honeymoon suite goes one step further with an open sided bathroom allowing you to admire the incredible lake vista whilst luxuriating in a candle lit bubble bath.
Each and every room is totally unique and has a past life. Each wall, door and ornament has a story to tell so be sure to ask its history during your stay. Niels and Lily continue to be open minded and welcoming whilst forever maintaining their identity. This is not just another eco hotel made by people with an environmental concience, it’s an ever evolving project which is rich with history and innovation.
Room rates range from $50 up to $175 for the deluxe suites; Mirador and Cascada. Despite being a luxury residence, two budget rooms are available at a modest $15 per night, however no reservations are taken for these rooms. In addition to the luxurious lodgings, there is an onsite restaurant serving cocktails and locally sourced cuisine which is arguably the best in town.