Meditate on Sacred Mayan Lands at Lago De Atitlán, Guatemala

Writer Rachel Zurer discovers the power of a daily practice on a dream-like yoga retreat on sacred Mayan lands in Guatemala.

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Rachel Zurer learns the importance of mindfulness at a dream-like escape yoga retreat in Guatemala.

It’s impossible to say what wakes me each morning of the week I spend at Villa Sumaya retreat center in Guatemala, but it’s never my alarm. As I emerge from sleep, I let my eyes soak up the view before me, out the wide-open balcony door overlooking the lake and her guardian volcanoes. Yet another day of mindfulness in this powerful, beautiful place awaits.

Lago de Atitlán, in the western highlands, is known as an energy vortex. You’d think that would make it an active, swirling place, but the main thing I notice is a deep, infectious peace. Wendy Stauffer, Villa Sumaya’s owner, explains to our retreat group (she hosts 30 per year) that the Sanskrit wordsumaya means “long-awaited dream.”

It fits. The days here flow like a vinyasa practice, each chunk a new opportunity for mindfulness, exploration, dedication, humility, loosening up, and noticing what’s within. The schedule encourages good habits, with meditation, twice-daily yoga (a flow class in the morning; restorative in the afternoon), creative-writing sessions (part of this particular retreat’s theme), and wholesome vegetarian meals.

We practice mainly in the Blue Tiger Temple, the wood-floored, glass-walled yoga studio of my dreams. In one direction, a small creek tumbles through a bamboo jungle; in another, the lake laps against a dock. Our last night together, the group gathers in the Tara Temple, a smaller, third-floor studio that feels like a treehouse. We laugh, cry, and marvel at the power of just seven days of showing up on the mat and sharing good vibes. I’m thankful to Villa Sumaya for the best week of my life, one that showed me just how transformative a daily practice can be. I meditate every day now, and do more asana than ever. Even though I’m back to needing my alarm, there’s no doubt: I’ve never been more awake. (For more information, visit

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Villa Sumaya Must-Dos

Drink homemade kombucha.

There’s a pound of fruit in each batch of strawberry-ginger kombucha from the center’s snack bar. It’s one of the tastiest cleansing drinks you’ll ever try.

Attend a Mayan fire ceremony.

Owner Wendy Stauffer facilitates the ceremonies with a local shaman. Bring an intention, write down the things you want to shed, burn the paper, and prepare to learn something about yourself ($150 for up to 12 people).

Take a day trip to San Juan.

Use public boats or a water taxi to reach this charming town, which requires a 45-minute ride around the lake. The area’s many women’s collectives specialize in high-end, natural-dyed textiles that make perfect keepsakes.

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