It is a sad truth universally acknowledged by budget travellers, that you can usually afford to spend only one night in a "splash out hotel". You know, the posh hotel you luxuriate in for 24 hours to help soften the blow of the other cheap motels, Airbnbs or hostels that otherwise fill your itinerary.
Picking which night would be allocated to the "splash out hotel" was, for me and my husband during a recent trip to Antigua in Guatemala, tricky. We had booked an overnight hike up nearby Acatenango volcano, an activity gruelling enough to require either a primer or a reward, but we wonder: will we hike with greater zeal knowing a night in a boutique hotel awaits? Or should our funds go towards steeping ourselves in luxury before the high altitude camping? Eventually, we toss a coin and decide on the latter.
Which property we choose, however, needs no discussion. We had been eyeing off the gorgeous Meson Panza Verde, located towards the outskirts of town but only a five-minute walk from the main plaza, since we arrived in town two weeks earlier.
A 1986 build with a strong Spanish colonial aesthetic, we are greeted by a central courtyard filled with lush tropical gardens, lanterns, candelabra and lined by narrow external porches. It has the feel of a Moroccan riad, a sense of an inner world, opening like an oasis, away from the busy town.
Upstairs, past a cosy living area with a large fireplace and baronial sofas strewn with Guatemalan textiles and pillows, is our second floor junior suite. Meson Panza Verde has only 12 rooms, each individually designed and uniquely decorated with antiques and locally woven textiles, giving off an ethnic-chic vibe.
Our spacious suite features high ceilings, a chandelier, a Moroccan-style fireplace, rendered walls and a stunning collection of antiques and art. The far wall is made of glass, with double doors opening to a Spanish balcony facing a wall covered with climbing vines and Swiss cheese plants, and looking down to a lap pool alongside the restaurant.
Having just emerged from three nights spent in a hostel in the jungle, none of these luxuries escapes our attention. Especially not the large bathroom with its painted domed ceiling and glass mosaic bath, where I had every intention of turning myself into a prune before bed.
The rooftop terrace beckons, with its majestic view of Agua volcano rearing above town, as does the on-site art gallery, but we have just this one final night in Antigua and we are itching to get out and about. But we aren't prepared to miss the hotel's La Cueva restaurant, often cited as one of the city's best. We grab a candlelit table by the pool and watch a jazz trio play, as we devour a a quick entree of terrific tuna avocado tartare accompanied by a smoky mezcal cocktail, then head out into the night.
The following morning we wake at sunrise, swiftly pack and head downstairs for a delicious Guatemalan breakfast of scrambled eggs, black beans, fried plantains and fresh tortillas in the elegant dining room. By the time we throw our packs on our backs and trudge down the cobblestone streets to meet our hiking guide, we feel absolutely fortified and completely ready for a nylon tent, a long-drop toilet, and any other indignities our hike might have in store for us.
Nina Karnikowski travelled with assistance from Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand flies to Houston up to five times a week via Auckland from all major Australian cities. From there, it's a two-hour 40-minute flight to Guatemala City. See airnewzealand.com.au
A stay at Meson Panza Verde, which has 12 uniquely decorated rooms including nine suites and three doubles, costs from about $124 a night. See panzaverde.com