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Panajachel, Guatemala

Atitlan Antique Rose Garden

A collection of heirloom roses tucked in a spectacularly beautiful botanical garden on Lake Atitlan. 

The gorgeous botanical gardens at the lakeside Hotel Atitlan are not just any botanical gardens. They’re spectacularly beautiful, made all the more special by the backdrop of volcano-surrounded Lake Atitlan, a jewel of Guatemala, often (rightly) referred to as the most beautiful lake in the world.

The botanical gardens are the gem of Hotel Atitlan, where they wind seemingly endlessly through the hotel grounds. There’s a dazzling variety of plants and flowers—more than 500 different species from 250 plant families—meticulously cultivated over many years with loving attention down to every last detail. Wandering through, there’s a new picture-perfect landscape at each turn filled with surprises, if you take a close enough look. One of these is the antique rose garden, blooming with heirloom varieties dating back to the 18th century.

The antique rose garden is one of three rose gardens on the property, which has a cumulative total of over 200 varieties of roses. The antique roses—also called heritage, historic, heirloom, and old roses—are defined as roses from classes that existed before the introduction of the La France in 1867, which is considered the first modern rose. The original old roses came from Europe in the late 1700s and were hybridized with China and Tea Roses from Asia around 1800. There are dozens of varieties in the hotel’s collection, with signs indicating their names and the year of origin.

Old roses are known for their intense fragrance and ruggedness; they’re extremely low-maintenance to grow, and not only survive but thrive without human care. Compared to modern roses, they tend to have a muted, softer hues, and have been overshadowed in the last several decades by new varieties bred for big blooms with more pop (though antique roses are starting to make a comeback).

The hotel botanical gardens were started in the late ’70s, the passion project of Susan Rivera, wife of Arturo Rivera, who had just inherited the property from his parents and started building Hotel Atitlan. A lover of plants, Susan wanted a botanical garden on the site from the start, and the care and hours she poured into it is obvious when you walk through the space. 

Contributed by
Meg
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