When considering our first over-wintering in a tropical country, requirements were few:
-direct flight from Atlanta, GA
-be reasonably priced, such as monthly rentals under 600$ and food under 400$
-easily accessible to other parts of the country by public transport
-have minimum requirement for pet entry
-offer a yoga or wellness-related retreat at an affordable cost
The contenders were: Cuba (briefly, only lured by villa rentals for 450$/month and ridiculously cheap food), Dominican Republic (180 day visa-free, plenty of expat communities with nice condos for rent starting at 1000$/month 5-10 min from the beach).
Nicaragua (in fact, I was sure we were going to Nicaragua!), Panama, Mexico-and yes, even Costa Rica. However, all the “wants” converged, rather unexpectedly, when I’d found a flight from Atlanta to Guatemala City, direct, under 3 hrs, for 450$ (which later became 550$ as of Oct 1-that’s a lesson to you all, when booking winter international flights, prices tend to go up as of Oct 1 while the best rates can be found 3-4 months in advance).
Pet entry process to Guatemala seemed more complicated than it really is, some rentals we found started at 450/mo even during the “high” season (Dec-April) and the amount of retreats on Lake Atitlan is astounding, for all interests and budgets-of course, most of them are located in San Marcos, otherwise known as the “Spiritual Mecca” of Guatemala.
The only downside when choosing Guatemala was my inability to find understanding or even responsive hosts via workaway. While plenty of people have responded well to us volunteering with them in exchange for food and stay (fellow Canadians running retreat places in Oaxaca, MX and Lake Arenal, Panama), the hosts in Guatemala either responded by saying they only accepted one person at a time (when their profile clearly stated they accepted couples), or replied with the vague “call me when you get here”-which only leads me to believe that a) most people never get to Guatemala? or b) you are unable to commit and make a schedule even 1 month in advance, which is, frankly, pathetic.
Seeing how volunteering wasn’t an option but not wanting to simply sit idle for 3-4 months at a time, we started looking into retreats.
Two in particular drew my attention and seemed to have positive reviews: Mahadevi Ashram (formerly Kaivalaya Yoga School) features certified yoga training, which is more costly than their 30-day Hridaya intensive, still featuring 3 yoga classes a day, and as of 2016 tuition includes room and board. At 750$USD for a 30-day retreat, that’s a real bargain (more on the facility itself in the San Marcos post). Another is a 28-day “moon course” at the Las Piramides centre, running each month, the day after the full moon. The 700$USD tuition includes lodging and a large kitchen is provided for all your cooking needs. Originally wanting to attend both, fate had different plans for us…