This eco-friendly finca (estate) is on the Rio Tatin, a branch of the Rio Dulce and a mere 20 minutes boat ride from Livingston, Guatemala.
It's a place to become one with nature by setting off for a luscious hike through the rain forest or a sense-inspiring canoe trip to the Agua Calientes (natural hot springs).
The laid-back vibe is a great way to hear real-life travel stories from globe trotters themselves or settle into a hammock and swing your way into a good book.
Cabins are set both on the river and in the jungle and are like nature turned inside out.
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With rooms and restaurant built out over the Rio Dulce, this quirky, wooden hotel creaks pleasantly as the water flows underneath. What other budget hostel has the towels on your bed fashioned into swans? All profits go towards supporting Casa Guatemala Orphanage nearby and its cheerful youngsters gain work experience in the kitchen and as waiters in the restaurant. The food’s good and the views are superb. Accommodation ranges from $5 for a dorm bed to $60 for an a/c room with private bath. It’s fairly basic but the location is perfect for cruises down to the Caribbean coast, expeditions north to the Mayan ruins of Tikal and local forays to the small Spanish fort of San Felipe (which sports British cannon with GR 1796 on them).
Under the Bridge, El Relleno 18021, Guatemala
Conceived and designed around the trilling of the seventeenth century public baths (now incorporating the addition of a tasteful modern swimming pool), the real glory of this hotel is its garden.
A gorgeous profusion of tropical greenery is artfully arranged to frame the magnificent views of Antigua's volcano. In the morning take breakfast on the terrace for the clearest view, and in the afternoon, when the clouds roll in, return to the comforts of tea and a wood fire served in the cosy and comfortable garden living room while the tropical rain beats down.
Perched on the edge of the beautiful expanse of Lago de Atitlan, Casa del Mundo truly feels like a small slice of heaven. After a vertiginous climb up from the landing platform, you are welcomed into the cosy dining area that offers you your first views down over the lake-and your eyes are met with breathtaking views of volcanoes, the lake and the towns dotted around its periphery. The rooms are styled with traditional Guatemalan fittings, and are cosy and comfortable. But what sets this little haven apart, is the view from your window when you wake up to in the morning- the early morning sun on the lake, the reddish light on the volcanoes. Simply beautiful. The communal dinners are a great way of swapping stories and meeting people from all walks of life. All in all a perfect little stay.
Los Amigos is a wonderful hostel in one of the most beautiful areas in Guatemala, on the island of Flores. Buried in the back (but fairly safe) streets of the town, from the outside you would never guess what it inside. Firstly, a lovely friendly dog will greet you. Then there is the reception area which doubles up as a travel agent; the staff are all insanely friendly and helpful and will help you with any queries you have. Keep walking forward, and you enter the most magical secret garden in the world. A large communal area full of exotic plants, hammocks, a pool table, comfy chairs, with a book swap. At night, there are lights all around which light up the plants to make it look unbelievable. The bar serves local and Western food, and is the main bar in town for travellers. It turns into a bit of a party at night. Also wifi available. Run by Swedish travellers who know exactly what fellow travellers want, this hostel caters to your every need. The beds are comfy, you get a locker, plenty of space. This really is a hostel not to be missed.
Probably the best breakfast view in the world at this beautiful small hotel overlooking the volcanoes of lake Atitlan. Hot tub set into the rocks, great food, kayaking, hikes. Wonderful staff and the perfect place to chill out
A network of underground river caves that are certainly not for the faint hearted! Entering these caves must be done with a guide from one of the local hostels, which considering the nature of the caves is probably a good thing. A two hour adrenaline filled trip, scrambling over rocks and stalagmites, wading through pools, climbing up gushing waterfalls, swimming through narrow channels, squeezing through tiny holes and if your're needing a little more adventure a cliff jump into a pitch black pool! Naturally, all this is done while holding a trusty candle above your head for light and clinging onto your flip flops which have been loosely tied on with string! If you're keen for adrenaline, like uncertainty and are willing to put your trust in a small Guatemalan lad with a candle, then this is undoubtedly the best and most unforgettable cave experience in the world!
Semuc Champey, near Las Marias hostel, Guatemala. Reached by bus from Lanquin.
Entremundos is a non-profit organization based in Quetzaltenango (also called Xela) that connects volunteers to organizations all around Guatemala, with the highest number of projects based in the western highlands. You can access their database of volunteer opportunities for free on their website but if you are already in Xela (as I was, studying at a Spanish school) you can also make an appointment to go and talk to them about volunteer work and get more info. This appointment costs a donation of £2. They helped me contact a small community project where I helped out with agricultural work and some basic teaching for three weeks. I think its a great organization for those who are willing to take the leap and set up volunteer work when they get to Guatemala, and not pay some profit making company a fortune to send you to the same projects Entremundos does. They also have their own projects on the go, like training for local community groups and NGOs and produce a great bilingual magazine about development issues. I used it a lot for my Spanish study. Oh, and they rent rooms out too. So if you are planning to go to Quetzaltenango (and you realy should), check them out. I hope they keep up the great work they are doing!
Utatlan is a small Spanish school that I came across, and subsequently studied at, in Quetzaltenango, a great alternative place to study Spanish instead of more touristy Antigua Guatemala. I want to give the tip to others that they consider studying at this school if they want to improve their language skills at the same time as experiencing life in Guatemala. There are several Spanish schools here, and I'm sure some others are good too but the reason the school is so good is that the co-ordinators and teachers are all young and very friendly as well as highly professional. Not only did I learn a great deal of Spanish but they also helped me plan my travel plans after study and introduced me to life, culture and nightlife of this amazing small city. I stayed with a host family during my weeks of study (organized by the school), and they were lovely too. This option is certainly the cheapest in terms of accommodation and the best for practising Spanish and learning about Guatemalan life.
12 avenida, 4-31, Pasaje Enriquez, Zona 1,Quetzaltanango, Guatemala.
Google map: bit.ly/L8nElV
The school is based inside this beautiful colonial 'passageway' that is on one side of the central park.
Excellent waterfront lodging on Lake Atitlan. Accomodation ranges from dorms to comfortable cabins so suits all budgets. Located in the village of Santa Cruz it is accessible only by boat but a reasonably priced, copious dinner is offered every night with a vegetarian option. Laze in a hammock, go for a hike or use it as a base to visit the rest of the lake.
This is a great little traveller retreat in a beautiful setting by the river. It is located very near Semuc Champey (falls and swimming pools) and there are caves to explore for the adventurous.
Accommodation is in simple wooden huts on stilts with hammocks, the grounds are very lush and green. There is a great little restaurant near the river complete with swinging bar stools.
If you're there on the right night, expect a party atmosphere, this is a great place to meet other intrepid travellers. It's not an easy place to get to so it tends to attract only people who can be bothered to make the effort!
The facilities are what you'd call eco- long drop toilets (v.clean) simple showers. We didn't want to leave.
Get here from Coban (which itself is five hrs from Guat.city). It takes about two hours in a collectivo to get to Lanquin from Coban. Or try the great tour from dona victoria hostel in coban of semuc champey/ caves and they'll drop you off at El retiro on request! El retiro arrange a direct shuttle to Antigua (this took us 7 hours and was well worth the $15-20) and I think maybe they offer shuttles to Tikal.
There are a few concerns about overnight volcano treks near Guatemala since bandits have been known to hide out and ambush groups of hikers on Acatenango and Fuego. This happened twice in the week before we took the trip in late 2008. While most local tour companies claim to take 'security', American-run OX Adventures is the only one we found which pays armed, uniformed police officers to accompany the climb. Since these guys have the authority to actually shoot bandits, they're not usually messed with! OX Adventures told us that since they'd starting bringing the police along, they'd never had any trouble, whereas before, all their guides had been ambushed at least once. The police fee is covered by your payment - and they also make for interesting trekking companions!
Flores is a small island on Lake Peten set near the beautiful Mayan temple ruins of Tikal. Rooms are easy to find here and Amigos Hostel is by far the most colourful. Remember to get up early and take the 4.40 am tour to tikal. This means you get to see the jungle wake up.
Bus to Flores then minibus to Tikal. Hostel Amigos can be found at www.amigoshostel.com
Get close enough to molten lava to toast marshmallows! Only an hour and a half from Antigua, it's an experience not to be missed.
Buy a ticket to the volcano in Antigua for about 50 quetzals. At the base of the volcano you pay 40 quetzals for entering the parquet. Tours leave Antigua at either 06.00 in the morning or 14.00 in the afternoon.
We've been studying Spanish at the Cooperative School in San Pedro for three weeks now and it's fantastic! It's cheaper than anywhere else we have found, and all profits get channeled back into poor families in the community.
Semuc Champey is called the eighth wonder of the world by locals. We were cynical because of the hundreds of other 'Eighth Wonders' we've encountered on our travels, but this is truly breathtaking.
Semuc is a series of natural sparkling turquoise pools in the middle of the jungle, that form a bridge over a buried river which shoots out the other side. If it's hard to imagine, that's because it is just so unbelievable it beggars description. It's worth the detour from the main backpacker trail.
Swim, lounge, hike to a viewing point in the jungle or follow a local guide who will show you which rocks are safe to jump from. We tried a terrifying 10m dive from a cliff. This place is absolute paradise.
Lake Atitlan is one of the most breathtaking places on the planet. We travelled around the lake and never found a more peaceful and scenic spot than right out of our cabin door at Lomas de Tzununa.
Thierry and Maria were welcoming hosts and the accommodation was cosy and comfortable. We couldn't bring ourselves to leave!
I found this tour operator "Exotic Travel Agency". They have a fantastic tour that includes three different countries in which to explore beaches, the Maya's history and culture.
in Guatemala City: 54 calle 3-43 zona 11. in Livingston Guatemala: Calle del Comercio, Livingston Izabal. Exotic Travel Agency. 502 79470151. www.caribbeanguatemala.com
Livingston is a little town, a little like Jamaica. A very peaceful place, there is a big inter-cultural mix, you find the Garifunas, Quetchi, Ladinos and Coolis.
The people are very friendly and the place is relaxing. The nights are warm and there are partys on every street, in the day you can visit the most beautiful river in Central America "Rio Dulce" you can't miss the tour with Exotic Travel Agency who I travelled with and recomend to everyone.
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