Moon Guatemala (Moon Handbooks) - Al Argueta (2015)
Living It Up
Guatemala has some of the hippest digs anywhere on the planet. Equivalent accommodations elsewhere in the world would cost twice as much. You also can find some of Latin America’s best restaurants in Guatemala. After all, Guatemala’s wealthy elite needs somewhere to spend its money. If you’re sick and tired of hotels that all pretty much look the same and enjoy the opportunity to check out unique boutique hotels and jungle lodges near worthwhile attractions, then this list is for you.
The Real InterContinental is one of the city’s hippest haunts. (George W. and Laura Bush stayed at the InterContinental during a visit in March 2007.) You can enjoy afternoon coffee at any one of the recommended Zona 10 cafés. For dinner, enjoy fusion cuisine at Tamarindos or Jake’s, considered by Travel + Leisure magazine to be among the best restaurants in Latin America. You can also have dinner at El Portal del Ángel in the hills on the outskirts of town overlooking the city.
La Antigua Guatemala
Be sure to eat at least one meal at Mesón Panza Verde, known for its phenomenal cuisine and wonderful atmosphere among baroque arches. Among the fabulous properties to spend the night are Posada del Ángel and El Convento.
If you enjoy golfing (and even if you don’t), head 20 kilometers outside of Antigua to La Reunión Antigua Golf Resort overlooking the Pacific Coast and in the shadow of four volcanoes. You won’t want to leave, so plan on spending the night in one of the Suites Gran Clase, with a private infinity-edge plunge pool and views of Agua and Pacaya Volcanoes. When there’s no reason to leave such a beautiful room, room service comes in handy.
Guatemala’s wide diversity of ecosystems makes it a birding hot spot—more than 700 species of birds can be found here. Avid bird-watchers consider this paradise, though novices can easily center an entire Guatemala vacation around birding.
With its own private reserve on the southern slopes of Atitlán Volcano, Los Tarrales harbors forests ranging in altitude from 700 to 3,000 meters (2,300-9,800 feet) that include broadleaf and cloud forests. Bird species are correspondingly diverse and include horned guan, long-tailed manakin, Pacific parakeet, orange-fronted parakeet, and several species of hummingbirds. Near Retalhuleu, Reserva Patrocinio lies south of Santiaguito Volcano at an altitude between 750 and 850 meters (2,500-2,700 feet). It is a good place for observing birds found in lowland and middle elevations. A substantial network of trails leads through protected patches of forest interspersed with coffee and macadamia plantations. Hawks, vultures, and falcons abound, as do parrots and woodpeckers.
On the Pacific Coast, the best places for birding are the vast Manchón Guamuchal wetlands and the canals and mangrove swamps bordering Monterrico. Species found in both parks include great egrets, roseate spoonbill, blue heron, and belted kingfisher.
On the moist Caribbean Coast, the Cerro San Gil Reserve harbors more than 350 species of birds, including the black-and-white hawk-eagle and keel-billed motmot. More than 90 neotropical migrants, including the wood thrush and blue-winged warbler, winter in the area. Birding is excellent in the Sierra de las Minas Biosphere Reserve, particularly if you want to see Guatemala’s national symbol, the elusive quetzal. If you’d like to spot birds in the cloud forest while keeping a comfortable base to come back to after a long day, visit Chelemhá Cloud Forest Preserve, with its wonderful Maya Cloud Forest Lodge. The preserve lies at altitudes ranging from 2,000 to 2,500 meters (6,500-8,200 feet). Found within its forests are at least 14 bird species endemic to Central America’s Northern Highlands. A total of 145 bird species have been recorded here to date.
In Petén, it’s hard to beat Tikal National Park. You’ll see ocellated turkeys along the forest floor as well as keel-billed toucans and Montezuma’s oropendola, among hundreds of other bird species, zipping about the forest canopy. The temple pyramids provide excellent vantage points for bird-watching. South of Tikal, on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá, Cerro Cahuí is also an excellent place for bird-watching with several waterbird species, including pied-billed grebe, herons, and northern jacana as well as the more typical rainforest birds such as toucans. Two trails wind through the forest with some excellent vantage points over the lake.
My favorite Lake Atitlán hotel is Casa Palopó, just outside the village of Santa Catarina Palopó and overlooking the lake. Leave your cares behind and enjoy the excellent service, allowing plenty of time to watch the light change on the volcanoes or the wind dance across the lake throughout the day. If you’ve got the cash, rent out the entire Villa Palopó, higher up the hill. For a change of setting, stay at the lovely Laguna Lodge, La Fortuna at Atitlán, or Villa Sumaya, in Santa Cruz La Laguna.
Monkeys also enjoy Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel.
view of Lake Atitlán from Casa Palopó
The Pacific Coast
On the ninth terrace of Takalik Abaj, Takalik Maya Lodge gives you the option of staying in quaint jungle cottages painted with yellow and green frescoes or a converted coffee farmhouse overlooking a swimming pool and a coffee-drying patio. Explore the ruins by tractor-pulled trailer from the lodge. If you want to see Guatemala’s version of Disney World, check out the well-executed Xocomil and Xetulul theme parks and stay across the street in the excellent Hostal Palajunoj, where you can choose among African, Indonesian, Mayan, and Southeast Asian-style accommodations. Eat at Restaurante Kapa Hapa overlooking the swimming pools. The Pacific Coast’s most stylish digs are at Dos Mundos Pacific Resort, featuring cabanas with the feel of an exclusive Mexican beach villa. Along the road from Monterrico to neighboring Iztapa are the exclusive Villa Los Cabos condominiums, where you can rent a villa overlooking the enormous horseshoe-shaped swimming pool and the sea.
For the ultimate private getaway, head up the Río Tatín, a tributary of the Río Dulce, to Rancho Corozal, a sumptuous thatched-roof private villa beautifully furnished and decorated. Use the skiff to explore the surrounding jungle rivers or simply relax in the hammock lounge with a good book.
La Lancha, owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola, is Petén’s most exclusive hideaway. It enjoys a magnificent location on the shores of Lake Petén Itzá. Simply lounge by the pool overlooking the turquoise lake waters and beautiful jungle. Other, locally owned alternatives are Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel, on a 200-acre private reserve with several lagoons, and the stylish Bolontiku Hotel Boutique.
Guatemala City’s Zona 14