The town’s original hotel, El Arca de Noé (tel. 5515-3712, www.atitlan.com/arca.htm , $16–35 d) is still going strong. The delightful lodge has 10 rooms, half of them with private bathroom. Three of the rooms are lovely stone-and-wood cottages. All of the rooms are rustic but nicely decorated with Guatemalan fabrics. Delicious breakfasts and lunches are served à la carte. AGuests are treated to meals consisting of Guatemalan and European specialties for around $10 (dinner), served family-style. The lodge is solar-powered.
Just next door is one of Guatemala’s quintessential backpacker hideaways, La Iguana Perdida (tel. 5706-4117 or 7762-2621, www.laiguanaperdida.com , from $5 p/p in dorms to $40 d with private bath), which has recently added some very attractive private rooms for those of us who have gotten just a bit older. There are three dormitories with a total of 22 beds and rooms with or without private bathroom. Electricity was finally installed after years of making do without it and I am happy to report there are now hot showers and Internet access available. Still, the electricity can be spotty and kerosene lamps are on hand to provide agreeable ambient lighting after dark.
Breakfast and lunch are served 8 a.m.–3 p.m. and consist of delicious sandwiches, salads, crepes, and other yummy dishes prepared by a staff of indigenous women. Dinner is a family-style affair and is a three-course spread, including soup and homemade bread, a main course, and dessert. Vegetarian options are always available. The dinner atmosphere is lively and it makes a great place to meet fellow travelers. The crowd is decidedly young.
In addition to scuba diving, there are Spanish lessons available for $150 per week with dorm accommodations (upgrades available), a tandem kayak and snorkeling equipment for rent, waterskiing, and tons of board games. On Saturdays, there’s a fun dress-up dinner party where you can eat chicken or veggie burgers and jam to a guitar and drums. If you get bored here, you should probably check your pulse.
Farther along the lakeshore heading back east toward Panajachel is La Casa Rosa (tel. 5803-2531, www.atitlanlacasarosa.com , $22–35), with modern, clean, and comfortable rooms with shared or private hot-water bath in addition to two suites housed in bungalows. An apartment with kitchen is available for rent for $120/week or $350/month. There are homemade jams and bread in addition to Guatemalan, international, and vegetarian dishes served in the main floor dining room. Spanish classes are also available for $150 per week.
You might stumble upon a few private villas as you make your way farther east a few hundred meters to the lovely, American-owned Villa Sumaya (tel. 4026-1390, www.villasumaya.com , $60–1000 d). There are 16 beautiful rooms, all named after jungle animals. Some are housed in a thatched-roof complex; others are farther up the hill in separate cabins. All of the spacious rooms have private hot-water bathroom, warm Guatemalan wool blankets, and patios with furniture and lovely hammocks. The rooms up the hill have mosquito netting and larger bathrooms with tubs, one of which is impressively built into the side of the mountain with lava rock adorning the semioutdoor shower.
There’s an impressive, hardwood-floor and thatched-roof yoga center, which is often booked months in advance by groups from the United States. Other amenities include a massage parlor, library, and two hot tubs. The restaurant here is correspondingly excellent, consisting of vegetarian selections as well as fish, meat, and chicken dishes prepared by two talented chefs. Delicious baked goods are also produced daily. Breakfast and lunch are à la carte. Dinner is a set menu served family-style. The outdoor café is housed in a pretty wooden patio overlooking the lake.
A fabulous addition to Santa Cruz’s hotel offerings is Laguna Lodge (tel. 7823-2529, www.lagunalodgeatitlan.com , $225–290 d), built in eco-friendly style on the lakeshore and on its very own 100-acre nature preserve. The beautiful suites feature Guatemalan hardwoods and adobe walls, along with solar-heated showers and low-flow toilets. The restaurant and Lava Bar have phenomenal lake views and feature a delightful array of vegetarian dishes ($25 set menu).
A trail winds through the property’s nature preserve and includes a lookout high atop a steep hill. There are several common areas at the lodge where you can laze the day away in a hammock or read a book. You can also enjoy a relaxing dip in a hot tub or sweat away your cares in a Mayan sauna.
From the main dock in Santa Cruz, heading west to Jaibalito, it’s 400 meters to the private dock of Islaverde Hotel (tel. 5760-2648 or 5964-7419, www.islaverdeatitlan.com , $35–65 d), with 11 comfortable, wooden A-frame cabins with wonderful lake views and shared or private bath. Two larger cabins ($75–125) with six beds apiece can accommodate families or groups. There are pretty gardens with plumeria flowers, a beautiful wooden deck, a restaurant, a lounge with books and games to keep you entertained in addition to a sauna, hot tub, and meditation/massage platform.
All of the food served at the lodge is fresh and well prepared. The expanded beach includes a sitting area. The property is the culmination of 12 years of travel by a young Spanish and British couple, who have put many of the ideas found along the road into this splendid place they see less like a hotel and more like a garden of delights.