From luxe to laid-back, the lakeside stays in Guatemala’s volcano-speckled highlands hit the mark with travelers seeking scenic hikes and superlative views.
Sapphire-blue, ringed with smoking volcanoes and surrounded by a shoreline dotted with colorful Mayan villages: Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán has been a pilgrimage site for overlanding backpackers since the early days of the Gringo Trail. Today, the Maya homestays and simple guesthouses that once catered to hippies have morphed into an eclectic mix of architecturally eccentric retreats and eco hotels, perched around Atitlán’s shores and positioned for dreamy lake-and-volcano views, looking like a set from a fantasy film.
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Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
This Spanish-style house was originally a private home on the shores of the lake, a few miles from Panajachel village. It’s now a hotel with meditative mountain views from its rooftop pool-deck – straight out of a magic-realist novel. Rooms in rich ochres and yellows have exposed beams, heavy iron beds and Juliet balconies, while living areas are decorated with proper art and stylish sourced-in-person furniture. Rooms with the most character sit in the old building.
Accessible only by helicopter or boat, this sprawling stone mansion with plum volcano views is one of Atitlán’s plushest places to stay. Enormous rustic-luxe, all-wood rooms come with tables made from giant tree trunks, and vast four-posters covered with Guatemalan neo-Rococo reliefs rest under cavernous wood-gabled ceilings. Balconies look out over the pool deck and extensive gardens to the blue waters of the lake beyond.
With their towering palm-thatched roofs – tapering to gables that look like the prow of a boat – intricately fitted wooden beams and ornate, curlicue flourishes, these double-height bungalows (set above the lake in lush forests 20 minutes from Panajachel) blend Sulawesi with Central America. Turning heads with their standout design, each of the five units comes with outdoor bathrooms and balconies affording through-the-rainforest lake views. All guests have access to the lakefront wood-fired hot tub, and there are kayaks and paddleboards to borrow; the lodge also organizes a range of activities on and around the water.
A fairytale brick-and-stone house teeters on a hillside above the lakeshore at whimsical La Casa del Mundo – where balconies and rotunda viewpoints seem to trace every twist and turn of the magical building and its bucolic gardens. All rooms have enchanting views and are decorated with indigenous art, woven textiles and quirky curios covering key corners. The hotel neighbors the indigenous village of El Jaibalito and offers hiking, kayaking, boat tours and biking to explore the surrounding scenery.
This stylishly shaggy-haired, palm-thatched hotel sits in lush rainforest – a belly flop away from the lake and 20 minutes’ drive from Panajachel village. The interiors are opulent – candelabra chandeliers, mirrors in dark-wood Rococo frames, heavy antique furniture – all offset by light spilling in through huge floor-to-ceiling windows. Through these, you’ll spy those magical Atitlán views and large balconies with ample space for sitting and soaking it all in, cocktail in hand.
With its simple whitewashed rooms and tranquil foliage-draped facade, the Uxlabil can’t compete with Atitlán’s flashier boutiques for opulence, but it does have a beautiful outdoor pool – hovering over the lake – plus rolling tropical gardens and a wealth of activities and excursions, all at a fraction of the price of its swanky neighbors. Staff are above-and-beyond hospitable, prepping grab-and-go breakfasts ahead of early-morning adventures and serving up cut-above Guatemalan coffee.
At this lakeside Selina outpost, from the luxe Latin American hostel chain, dorms are “community rooms,” and decor is trimmed with tribal motifs. There’s a yoga deck (with lake views), a pool and a big lounge area – kitted out with work stations for roving digital nomads. Sociable events, from cooking classes to sunset sessions on the beach, along with a garland-strung pool, seal the deal at this stylish flashpacker stopgap.
Sitting right over the water under a low, forest-covered cliff, the Kaalpul is the kind of place where you expect to be greeted at the boat jetty with a green juice on a silver tray. Om symbols, copper wind chimes and indigenous totems dot the garden, and an all-vegetarian menu entices world-weary wellness warriors to stay a while. Rooms are elf-like – doors framed by lush vegetation, interiors a riot of color – and the views, as ever in Atitlán, are fairytale.
There are genuine Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel shamans living in the area around Lake Atitlán, and Eagle’s Nest tries to tap into some of their energy with its ethos of Mayan mysticism and new-age vibe. Yoga retreats and classes are a regular fixture, and the organic garden feeds into the food; and there’s no escaping the beauty of the views from the sundeck, or the charm of the enchanting nest-like rooms, with their stained-glass windows.
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