Sunday, 2/21/10, our journey to Guatemala begins. Leave the house at 2am to drive to Newark International airport for the flight to Guatemala City. Finally arrive in Guate at 2pm in the afternoon - 1 night stay at the Howard Johnson's in Zona 9 Guatemala city - free shuttle from airport and breakfast included - not bad for $56 a night when you just need a 1 night stay in Guate City.
Monday - day 2 of our journey begins. The shuttle to Lake Atitlan arranged by Elizabeth Bell of Antigua Tours arrives right on time and once again our trip starts with a glitch, there was a teacher's stike and all roads in and out of Guate City are blocked - Elizabeth called and apologized for the delay - kudos to Elizabeth for her professionalism! After 1 1/2 hours, we are finally out of the city and on our way to the lake for our Luxury Link package at the Laguna Eco-Lodge. After a 2 hour drive we arrive at Panajachel where our Laguna Lodge boat is waiting for us....... a word about the boat... very small with unpadded seats and not much of a covering - it does the job but I am glad it was not raining and it was only a 15 minute boat ride! We arrive at the Lodge which is quite beautiful to see as you are pulling up to the dock, it is a bit of a climb from the boat to the dock and I would not recommend it to the physically challenged. Up the steps to the reception area where we are greeted by Juan Manuel the manager. A glass of papaya juice and a tour of the lodge follows (since this is a luxury lodge and the prices are steep - it would have been nice to have a welcome glass of wine and perhaps a plate of cheese or fruit). Laguna Lodge is a very beautiful place and I would definitly rate it A+ for location, decor and ambience - our room was beautiful and the views from our deck were stunning.
Here is a link to some of our 400 photos (we did video but still editing - will post later)
We had breakfast included with our Laguna Lodge stay each morning - there were a few items to choose from, however for some odd reason, a glass of juice was extra - in every other place we have stayed a glass of juice was part of the included breakfast - just a little quirk here. We did not have lunch at the lodge but did take a look at the menu and there were quite a few choices that looked tempting. We had dinner included on one night - each night there is a set 4 course menu - soup, salad, main course and desert and the price is a little steep for Guatemala and vegetarian - $40 for each person. The night we had dinner the items were cream of spinach soup (excellent), a mixed greens and herb salad with a garlic and herb dressing - all organic and grownat their house which is a 10 minute walk away- again an excellent salad, vegetarian lasagna (I happen to like veggie lasagna, however, this was not a traditional one, it had a layer of pasta on the bottom and more like a veggie casserole on top which consisted of spinach, basil, cheese, tomatoes, black olives and other herbs again all organic and grown on site, however, I did not reallly like this particular one - the combo of spinach and basil had a strong taste but my husband loved it). The desert for that night was coffee tiramasu and again I did not eat it since I do not like coffee but my husband said it was really good. So I did not get much from my included dinner except for soup and a salad. My suggestion to Mayah and Jeffro (the owners) would be to have more selections on the dinner menu instead of 1 set thing for each night. Mayah realized that I had not eaten my meal and afterwards she said they could whip something else up but I was not sure if I would be charged $40 for it so I declined and I have to admit after looking at the set dinner menu for the other nights of the week, there was not really much that sounded especially appealing to me - but everyone has their own tastes and this is just not mine.I must add that the dinner presentation was excellent -candle light, flowers and a beautifully set table - service was excellent and their chef is quite creative.We had drinks with the other LL couple (and you know who you are) on the 1 night we were there together and the prices were not terribly expensive - a beer was around $3.00 and I had 2 banana daq. which were around $6.00 each. The rooftop deck and lounge had great seating areas and the views again were stunning. There is also a lounge area where you can watch movies, play cards, games, etc. After our dinner we sat and talked with Mayah and Jeffro for awhile and they are quite a pleasant couple and they are on the right track - with just a few tweaks, they will have a truly 1st class place. They do quite a bit for the local community and hire all indigenous staff from the local villages and encourage them to wear their local attire and speak their native language amongst themselves. They have a 100 acre nature reserve behind the property which we hiked a bit - the climb is very steep and the views are stunning and the trail is fairly well maintained. They support local eye care for the population and do quite a bit in this area - they have paid for many eye operations for the local villagers and we plan on sending them some old eyeglasses we have that can be re used for the villagers. Expansion is in progress and there are plans for a possible spa with massages, etc. on site. They do have a hot tub which we did not use because it was $35 per use for up to 4 people - we do not know if that was $35 for each or $35 for 4. We thought that should have been included at a luxury lodge, however, on further research from checking out other hotels on that side of the lake, we discovered that all the properties nearby also charge $35 and we asked and found out that power costs are very high so I can understand the reasoning behind this, however, the other hotels in the area charge quite a bit less per night. Mayah and Jeffro are committed environmentalists which is rare in this area and I applaud their efforts. As I mentioned earlier, they are on the right track - the place has only been in operation for a little over 1 year and with some minor pricing adjustments and menu adjustments could be a destination that visitors staying at other places on the lake will want to visit and have dinner and drinks there. They did have kayaks but again it was quite pricey to use them - I think they should have been included in the room rate.They want to stay a fairly small and somewhat exclusive resort but they need to do more to keep their guests on the property. The public boats do stop at Laguna Lodge's dock and you can take them to any village around the lake. The lodge does have their own boat, however, it was expensive to use it, especially for the 15 minute boat ride to Panajachel - the public boats to Pana were Q10 per person and Laguna charged Q200 for the same trip - OK if you like a private boat but we like to take the public boats for the local flavor they provide. Just an aside - we did experience 2 eathquakes on the same day - 1 at 5:30am and the 2nd stronger one around 9:30am (magnitude 5.6)- the lodge rattled a bit but all was OK.
We walked the trail from the lodge to Santa Cruz and went to the Iguana Bar/hotel - very helpful folks working there - they hire a lot of international backpackers to work there for a week or two in exchange for free room and board. We continued down the trail to the Isla Verde hotel where we had lunch and the food was very good with friendly staff and excellent views of the lake. Large food portions and inexpensive prices.
We went on a lake tour with Lee from Kayak Guatemala with our LL friends - he took us around the whole lake and we visited the village of San Juan de la Laguna. Lee is a wonderful and interesting tour guide and we highly recommend him. While in San Juan we visited a women's weaving cooperative with an informative demonstration on their weaving techniques from start to finish. Lee also took us to a great little local restaurant for lunch, saw local schools and had a visit to a local medicinal herb garden where the woman told us what each plant was used for. A very clean and quaint village.
On our own we visited the village of San Pedro which is a quirky, hippy type of village which we were told was the place where you could buy "special" medicinal products if you get my drift! Quite the interesting place. We had lunch at the Burrito Factory which is owned by an American ex-pat - you could build your own burritos and they were very tasty and inexpensive.
On to Antigua....we were picked up in Pana by Antigua Tours and on our way to the Casa Concepcion. When we arrived at Casa Concepcion, we were greeted by Julio the hotel manager who in my opinion is one of the greatest hotel managers I have come across. He has spent many years in the USA and his English is excellent and he was born and raised in Antigua and knows everything about the town and it's history. Elizabeth Bell has certainly got a treasure in Julio! Casa Concepcion is a cute bed and breakfast that used to be a private home and now has 4 rooms and an apartment with plenty of areas both inside and out to sit and relax. Breakfast is included (juice too) and is delicious - great pancakes and never ending coffee and tea! Free use of the internet and some additional services at no charge. Kudos to Julio and all the staff at Casa Concepcion for making us feel like it was our home! We had a great view from our private balcony ofFuego volcano and one morning we got to see a minor eruption - looked pretty cool with the ash cloud coming out the top. We visited the Antigua Tours office and met Elizabeth Bell - very nice person and a pleasure to work with. We were able to use the computer at Antigua Tours to check in and print out our boarding passes the day before we were to leave at no extra charge.
Antigua is gearing up for Semana Santa and we were lucky enough to be there on a Sunday for one of the Lenten processions - this was a small procession but we were still very impressed by the carpets on the street and the air of celebration throughout the city - I can only imagine how impressive Semana Santa must be.
Then on March 2nd, it was time to go home ;-( - again Antigua Tours was right on the money withtheir shuttleto pick us up and take us to the airport.
This was our 4th visit to Guatemala and we will certainly go back - there is still so much to see and do!
Happy Travels to all
Denise and Jeff
Message Edited by [email protected] on 03-04-2010 12:40 PM