Lake Peten Itza, Tikal, Guatemala
Owned by movie director Francis Ford Coppola, this lakefront eco–lodge near the Maya ruins of Tikal is the best Guatemalan hotel in the north and is also one of the best top–end values in Central America.
Part of Francis Ford Coppola's trio of nature–based hotels in Belize and Guatemala, La Lancha is an impressive gem among a range of basic, rather overpriced offerings along Lake Peten and near the Maya ruins of Tikal. While there's plenty to be said for giving up style to be right next to the entrance of Tikal, La Lancha offers a far superior restaurant, service that's not comatose, and a wider selection of diversions around the lake.
Most guests must be prepared to climb up and down some steps: this hotel is essentially a collection of bungalows that spills down the hill from the road to the lake. The four Lake View casitas with the best view require the most effort, but think of it as a reward when you look out at the great water view. These four units have a covered plank floor balcony with furniture and a large hammock. Inside they offer double the space of the standard rooms, with a sitting area that has a sofa bed and a larger bath with a shower big enough for two.
All rooms have toiletries in clay pots, custom sinks, and a "shell phone" for getting room service or assistance when you need it. Local touches abound: woven Guatemalan rugs over tile floors, traditional masks, hand–made custom cabinets, and the huipil panchos worn by local ladies used as wall hangings. There are no TVs or other gadgets, though wi–fi is available in the bar and restaurant area. High ceilings and fans make up for the lack of air–conditioning. All have a furnished balcony, but most face trees and colorful birds rather than the lake.
The lake view is stupendous from the restaurant, however, which is a big step above most others in the region both literally and figuratively. A variety of interesting local and international dishes are presented with skill and grace by polished and friendly waiters, accompanied by fine local rum or a bottle from one of Coppola's line of wines. Local fabrics and crafts take center stage here as well, with ceramics, masks, and a dugout canoe turned into bookcases under a thatched roof. You often get a show from a visiting parrot or toucan in the nearby trees.
A two–level swimming pool sits just below the main lodge, with a panoramic lake view and comfortable deck chairs for lounging. Most guests take an early morning excursion to Tikal at least one day while they're here, but other activities include bike rides, nature hikes, or exploration of the lake by canoe or kayak. The helpful bilingual staff offers a menu of choices for guided tours and they are able to set up custom diversions with some advance notice, including trips to Belize by vehicle or private charter plane.
While the managers readily admit that this eco–lodge is not a luxury hotel in the strict sense of the term, this "work in progress" (as they call it) still stands apart from most Guatemalan hotels in attitude and service. Expect more developments to come in order to bring La Lancha up to the more pampering standards of Coppola's Turtle Inn and Blancaneux Lodge.
Web Address: www.coppolaresorts.com/lalancha
Total Number of Rooms: 10
Published rates: $110 to $240 BB
Review and photos by Timothy Scott.