Guatemalan Retreat: Casa del Mundo

Guatemalan Retreat: Casa del Mundo
The village of Santa Cruz La Laguna is tucked away in the hills.
La Casa del Mundo, my favorite hotel in Guatemala, located in the tiny village of Jaibalito, on the shores of Lake Atitlán, translates to “the world’s home.” The owners chose the name because they wanted everyone to feel welcome.Visitors range from backpackers to honeymooning couples to Peace Corps volunteers, and all dine together by candlelight every evening on some of the best food in Guatemala at one long, communal table.

The stunning tranquilty of Lake Atitlán and Volcán San Pedro, enjoyed from the porch of several guest rooms.
The stunning tranquilty of Lake Atitlán and Volcán San Pedro, enjoyed from the porch of several guest rooms.

Built into the side of a mountain, La Casa del Mundo requires a vertical ascent up several stories of rough-hewn stone steps, but visitors should take their time and enjoy the lush native gardens cultivated from plantings taken from throughout the country.

It is not a hotel for the weak-kneed, but the reward for the climb is a stunning vista of the lake with a backdrop of volcanoes. The lake is a caldera, a collapsed volcano, and it stretches more than 10 miles (18 km) from east to west, nearly five miles (8 km) from north to south.

From the rooms, patios or dining area, the sun sparkles off the lake as if it were liquid diamonds. Flocks of birds fly by below. A fisherman in a carved wooden boat tosses out his net just as his forefathers have done for centuries. Across the miles of expanse rise Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán, joined by an isthmus of clouds.

The volcanoes look like they are still flowing, like the molten lava that once covered them, although now they are covered in living green. In the mountains above the hotel are tidy farm plots, pines and palms.

Outside, the view offers the gift of Guatemala’s natural beauty; indoors, each room is a miniature museum of Guatemalan folk art — rugs, bedspreads and wall hangings of the country’s famous multi-colored textiles, along with clay pots, carved wood mirrors and headboards, and paintings of Mayan life.

Each room at La Casa del Mundo is a miniature museum of Guatemalan folk art.
Each room at La Casa del Mundo is a miniature museum of Guatemalan folk art.

Best of all, the tranquility is stunning — especially in a part of the world where a normal day begins with roosters that seem to crow well before dawn, the grinding gears and roar of diesel-powered ancient truck and bus engines, and firecrackers for every occasion.

The notable acoustic accompaniment to a stay at La Casa del Mundo is the waves lapping the shore. A morning kayak on the 1,000-foot-deep (305 m) lake is more rejuvenating than any spa treatment could ever be.

A trip to Guatemala is not complete without a visit to Lake Atitlán. But don’t leave the lake without a stay at La Casa del Mundo. Even before receiving the very modest bill, when it’s time to check out, you will already know you want to come back.

If You Go

La Casa del Mundo

+502-5218-5332

www.lacasadelmundo.com

The hotel is accessible only by boat or footpath. From Panajachel, the main tourist town on Lake Atitlán, you can take a collectivo for 20 quetzals (US$ 2.60), but the boat departs only when it has a full load of passengers. For 100 quetzals (US$ 13), a launcha (speed boat) will take you there directly.

The trip takes about 20 minutes. Advance reservations, available by phone only, are strongly recommended. Private rooms with shared bathrooms cost US$ 20 to $25. Private rooms with private bathrooms run US$ 48 to $50.

A kayaker’s view of La Casa del Mundo, The World’s Home. The hotel is accessible only by boat or footpath.
A kayaker’s view of La Casa del Mundo, The World’s Home. The hotel is accessible only by boat or footpath.

Dinner is about US$ 8 for excellent continental cuisine, including vegetarian options. Many visitors come by boat or hike from nearby towns for breakfast or lunch, which runs approximately US$ 5.

La Casa del Mundo rents kayaks for US$ 3 – 6 per hour. Guests can hike or take launchas to other lake towns, climb volcanoes and even mountain bike.

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