Chiminos Island Lodge

Sayaxche, Peten, Guatemala Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
Ecology and archaeology come together in this remote jungle lodge with its own Maya ruin on beautiful Lake Petexbatun
Talk about getting away from it all. We met our charming boatman in Sayaxché, a dusty frontier town an hour south of Flores, then cruised down the winding Río Pasión for another 2 hours into the very heart of Peten. The river widened to shimmering Lake Petexbatun, teeming with bird and wildlife. But our destination was unseen until we moored beside the jetty; Chiminos Island Lodge hides amid dense jungle and huge ceiba trees.

It's actually a peninsula rather than an island, its neck scattered with impressive fortifications from the Petexbatun Maya's last stand 1,300 years ago. The only 'modern' buildings are the 6 stilted bungalows of this eco-lodge, built of local thatch and reclaimed mahogany, plus a central lobby with a restaurant and a bar. Wonderful walkways weave through pristine jungle, every step resounding to the screech of noisy parrots and howler monkeys. Such is their passion for Maya conservation that owners Juan Carlos and Mynor Pinto work for free, investing proceeds in local communities.

Highs

  • You have a nature sanctuary with jungle wildlife on your doorstep (toucans, monkeys, crocodiles) and fabulous bird-watching
  • Within easy reach of fascinating and rarely visited Maya sites
  • There's great fishing, lovely canoeing and an 'underwater garden' for snorkellers
  • Absolute tranquility - the cabanas are set hundreds of feet from each other
  • A water treatment plant, locally generated electricity and propane gas range minimise the ecological impact

Lows

  • It's definitely off the beaten track, so getting here requires effort and expense
  • It's relatively costly as everything has to be imported by boat
  • The staff only speak Spanish but are very helpful and friendly
  • It's not for those uncomfortable with nocturnal noises and creepy crawlies (we saw a boa slithering past our bungalow)
  • The food is nicely presented but patchy; the drinks list is understandably limited
  • There's nothing to do but sleep after the generator goes off at 9pm

Best time to go

The Petexbatun region is a seasonal wetland, so has different activities for every part of the year. The dry season (November-April) is fishing and bird-watching season, with clear skies and mild weather. The rivers also start to run low at this time until the rain arrives. Temperatures start rising in March and it gets more humid from June through to October, as the rainy season establishes itself - which can be quite debilitating if you're not used to it.

Our top tips

Ask to be shown Chiminos' Maya ruins and fortifications - a palace, pyramids and ball court - apparently constructed by a royal family. It's unknown who defeated the last inhabitants of the heavily fortified island around 1,300 years ago.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Jungle Lodge
  • 6
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Kayaks
Room:

Rooms

Hidden apart from each other in the forest and reached by stone paths and wooden walkways, the 6 square bungalows are constructed of fallen hard timber. They're raised on stilts to limit wildlife intrusion, with traditional arched and palm-thatched roofs overhead. All have views of the lake, and glimpses of morning sunlight. There's a small deck with a mahogany table and chairs, and a delightful coatstand, all handcrafted from sustainable sources. The entire bungalow is shrouded in insect screens - the mesh forms the windows and an internal ceiling - which is very effective in preventing insects from invading your territory.

The beds (a kingsize double plus 2-3 singles, or a second double) are large and simply dressed with firm mattresses. Basic bedside tables have candles and oil lamps for when the generator is turned off. A ceiling fan keeps you cool and the mesh windows allow breezes to flow through. Cleverly designed wardrobes and shelves provide plentiful storage. The toilet and hot water shower are ensuite and accessed through saloon-style swing doors. White fluffy towels, flannels, water and basic toiletries are provided, and there's a dressing table and basin opposite the main bed.

Features include:

  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Safe box
  • Toiletries

Eating

Prices are full-board, but don't expect haute cuisine: all the provisions have to come in by boat, which probably accounts for the patchy nature of the food we experienced. But it's more than adequate, and greatly enhanced by the beautiful surroundings: hummingbirds dart overhead and cormorants fly past in regular formations. Portions were very generous, service was attentive and friendly - it's amazing how far gestures can get you! - and the table was beautifully presented with a different napkin arrangement for each meal.

Some dinner dishes were truly delicious, such as the signature cucumber gazpacho and the fresh fish cooked in white wine and herbs; others were more pedestrian (but healthy) home cooking, like stir-fried beef with rice, or chicken pasta with steamed vegetables. Puddings were small treats such as chocolate mousse or fruit salad.

Breakfasts include lovely pancakes with honey and fruit, plus homemade bread, Guatemalan coffee and fruit juice.

Lunchboxes can be easily made up for excursions, in lieu of lunch at the lodge.

The central lobby is open on all sides, with a dining area facing the lake, and a kitchen and bar at the back. It has an earthenware tiled floor, mahogany tables and alarmingly rickety wicker chairs.

The bar list was a little limited but we weren't here for gastronomic delights so didn't mind. Beside the bar are some communal hammocks, a sofa and a rocking chair - perfect for a post-prandial snooze overlooking the lake. Stools are made of tree trunks and even the waste paper bin is a hollowed out stump.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Restaurant
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Curl up in the hammock with a good book

  • Explore the 'jungle island' along marked trails amongst enormous ceiba trees and a variety of tropical plants

  • Spot birds on the lake and in the forest - herons, cormorants, egrets, ducks, kingfishers, parrots, toucans; you should make sure you go on a sunset cruise

  • The lodge can arrange English-speaking birdwatching and archaeological guides - see Rates

  • Rent a small canoe to explore on your own - potter around the lake and get much closer to birds than you would with the noise of an outboard engine

  • Fishing is excellent, with plentiful snook and bass

  • Swim from the jetty (though it's a bit muddy)

  • As waters recede through the dry season (November-April), you can snorkel at El Pucté Underwater Gardens, a crystal clear river, tributary to La Pasión, where flowers blossom under water
Other fascinating Maya sites nearby include:
  • Aguateca, rediscovered in 1957 and still wonderfully empty and atmospheric. Perched on a high defensive ridge, it features the only known Maya bridge, which crosses a natural chasm. The guards will enthusiastically take you on an extensive tour - especially informative if your Spanish is good

  • Dos Pilas, also unreconstructed and buried in the jungle. Set up by a renegade group from Tikal, the city was finally abandoned in the 9th century. Today it's renowned for amazing stelae (carved stone pillars) and hieroglyphic stairways

  • Ceibal, is an hour north of Sayaxché by boat, and so best visited at the beginning or end of your stay. Its ruins are partially restored in a mix of untamed jungle and open plazas, with famous carvings and a stone observation platform
All these sites, and the underwater garden, are reached by water taxi; you hire one for the duration of your stay (see Rates for prices), including transfers from Sayaxché.

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children are welcome, although this isn't an ideal environment for toddlers and babies and there are no facilities or provisions made for them. If they're adventurous kids will love the dense jungle and its myriad noises. There's a family villa which can sleep up to 5 in comfort.

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available, Family Rooms

Kid Friendly:

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