Nitun Reserve

San Andres, Peten, Guatemala Book from

Reviewed by Nadine Mellor
A private nature reserve hidden on the wooded shores of Lake Peten Itza, providing fine cuisine, tranquility and unrivalled local knowledge
Former coffee plantation owner turned eco-pioneer Bernie Mittelstaedt launched Monkey Eco-Tours in 1988, bringing explorers to then unknown Peten. He realised clients wanted a relaxing place to sleep, hot showers and delicious food to complement his in-depth knowledge of nature and archaeology. In partnership with Lorena Castillo, they leased and then bought 35 hectares of secluded virgin forest on the shores of Lake Peten Itza; Ni'tun Reserve opened 3 years later, in 1995.

Bernie and Lore are a unique couple, passionate about their beautiful country and its conservation, hugely knowledgeable about Mayan history and culture, fabulous cooks and wonderful hosts. This simple but classy eco-lodge reflects this: 4 traditionally-built casitas and a welcoming restaurant and kitchen, with polished hardwood floors and thatched roofs, hummingbird feeders and local textiles. It's a magnificent haven, whether after a long hard trek or a short sightseeing tour.

Highs

  • Convivial, knowledgeable and excellent hosts in Bernie and Lore
  • Superb cuisine
  • A wide range of tours can be tailored to your specifications; there's much of interest in the area
  • It's only 20 minutes from Flores, and is best reached by boat across the stunning lake (it's 25km by land)
  • Peaceful setting - less than a seventh of the land is used, the rest being kept as a nature reserve

Lows

  • It's over an hour away from Tikal
  • The accommodation and amenities are basic, though comfortable and spacious
  • There's little to do in the evenings other than chat to fellow guests and quiz Bernie and Lore about Guatemala - but hey, you didn't come here for the nightlife
  • There are lots of steps to the casitas lower down the hill

Best time to go

The high season starts in November and finishes in March-April, when the temperatures start to rise in anticipation of the rainy season. July and August see a lessening in the rain, before it returns in September and October with a vengeance.

Our top tips

Cerro Cahui National Park, on the other side of the lake, has several walking trails through the jungle, including one leading to a stunning lookout over the water.

Great for...

Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Lodge
  • 4
  • Restaurant and bar (open daily)
  • Over 10s 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
Room:

Rooms

The 4 casitas are dotted around the hillside below the central house, and are reached by stone paths and stairways. Peace and privacy are assured. In common with the other buildings on site and in keeping with the ecological brief, they were constructed in Colojché fashion, with sticks and small rocks plastered together by a sand and water mix. Some walls have been left unplastered to display the technique. Ceilings feature beams and a high roof thatched with palm leaves, perfect for keeping cool in the heat. The floors are hand-crafted in local hardwood, cut across the logs - an idea of Lore's, to utilise local offcuts.

Each casita is tastefully furnished with local crafts - indigenous bedspreads on the large and comfortable beds, hand-woven carpets, original paintings, carved lamps, spacious mahogany armoires and wicker furniture. Fans and flyscreens keep you cool and free from bites. Ensuite bathrooms enjoy spacious hot and cold water showers; the Hummingbird Suite also boasts a bathtub finished in stone. Thoughtful little details - a basket of fruit, a small selection of books, candles and plants - contrive to make you feel instantly at home.

All rooms look out through the forest to the lake below, and each casita has its own small private terrace with chairs and a table. Hours can be spent gazing at the jewelled hummingbirds hovering to and from the sugarwater feeder in front of the window - yes, they really do fly backwards!

Features include:

  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access

Eating

The heart of Ni'tun is an open 2-storey building of wood and stone, with a high thatched roof and hardwood floors. On the lower level, supervised by a pair of parrots, are the restaurant and open-plan kitchen. You soon realise why they're built next to each other - Bernie and Lore love to entertain as they cook, treating you like guests in their own home. Most recipes are their own invention, often inspired by the jungle around them, and ingredients are bought daily from Flores and the local markets.

Just let them know if you want lunch or dinner, and you'll get a simple but amazing 3-course meal. We marvelled over white fish in a delicate mango and ginger sauce, chicken in lemon and pepper, and seafood paella. Accompaniments included beautifully prepared salads with delicious dressings, fresh vegetables and home-made bread. Desserts were equally tasty; the sautéed bananas dusted with cinnamon still linger in our memory.

To sit and gaze into the dark forest after such a string of excellently cooked and delightfully presented dishes was utterly charming - probably the highlight of our culinary experiences in Guatemala. And all created while Bernie and Lore were chatting away nineteen to the dozen with us.

Drinks range from Bernie's favourite wines (again, the best we tasted in Guatemala) to beers and cocktails.

Breakfasts include fresh seasonal fruits, a variety of pancakes, homemade bread, and eggs and beans any style. Guatemalan coffee and Peten all-spice teas are also on offer to start your day. Packed lunches can be provided if you're out on an excursion.

On the level above the restaurant, you'll find the small bar and living room, with its red mural painted in homage to ancient Mayan artwork. Chose your music, curl up in a hammock, watch the hummingbirds and chill out.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Bernie is an expert in Mayan history and culture and can plan trips to nearby ruins. Don't miss one of the archaeological wonders of the world - the spectacular ruins and temples of Tikal, which are surrounded by miles of unspoiled jungle full of wildlife

  • An hour northwards from Tikal is fascinating, jungle-clad Uaxactun, where the Mayan calendar originated, and the solstice and equinox were first accurately observed

  • Further afield is Ceibal, known as the 'Mayan Art Gallery' because of its well-preserved carvings - this is a long day trip which Monkey Eco-Tours can arrange for you

  • Other sites you could consider visiting include atmospheric Yaxha (sited on a pretty forest lagoon) and next-door Topoxte, the only post-classic Mayan site in Peten

  • Bernie is also a master at organising walking treks deep into the jungle to the mysterious ruins of El Mirador (dry season only). On this 5-day trek your luggage goes by mule (including portable showers and wine!)

  • There's excellent bird-watching, with parrots, toucans, motmots, kingfishers, falcons and vultures. You can't miss the brightly-coloured hummingbirds, with their aerial acrobatics

  • You name it, Bernie and Lore can sort it - try fishing on the coast, botanical expeditions, or horse-riding on the beautiful lakeshore

  • Lake Peten Itza and its villages are best explored by boat - shop for local wood carvings and textiles. You can also swim in the lake

  • Laid-back Flores, the island city, is only a short boat ride away. Although used mostly as a transit point, it has pretty colonial buildings and native architecture; shop here for hand-woven blankets

  • Near Flores is Skyway, a complex network of 6 suspension bridges joined by winding pathways, providing vantage points into different levels of the rainforest

  • Book a masseuse for post-trek revitalisation

  • A private Spanish language teacher can come to Ni'tun to teach you one-on-one; or there are several good schools in the nearby villages of San Andrés and San José

  • You can also learn to cook Guatemalan recipes in the open-plan kitchen

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Cooking classes
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Language courses
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children over 10 are very welcome, and those with an interest in nature will love it here. Monkey Eco-Tours can tailor tours to meet children's requirements. Two of the casitas - Boa and Macaw - have 4 single beds and are ideal for families.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

6/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
2/
Value
7/
Overall

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Rates for Nitun Reserve