Villas Balam Ya

Near Panajachel, Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala Book from US$130

Reviewed by Beverly Gallagher
Four luxury villas (sleeping 2-6) with stunning views, top-notch furnishings and a hammock-strewn gazebo on the shore of Lake Atitlán
If you’ve ever dreamt of living in a luxury home in one of the world’s most magical places, you will love Villas B’alam Ya ('Houses of the Jaguar' in the Kachiquel Mayan language). A 10-minute drive from the bustling tourist hub of Panajachel on Lake Atitlán will bring you to a steep descent down a cobblestone pathway to the water’s edge; you've arrived at your private hideaway.

The 4 waterside villas - B’alam Ya, Mirador, Bambu and Jade House - are thoughtfully and elegantly decorated with cool designer furnishings as opposed to the ethnically-rich décor normally found in Guatemalan accommodation. Contemporary artwork - much of it by artist and owner Laurel Jacobson, whose vision is showcased in her Antiguan hotel - adorns the walls, and picture windows draw in the surrounding landscaped grounds, sweeping lake and volcano views. Head down crooked stone pathways to the dock and explore the lake in one of the kayaks, or take a dip in natural hot springs. The home-like feel and lakeshore gazebo will call out to those seeking rest and rejuvenation.

Highs

  • The villas all have views of the lake and volcanoes through floor-to-ceiling windows, plus private decks or balconies
  • The sumptuous interiors have fabulous art, modern and vintage furnishings, Kohler fixtures and fluffy bedding
  • Mod cons include fully equipped kitchens, iPod docking stations and WiFi
  • English-speaking staff provide personalised service, preparing home-cooked meals and stocking your fridge on request
  • The reclusive location lends itself well to private parties and special celebrations

Lows

  • The villas are 4km out of town so you're dependent on public transport and taxis if not renting a car (though staff can call cabs and water taxis on request)
  • The grounds aren't suitable for those with mobility issues
  • There's no pool. Guests staying in Villa B'alam Ya have a 4-person Jacuzzi, but guests staying in other villas will need to cool off in the lake

Best time to go

Lake Atitlán is near perfect all year round - it's cooler than the lowlands and the nights are refreshing. Temperatures are lowest between December and February, especially at night, but it's generally sunny during the day. In February temperatures start to rise, and March and April can get foggy. The rainy season lasts from May to October, and generally brings sunny skies in the morning and showers in the afternoon (so get up early for expeditions and exploring). There's a break from the rain in July; showers are heaviest in September.

Our top tips

Take a water taxi from Panajachel's Sun Juyu dock to San Juan La Laguna, where Tz'utujil women weave stunning textiles fashioned from locally grown cotton (ask your staff at the villas to make tour arrangements for you).

You should also take a day trip to one of the colourful markets in Sololá (Tuesday and Friday) or Chichicastenango (Thursday and Sunday).

Great for...

Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Villas
  • 4 villas
  • Self-catering (breakfast provided + chef on request)
  • Over 15s only
  • 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
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Kayaks
Room:

Rooms

Jade House and Villa B’alam Ya are set right on the lakeshore; the newer Villa Mirador and Villa Bambu are higher up the slope, with wonderful views (and lots of steps). We’ve not seen the latter 2 yet, but feedback has been good.

Bold and elegant Villa B’alam Ya (formerly called the Grand Villa) has 2 double bedrooms and sleeps up to 4. The cedar-wood floors, exposed thatched roof and floor-to-ceiling windows blur the boundary between indoors and outdoors, and there’s a spacious wooden deck. The romantic top-floor room has a canopied queensize bed, shell lamps that softly illuminate the room, a small ensuite and a wraparound balcony. The master bedroom comes with a kingsize bed and a luxurious bathroom with a walk-in shower and a Jacuzzi tub. The sitting room has a wood-burning stove and contemporary leather sofas, with owner Laurel’s bright canvasses and a more decorative than comfortable high-back chair, carved from a single piece of wood, adding dramatic touches.

Jade House (sleeps 2) has a simple modern-classic feel. After opening the floor-to-ceiling doors from its small balcony, you can leap straight into the queensize bed in the bedroom. The bathroom has a jade-tiled shower and an old-fashioned clawfoot tub. Glass doors open up from the kitchen to a side patio with wrought-iron chairs and a table.

Of all the villas, the 2-bedroom Villa Mirador (sleeps 6) has perhaps the most spectacular views. The master bedroom has a kingsize bed (which can be converted into twin beds if required), a curved wall of windows overlooking the lake, an ensuite and a dressing area. The second bedroom has a queensize bed, a bathroom and a spacious private terrace. There’s also a living area with high ceilings, 2 sofabeds and a wood-burning fire, a dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a large terrace.

Villa Bambu (sleeps 5) has a cosier feel, with an open-plan sitting and dining area, again with a fireplace, and doors onto a covered terrace overlooking the bamboo grove below. The main bedroom comes with a kingsize bed (again, this can be converted into twin beds) and an ensuite with a large marble tub; the second bedroom has a queensize bed, an ensuite shower room and a sofabed.

All villas have stylish Kohler fixtures and come with hairdryers, bathrobes, TVs, DVD players, iPod docking stations, copious music databases and reliable WiFi.

Features include:

  • Barbeque
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Dvd player
  • Fan
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hairdryer
  • Ipod dock
  • Oven
  • Phone
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Washing machine
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Breakfast is included in the rates; for other meals you can choose between cooking or being cooked for by smiling local ladies (an aunt and her niece who can prepare meals in your kitchen).

Breakfast options range from yoghurt topped with fresh fruit and granola to hearty omelettes, accompanied by refried beans, tortillas and fried plantains. For lunch and dinner there's a set menu of 7 main dishes, but they're happy to accommodate any requests. Choices include fettucine alfredo, tenderloin with mustard sauce, steamed fish in foil, and the traditional Guatemalan dish of chicken pepián, made with a flavourful spicy tomato sauce called recado. Desserts are seasonal and usually fruit based.

All villas have kitchens with plates, glasses, cups, knifes, pots, pans and coffee makers if you want self-cater. Cupboards are pre-stocked with basic cooking ingredients such as herbs and spices, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar and ketchup, and other groceries can be arranged on request. There's also a minibar in each villa stocked with an assortment of snacks (granola bars, peanuts, corn chips and candy), and the refrigerator has local beers, non-alcoholic drinks and water. Wine is available on request - let them know in advance if you'd like a selection to choose from. Guests keep track of consumed items.

If you need something from the store, Panajachel (the largest town on the lake) is a 4km drive or ride in a public tuk-tuk taxi.

If you're eating out, try the delicious curry or wood-fired pizza at Restaurante Paco Real in the new-age enclave of San Marcos. For spontaneous dining, head to the restaurant-lined calle Santander in Panajachel.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • In house cook
  • Oven
  • Shopping service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Relax in these wonderful surroundings. Laze in the gazebo, soaking up the views and reading your book, bathe in the nearby natural hot springs, or swim in the lake

  • Go diving with the diving school in Santa Cruz, which runs day trips and PADI courses

  • Browse touristy calle Santander in central Panajachel for souvenirs, tour operators and outdoor cafés

  • Take a tuk-tuk to nearby Santa Catarina, known for its ceramic art

  • Explore Lake Atitlán in one of the 3 kayaks - best early in the morning when the water is calm

  • Pour a glass of wine at sunset and watch the red sky frame the Atitlán, San Pedro and Toliman volcanoes

  • A yoga teacher can come to the villas on request

  • Each village surrounding the lake is named after a saint and has its own signature textiles. If you coordinate a visit during one of the local saint days such as San Pedro (June 29) and San Marcos (April 25), you can watch local festivals with music, fireworks and traditional dress

  • Explore the Reserva Natural Atitlán, 10 minutes from Panajachel, which has a private beach, waterfowl, hummingbirds, butterflies, monkeys and lush nature trails

  • There are several Spanish language schools around the lake if you want to improve your language skills

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Language courses
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Yoga

Kids

Only guests over 15 are allowed. If you're coming with older teenagers, choose Villa Mirador or Villa Bambu, which have 1 or 2 sofabeds that can be made up if required.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
7/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

{{ review.firstName }}{{ review.countryName ? ', '+ review.countryName : '' }},

Rates for Villas Balam Ya