There really isn’t very much to do in Jaibalito. It’s a tiny village two along from San Marcos, towards Panajachel, only accessible either by hiking or by boat.
I chose to stay one night in Jaibalito because I had read about a hotel in the Lonely Planet: “Guatemala’s most magical hotel. Perched on a secluded cliff, it has gorgeous gardens, swimming holes and a hot tub overhanging the lake”. That sounds great, I thought! And when I checked on Booking.com and I could afford a room, albeit one with a shared bathroom I couldn’t resist.
I got off the ferry at Casa del Mundo’s private boat deck and immediately a staff member ran down towards me and picked up my rucksack, carrying it for me to to reception. And I was very glad he did, as reception was quite a long way up lots and lots of very steep steps!
I checked in and then was shown to my room, a long way up several more steep steps – this is not a hotel for the very unfit! Although I suppose you could always take a break at any one of the little nooks and crannies on the way up, a bench here, a hammock there, all with stunning views out over the lake.
The whole hotel is built onto the steep hillside and the rooms are all at different levels. There is also a large terrace built out overlooking the lake, with little tables for lunch or breakfast with some quite astounding views.
Further down, towards the water’s edge, there are small patios with sunbeds or hammocks set up, more than enough space to find a quiet corner to while away the day. There used to be lots more patios, leading down into the lake, but over time the water levels in the lake have risen dramatically. In 2010, following a tropical storm and heavy rains over the next 18 months, water levels rose by 17 feet, submerging many houses altogether and covering the many patios at Casa del Mundo with water. Divers have found sites with stone docks and ceremonial objects as much as 118 feet below today’s water levels. And the water is still rising.
I whiled away the afternoon, reading and relaxing, and talking to James a little bit – there is wifi throughout the hotel at all its different levels.
Dinner at Casa del Mundo is a different set course menu every night, served “family style” at a big long table. This was a nice change for me as it meant I had people to talk to at dinner – mainly tourists from America. The food was great (although, ten days later as I write this, I can’t remember exactly what I ate!) – the main course was fresh fish, caught from the lake, and we finished up with a lovely chocolate mousse.
The next day I spent more time relaxing at the hotel – it really is a great place to relax, although the hotel can arrange tours to do pretty much whatever you want to do in the region. I went swimming in the lake, calm as a mirror in the morning, read my book in a hammock and even jumped from one of the patios into the lake. To get into the lake (other than jumping!) you walk down the steps that used to lead to the old patios, into the water.
I also, first thing in the morning, went for a run into Jaibalito. A footpath runs along the lakeside from Casa del Mundo to the town, past another hotel and the Club Ven Aca (a day club with an infinity pool overlooking the lake). The town was very quiet at that time in that morning, just after 7am, with just a few women working by the lakeside. I say town, Jaibalito was really just a few narrow, pedestrianised streets running up the hill from the boat dock, a few small food shops and cafes, a school, and what looked like several churches!
There was really very little to do in Jaibalito – as a base it would be fantastic if you wanted a lovely hotel to relax in and the ability to explore the area around Lake Atitlan. There have been numerous incidents of tourists getting mugged along the path to Jaibalito so you are recommended not to hike without a local guide. I should say at this point that I always felt safe around Lake Atitlan. I followed advice not to hike by myself and not to continue running on the road past Tzununa and as a result both Jaibalito and San Marcos felt like very safe places.
I had a slight issue when it came to pay the bill – as I had had to pay for more expensive accommodation in San Marcos than planned, I didn’t have enough cash. There are no ATMs either in San Marcos or Jaibalito. Although the hotel didn’t take card and said you had to pay in cash, it turned out that it was possible to pay through a PayPal transfer so that is what I did!
Getting to the airport
I had a lovely lunch of tacos with black beans and guacamole for lunch and then it was time to leave. I had arranged transport through the hotel which was going to meet me at Panajachel so I had to get the public boat to the village. Once there, I was early so waited a bit on the side of the road by a tour agency’s shop.
I got chatting to one of the young guys that worked there as he was using duolingo to learn English – this is the same app that I use to help me with my Spanish! He asked where I was from, I said “England” and he said “do they speak English there, or some other language?” Which really amused me!! Although, perhaps I was barely speaking “English” at all – a few times, when trying to explain something complicated in Spanish, someone would say to me “it’s okay, I speak English“. Relieved, I would start speaking English, only to be told “oh – you have a British accent, I can’t understand you!” (By the way, this is in no way a criticism and its quite understandable but just amused me!).
My bus arrived and we set off, at first towards Antigua, and then on to Guatemala City. As I had a very early flight the next morning, I decided to stay in a hotel very close to the airport – Hostal Villa Toscana. The room was small but clean and comfortable, and they put on a free transfer to the airport at 5am the next morning. On top of that, as I was leaving too early for breakfast, the receptionist pushed a cereal bar and a bottle of orange juice into my hands as I left – perfect!
And so ended my time in Guatemala – filled with beautiful places, friendly people and wonderful experiences. I would so love to go back.