Flores, Guatemala

Photo: Las Lagunas
Photo: Las Lagunas

There’s still time to escape the upcoming Thanksgiving madness. You’ve been considering it for years. First, you stopped fighting with the turkey. Then homemade pies turned into store-bought pies. And eventually, you didn’t even need pies, since restaurants always serve mouth-watering desserts. So this year, instead of making a dinner reservation, make flight and hotel reservations instead.

The rainy season just ended in Guatemala. The humidity has subsided, the sky is clear, and everything is green right now. But it’s still quiet. The crowds won’t begin arriving until mid-December, when hotels will be booked solid until after the new year. Between the quick flight, the ideal weather, and the nonexistent crowds, Guatemala sounds like the perfect alternative to Thanksgiving.

Petén is the heart of the Mayan world. The country’s largest and northernmost department is bordered by Mexico and Belize. It’s home to ancient archaeological sites, colonial cities, an enormous rainforest, and fascinating animals. Plus, Las Lagunas, a small hotel on the edge of a private reserve.

Photo: Las Lagunas
Photo: Las Lagunas

Though only 10 minutes from the Santa Elena airport, Las Lagunas feels worlds away from everything. A wealthy conservationist built the lodge as a private getaway; over the years, it’s turned into so much more. It sits on the edge of the green Quexil Lagoon, which is surrounded by tall savanna grassland and the tropical rainforest. Your rustic wooden cabin stands on stilts along the shore. It has a deck with a jacuzzi and a view of Monkey Island, where howler monkeys are cared for. The infinity pool, the restaurant, and the bar all overlook the lake, which more than 250 bird species call home. While ocelots, margays, and wild pigs live in the surrounding 200 acres.

You could sit in the pool—or your jacuzzi—and wait for the wildlife to come to you, though you’ll probably spot more if you’re a little less lazy. See colorful toucans, loud parrots, and, if you look closely, snakes that blend into their surroundings as you kayak along the calm water. Visit Monkey Island, where you hear the howler monkeys long before you see them. Don’t worry, they’re friendly and will come down from the trees to greet you. Ride an ATV through the jungle, where your guide will point out long-tailed spider monkeys, white-nosed pizotes, and a tapir named Muñeca. Then travel to the colonial city of Flores, the grand Tikal ruins, and the quiet Yaxha archaeological site.

Back at Las Lagunas, you order a cocktail at the bar, settle into cushioned wicker furniture, and relax to watch the sun set. You almost forget about the holiday back home, until you start to smell calebacitas (stuffed pumpkins) wafting from Shultun, the hotel’s restaurant. The scent reminds you to be thankful, even though you may not be eating a traditional turkey dinner or even be home this year.

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