San Roman, Guatemala

Photo: The Family Coppola

Is it safe to travel to Guatemala? Well, it depends. It depends whom you ask. The president of the United States would certainly say no, though hundreds of thousands of travelers disagree. It depends where you’re going. Antigua and Lake Atitlán are considered safer than Guatemala City. It also depends on the precautions you take. Traveling during the day, avoiding desolate areas, and knowing some Spanish definitely help.

So, armed with a carefully planned itinerary and a strong belief that tourism dollars only help struggling countries, you set off for Central America. It wasn’t the colonial cities that lured you here. It wasn’t the Mayan ruins or the black-sand beaches either. All of those can be found in nearby Mexico or Belize. It was a lake that first caught your attention. Actually, it was a lake and a lodge, if you’re being honest.

Lake Petén Itzá is the second-largest lake in Guatemala. It’s in Petén, the country’s northernmost department. It’s surrounded by at least 27 archaeological sites, including Tayasal, which was once a large Mayan city. It’s now home to Flores, a peaceful and quiet city. It’s also where La Lancha Lodge is located.

Photo: The Family Coppola

La Lancha is a rainforest retreat that sits on a dirt road. The eco-friendly lodge was built by a French couple. They used locally sourced materials when they created their hideaway. The spot on the steep north shore of the lake expanded to include the main lodge, 10 casitas, and a split-level pool. Then Francis Ford and Eleanor Coppola purchased the property. They recently added two suites, a jungle funicular, and a temazcal (sweat lodge) to the property. The rustic vibe remained untouched.

You arrive at La Lancha after a connecting flight to Flores and a 45-minute drive from the airport. A cold washcloth and a glass of fruit juice (a combination of orange, pineapple, and hibiscus) await your arrival. The main lodge features an open floor plan and a peaked thatched roof. Besides the reception area, it’s where the library, the restaurant, and a patio are located. Stone stairs, lined with carved tree-branch banisters, lead away from the lodge. They wind to the casitas, the pool, and a dock at the edge of the water.

Your lakeview suite is adorable. The stilted limestone suite features red tiles, hanging huipiles (traditional embroidered peasant blouses), and colorful woven blankets. There’s a hammock on the wide, covered deck. Handmade, organic toiletries are in the bathroom. Glass bottles of water and freshly baked cookies are left throughout the day. While chanting howler monkeys and singing parakeets provide a better soundtrack than the room’s iPod dock.

Once you settle in, your days at the lodge will be filled with morning hikes, afternoons around the pool, sunset cruises in a fiberglass boat, and dinners by candlelight with papilla-grilled meats and wood-fired pizzas. Plenty of Coppola wines are included, of course. So is safety and security.

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