After Tikal, Florès and Semuc Champey, I have now arrived at my last hotel mission of this Guatemalan journey: the eco-hotels Uxlabil. The stay lasts about ten days and consists of three stages: the old capital Antigua, Lake Atitlan and the current capital Guatemala City. Alright, come on, I will introduce you to Francisco!
From Anthropology to Hospitality
Francisco (Paco) is Guatemalan. He grew up in a small village at the border to El Salvador. He started his career as a school teacher and in parallel continued his studies in anthropology, philosophy, literature and socio-politics. With only 24 years he was offered a position as UNICEF Coordinator for Nicaragua & Panama and later El Salvador. His mission at UNICEF allowed him to travel across Central America, as well as around the world. He worked for UNICEF for 22 years. He then became a professor at the university in research and investigation. Paco is also a writer (5 books published and 8 in the process of proofreading right now!). He writes essays on anthropology (Bartolomé de las Casa, the Maya…) and also fiction novels inspired by stories he experienced.
Uxlabil Eco-Suites Guatemala City
And then, inspired by his travels around the world with UNICEF, he started a new adventure: In 1997 he built his first hotel in the capital. A management training and half a year later, the hotel was up and running. The goal is being able to offer a comfortable and warm place, saturated with the local Mayan culture for business travelers who come to work in the capital. Located 15 minutes from the city center and the airport, Uxlabil Eco-Suites offers 25 little apartments for one to two week stays on average.
Uxlabil Eco-Hotel Atitlan
Paco had always had a childhood dream: Having a house at on the shore of the magic Lake Atitlan. He visited numerous properties around this big lake. And finally he implemented the project in the small village of San Juan de la Laguna. In 2002 he initiated constructing this second hotel: Starting with 6 rooms, then 9, 10, 12 and now 16. This hotel is the best example when it comes to ecological and social responsibility (I will elaborate hereafter).
Uxlabil Gallery Hotel Antigua
Antigua, the former capital (which it has not been since 1773 after the umpteenth devastating earthquake) is located between Guatemala City and Atitlan. It is the most visited town in Guatemala. With its colonial style in architecture and the volcanoes that surround it, Antigua has its special charms. Paco ran a first hotel there between 2003 and 2008. However the rent was too high and the competition rude. Last April he started a new try. He rented a bourgeois house in the heart of the city and renovated it completely. This new hotel offers 9 rooms overseen by a beautiful small terrace. It underlies the concept of a Gallery Hotel, dedicated to the city’s churches and their architecture.
Paco’s eco-touristic vision
Uxlabil means « what keeps you alive » in Quitché, which can be translated by “your respiration”. For Paco an eco-hotel is first and foremost “a project that harmonizes with the culture and the environment” (un proyecto que armoniza con la cultura y el ambiente). On Hopineo I’m explaining the details of the eco-touristic practices of the Atitlan hotel. You can visit the article by clicking here.
Paco is always on the lookout for new solutions that make the hotel even more eco-friendly. The latest projects are bird watching “Mayan Birds”, dinners made from fruits and vegetables from the organic garden in a familiar atmosphere, solar panels to heat up water… and well, my visit happened by chance at the same time a biodigestor was installed – how fortunate! A biodigestor allows transforming the organic waste in a liquid fertilizer and biogas. Find the video and the complete article on the topic directly on Hopineo.org.
« Improve my idea ! »
The staff of the Atitlan hotel is like a small family. They all originally come from the village. The most frequently spoken Mayan language in Guatemala is Quitché, but in that region Tzutujil is more common. I’m learning a few words in this lovely language, especially “Maltioch”, which means thank you. The landlady is Angela. At the stove one encounters the young Eva. Lucas and Juan are in charge of handiwork and the garden. When it comes to cleaning the rooms, everyone participates.
Paco delegates a lot and leaves room for initiative to propose new ideas or improve his. I had the chance to attend a preparatory meeting to host a road show (visit of the tour operators). Paco presented the challenges and asked his team “what do you think? How would you do that? What’s the best solution in your opinion?”. A management style with a lot of employee participation, which I liked a lot.
A new love at first sight!
At each new Guatemalan stopover I fall in love (I fall in love easily…I know). But the thing is that I find a special or different charm in each place… so it’s hard to choose! Do I have the right to have multiple loves in Guatemala… please?! The Tikal ruins at sunrise, the hills, rivers and natural pools of Semuc Champey, the colonial architecture of Antigua and finally Lake Atitlan and its volcanoes. At the same time there is a beautiful diversity, but with one common denominator everywhere, anytime: incredibly friendly people, a delicious cuisine, a precious flora and fauna and a culture rich in history, mysteries and legends.
Guatemala is rather underestimated in Europe, but all the travelers I have encountered on my way agree: It’s a phenomenal surprise. What about insecurity? Yes, because it’s the first word that comes to mind to everyone I speak to in France… and honestly, I have never felt at danger at any point of my travels in Guatemala… of course one shouldn’t walk alone at night in the most remote areas of the capital and I haven’t tried… but then again one should not do that in Paris either.
I will have spent a little over 3 weeks in Guatemala. It’s not always easy to find the right balance between helping out in the hotel, writing blog articles, preparing the next stretch of the journey and taking time to discover the treasures of the place. But this Hospitality Tour has allowed me to experience Guatemala through nice encounters, especially the directors and staff of the hotels with whom I spent a lot of time and that in my eyes is very very precious.
I will only have skimmed this country, the « Guatebuena » how Paco calls it. I did not go until the Rio Dulce and at each stopover I did not tap the full potential of excursions to the surroundings. However it was a beautiful introduction and I hope I succeeded in conveying the joy of discovering this precious gem of Central America. If you pass through, send the team of Jaguar Inn, Utopia and Uxlabil my best wishes, por favor!
Translated by my friend Claudia, danke schön!!
An you ?
What did you know about Guatemala (before reading my last articles) ?
Do you have examples of hotels which use biodigestors?
What are your favorite places in Guatemala?