The road from Flores heads west before cutting north along the lakeside to the small town of San Andrés. You’ll find the people here and in neighboring San José extremely friendly and laid-back. Many of the villagers still make their living from harvesting forest products such as chicle, allspice, and xate palm.
NGOs have been particularly active here since the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and have found the communities very amenable to their conservation goals. Most travelers in these parts are almost certainly studying Spanish or helping out with one of the local NGOs in conservation or community development projects.
The original San Adrés language school, Eco-Escuela de Español (tel. 5498-4539 or 5490-1235, www.ecoescuelaespanol.org), was created several years ago in partnership with Conservation International and provides a viable alternative for income along the lines of sustainable development. It is still going strong and is the area’s largest.
The successful model has been emulated elsewhere, and there are now four Spanish schools operating in this area. Rates at all the area schools are comparable, somewhere between $150 and $175 per week, including 20 hours of one-on-one instruction and room and board with a local host family. They offer a unique alternative to more typical language-school destinations, where a large presence of foreigners sometimes works against the language-immersion experience.
Also in San Andrés is the newer Nueva Juventud Spanish School (tel. 5711-0040, www.volunteerpeten.com), set on a medicinal plant reserve where the focus is largely on volunteer opportunities with various projects benefiting the local community. Recent projects have included the construction of a local library and schools.
For budget accommodations in San Andrés, try the Hotel Corina, set atop a hill to the left as you come into town.
A more luxurious option is found three kilometers east of San Andrés along the road from Flores and then a few kilometers down a rugged dirt road accessible only by 4WD vehicle. Charmingly rustic Ni’tun Lodge (tel. 5201-0759 or 5414-5780, www.nitun.com, $150 d) is set on the lakeshore with comfortable cabins made from stone, stick, and mortar. Inside you’ll find wooden tree-trunk floors and typically Guatemalan accents, including Mayan blankets, rugs, and wooden furniture.
All rooms have private hot-water bathroom. Wireless Internet and DirecTV may have been installed by the time you read this. Room rates include breakfast. Gourmet meals, including a choice between 2–3 main courses, cost $20–25 for lunch or dinner. Most of the lodge’s high-end clientele arrives by boat from Flores on all-inclusive packages, which you can book directly through the lodge.
The lodge’s creator and live-in manager, Bernie, has explored Petén extensively and is also the inspiration behind Monkey Eco Tours, which can take you to many of Petén’s more remote sites in relative comfort and style with accordingly expensive prices. A five-day trek to El Mirador, for example, costs $225 per person per day.
Getting to San Andrés
Although accessible from Flores by boat, the ease of access from the road has made this a less popular option for getting here. Still, boats sometimes leave from the boat dock near Hotel Santana and this is still the best option if you’re staying at the wonderful Ni’tun Lodge near San Andrés.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com