El Remate is a small village community on the east end of the lake. It's also on the same road as Tikal, which makes it a good place to stay if you are planning to visit the ruins. It is generally more tranquil and cleaner than Flores, with nicer hotels and restaurants at half the price. The Cerro Cehaui Biosphere, just outside of town, offer spectacular hiking and nature trails. This side of the lake is also cleaner, making swimming more pleasant. Fishing and kayaking trips are also available (see below).
Public buses leave from Santa Elena several times a day, while colectivos (minivans) leave hourly from both Santa Elena and the international airport. Taxis can be hired for about Q100. The ride takes about 20 minutes, depending on traffic. If you are coming from Belize you will probably be dropped off in El Cruce Ixlu and from there you can either walk the remaining 1.5 miles or take a bus or taxi.
■ Adventures on Foot Hiking in Biotope Cerro Cahu
Cerro Cahui means giant crocodile in Mayan. Originally created in 1981 by Guatemala's University of San Carlos for the Ji^fl purpose of studying local flora and fauna, this 1,608-acre (650. 73-hectare) reserve has more than six miles (9.65 km) of well-maintained hiking trails. It covers lakeshore, ponds and mature forest and is home to more than 60 species of trees, 28 species of mammals and 300 species of birds. Two trails lead to the top of Cerro Cahui Mountain to lookout points (miradors). From atop you can see the whole of Lake Petén Izta, as well as two smaller lakes nearby, Macanche and Sal Itzá. Río Ixpot and Río Ixlu flow through the reserve, along with two smaller streams, El Tigre (tiger) and El Pollo (chicken). Both trails take three or four hours to complete.
The dock at the entrance to the park is an excellent place to swim and enjoy a picnic. English-speaking guides are available for about Q200 and offer a three-four-hour trip with explanation on the plants and animals. If you want to trek deeper into the jungle, visiting a gorge, the rivers and other areas of the mountain, check with Santiago Billy at the Mon Ami Restaurant. He offers tours starting at Q150.
The park entrance fee is US $2.50. Open hours are 6:30 am until dusk. It's a 30-minute drive from the Flores Airport or a one-mile (1.5-km) walk from El Remate along a road that follows the lake. You can also hire a lancha (boat) for Q350-500 from Flores to take you across the lake to Cerro Cahui.
TAKE NOTE: In the past, robberies on the trails were a problem. However, the community of El Remate hired a special tourist police force to patrol the area and the trails are now quite safe.
■ Adventures in Nature Birdwatching in Biotope Cerro Cahu
^Biotope Cerro Cahu (above) is home to more than 60 species of trees, 28 species of mammals and 300 species of birds, including toucans, parrots, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, owls, ocellated turkeys, red macaws, jaribu storks and crested eagles. You may also see spider and howler monkeys in the trees above.
Several rivers drain into the lake and are favorite nesting spots for many birds, including the jabiru stork. The Río Ixpop has some of the best birding in the region. Francisco from La Casa de Doña Tonita offers a two-hour birdwatching tour via the lake to the river nesting area. There's a minimum of two people and the cost is Q120 per person. You can also arrange a tour at La Casa de Don David (page 284) for the same fee.
■ Adventures on Wheels Biking Around the Lake
The road around the lake is a decent unpaved country road. Other than some dust from the speeding shuttle bus on its way to the Camino Real (a major bone of contention with locals), the route is pleasant for biking. An excellent day-trip is to follow the road all the way around the lake, visiting San Andrés and San José, and ending in Flores. You can return on the local bus to El Remate. Biking along the main highway is not recommended since there is no shoulder and everyone speeds. Bicycles are complimentary for guests of La Casa de Don David and Casa Roja Eco-Lodge (see pages 284
and 285). There are rumors of a bicycle rental place opening up in the village, so ask around.
A three-hour horseback ride with a local guide should cost between Q70 and Q105. You can choose where to go, but popular trails include those in the Cerro Cehai and surrounding areas. The best place to organize a tour is through La Casa de Don David (page 284).
Adventures on Water
Lake Petén is home to the endangered Moreletti's crocodile that, fortunately, doesn't hang about the shores of El Remate. Instead, it prefers its own company and that of the lake fish to tourists. A two-hour tour can be arranged with La Casa de Don David (page 284) or La Casa de Doña Tonita with Francisco. On the trip, you visit nearby rivers where the crocodiles make their home. There's a minimum of two people and the cost is Q150 per person. Advance notice is appreciated.
The tranquil waters of Lake Petén are perfect for kayaking. Mornings, when the temperature is much cooler, is the best time. Several of the local hotels rent kayaks at very reasonable prices that run about Q10 per hour (less on longer rentals). Check with La Casa de Doña Tonita, Casa Roja Eco-Lodge and La Casa de Don David (see page 284).
El Remate has an abundance of pleasant and economical hotels ranging from $ for a basic bed to $$$ for fancier digs. Most of them don't have a phone and reservations are usually not needed. If one hotel is full they will recommend another hotel and point you in the right direction.
Prices Are Per Person more than US $125
Prices Are Per Person d>d>d><ti4i $$$$$
more than US $125
less than US$25
Camino Real, Lake Peten Road, s 502/333-4635, fax 502/337-4313, www.caminoreal.com, 72 rooms, $$$$. This fancy hotel is located within the Biotope Cerro Cahui on the outskirts of town. Rooms are spread among seven pyramid-shaped buildings. Ground-level units have garden views, while those on the middle and top floors have a view of the lake. The rooms are rather generic, with cable TV, comfortable beds and luxurious bathrooms. You may forget you are in the jungle. Included are use of kayaks, a pool, windsurf boards, sailing, fishing and daily excursions into the reserve. Two restaurants serve decent food and there's also a bar. The electricity here is from a generator that can be quite loud - check the noise level in your room.
La Casa de Don David, s 502/306-2190, www.lacasadedondavid.com, 9 rooms, $$, meals average US $4.50. This comfortable and welcoming hotel is a landmark in the village. Don David, one of the original settlers, has 25 years of experience in the area and graciously shares his knowledge. Rooms are homey, with lots of hot water (it costs a little extra) crisp linens and good beds. All guests have access to a beautiful garden that faces the lake. In the main building is their excellent restaurant, which serves good home-cooked meals and daily specials. The wide open-air terrace also overlooks the lake and is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike. You can book tours here, buy bus tickets and exchange money.
Hotel le Mansion del Parajo Serpiente (House of the Serpent Bird), on the Main Hill, s/fax 502/926-4246 in Flores, 10 rooms, 1 bungalow. US $20 per person, US $75 for bungalow. This idyllic oasis is tucked away on a cliff overlooking the lake. The views are incredible and the higher you go the more breathtaking it gets. Each room has been elegantly decorated with handwoven bedspreads, rugs and locally crafted furniture. A verdant tropical garden filled with butterflies and orchids alongside a pool offers the perfect setting for a Garden of Eden vacation. For true romance, book the top bungalow and its outside Jacuzzi facing the lake. Meals are served on a charming open-air terrace. Owner Nancy Salazar is a pioneer and, if you are lucky, you may hear some of her tales about opening up the first hotel in Tikal and raising three children in the jungle.
La Lancha Village, Lake Petén Itzá, past Camino Real. s 502/9057613, 704-0132, s/fax 502/366-4416, www.lalanchavillage.com, 6 bungalows, $$. This engaging eco-hotel is set on a hilltop overlooking Lake Petén about half an hour from El Remate. Six simple but chic bungalows are scattered throughout the property and each offers two double beds, overhead fans, private bathroom and a balcony with a lake view. There is a lovely pool set in the jungle and the main lobby has an open-air restaurant overlooking the property. The French owners have created a delicious and varied international menu. Swimming, lounging or going for jungle walks are the preferred activities at this tranquil hotel. Tours to the various ruins, including Tikal, Uaxactún and Ceibal, are offered at reasonable prices for guests.
There are several good budget hotels right on the main strip. None have phones or take credit cards.
Posada Ixchel, has three simple but clean rooms. $.
Hotel Bruno has comfortable rooms with shared baths for Q25. They also serve an early breakfast if you book one day ahead. $.
Hotel Sun Breeze has four simple cement rooms with shared baths. The rooms can get really hot, so check before you book. $.
Farther down on the road that follows the lake are some funky hotels with great lake views.
Casa Roja Eco-Lodge, 5 rooms, on the El Remate road to Camino Real, no phone, $, is a small rustic hotel with thatched Maya houses built with local materials. The restaurant serves vegetarian food and guests have complimentary use of bicycles. The Cerro Cahui reserve is within walking distance.
Next door is La Casa de Doña Tonita, with five thatched-roofed rooms that feature double beds set out in dormitory style. A small restaurant serves basic breakfasts and lunch. This hotel has the largest dock and is the best place for swimming. A variety of excellent tours are offered. Doña Tonita is very popular with backpackers and fills up quickly. 15 beds. $.
La Casa de Don David, s 502/306-2190, www.lacasadedon-david.com. A great spot for home-cooked meals, David's serves fresh soups, salads, hamburgers, chicken and fish in a congenial atmosphere. Breakfasts are delicious as well, with a good menu of egg dishes, pancakes, fruit salad and yogurt. Prices range from US $3.50 to 6.
Restaurante Mon Ami, no phone, down the road from Casa de Don David on the way to Camino Real. This is an attractive restaurant located right by the lake so each table has a view. Owner Santiago Billy is usually on site overseeing the meals. The menu offers delicious fresh pastas with a variety of sauces, such as pesto, tomato or garlic. The salads and bruschetta are also excellent. Behind the restaurant are some nice bungalows for rent at US $20. Menu prices range from Q18 to 75.
La Casa Roja Eco-Lodge, no phone, has terrific vegetarian meals that include soups, salads and sandwiches all starting at Q10.
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