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The After-Graduation Series: Eco-Adventures in Guatemala-Part Two

I rarely allow myself the frills of participating in  “touristy” activities—ziplining, staying at fancy  hotels, and studying for a week at a “politically radical” Spanish school are usually not within my meager budget as a volunteer, blogger, and haphazard bartender. Luckily for me, when parents come to visit Guatemala, Emily-Kate and I get to indulge in the opportunities that are usually a little out of our price range. Just a few weeks ago, Emily-Kate’s mom, Teresa, came for a visit and we explored the country from west to east. One of our stops was  the beautiful Lake Atitlan, about a four hour drive from Antigua.

While there we stayed at Casa del Mundo (in English, Hotel of the World) in a small town called Jaibalito that’s only reachable  by boat. The hotel is worth mentioning not only for its beauty, but also for its pioneering environmental initiatives. It is one of the only hotels on the lake (if not the only) that has designed and carried out (usually the missing step) a sewage treatment system. This is fascinating to me because Lake Atitlan’s ecological balance has been off-kilter ever since black bass was introduced to help  boost its tourism industry. Like other introduced non-native species stories you may have heard (ex: Nile Perch into Lake Victoria) the black bass of Lake Atitlan have severely altered the food chain and have  left the lake in a damaged state. It also doesn’t help that the waste water from all of the major towns drains directly into the lake. Ultimately, the pressures of human population growth have pushed the lake into a less healthy state, and it’s good for me to see a local business doing something to mitigate this.

Ziplining at the Lake Atitlan Nature Reserve!

While staying at Casa del Mundo, we took a day trip to one of the lake’s main towns, Panajachel. We had heard from other visitors at the hotel about what an incredible place the Lake Atitlan Nature Reserve was, and decided to check it out for ourselves. For a mere $35 (thanks Teresa!) I flew with Emily-Kate and her mom through the treeline for two hours. To get to the first zipline, we hiked through the beautiful nature reserve for about half an hour. We saw monkeys, waterfalls, and walked on hanging bridges. The actual ziplining itself was incredible–there’s nothing like it, and we’d go again if we had another parent to pay for us. It was also inspiring to learn that the nature reserve is part of the greater Lake Atitlan community, and as an active part of this has educational outreach aspects to the reserve; among these include wonderfully illustrative signs informing people about the ecological imbalances of the lake ecosystem. It was a pleasure to experience another side of Guatemala, and to also support folks who are contributing to their communities in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

Posted on: August 16, 2011, 9:30 am Category: The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

4 Responses

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  1. Carlos Toriello said

    Oh and, last time I went to the reserve I did not have the parental wallet to fund the zip line, but can validate that the monkeys are very easy to spot during the hike.

  2. Carlos Toriello said

    Would love to see a list of the hotels around lake atitlan with serious environmental programs.

    Did you get a chance to visit Club Ven Acá? It is a 10 minute walk from Casa del Mundo an has the best food on the lake.

  3. Laura Stephenson said

    Thanks for your comment Armand. I came across posters made by Todos por el Lago at the Nature Reserve in Panajachel and was really impressed with the information they presented. Are you a part of the group? If so, I’d love to visit the next time I’m at the lake and learn more.

    Thanks again and hope to hear from you soon,

  4. Dear Laura,
    Glad you have an exquisite moment in Lake Atitlan. Just to tell you, for your information, that not only Casa Del Mundo is working hard on being environmentally friendly… Most of the hotels around the Lake are owned by foreigners and most of them are very sensitive to have installation that are not contaminating… As they live from tourism. Plus there are also very environmental laws to make sure that the proper installations are build.. Now nobody cannot say that they don’t know the law as not knowing the law is not an excuse to not comply with it… Most of the hotels are alson involved in a group called Todos por el Lago.. a platform of exchange and actions to improve the environmental quality of their installations.

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