From high-end luxury to long-term apartment-style rooms, properties along Guatemala’s magnificent Lake Atitlan focus on promoting the local Mayan culture and heritage as well as holistic therapies and ultimate relaxation.
Lake Atitlan is located in the highlands of Guatemala’s Sierra Madre mountain range. Panajachel is the jumping off point to see and experience the numerous Mayan villages surrounding the lake. One of the most socially conscious properties to stay at along the lake is Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Reserve.
This secluded oasis is located along Lake Atitlan in the tiny village of Santa Cruz la Laguna. With fewer than 10 suites and villas, Laguna Lodge focuses on sustainable and eco-friendly practices.
“We provide a luxurious intimate and authentic eco-lodge with personal attention to detail and service,” says co-founder Mayah Brandon. “We have a firm commitment to effective environmental policy and are dedicated to sustainable management. We strive to be leaders within sustainable luxury eco-tourism and to benefit the local Mayan community and economy.”
Founded in 2009, Laguna Lodge employs 20 Mayan Kaqchikel staff members. More than 50 percent are women, and women hold the top management position, says Brandon. This promotes gender equality and women empowerment.
“We encourage the use of traditional clothing and the use of their native language between staff,” Brandon says. “Their huipiles (blouses) are woven by women on back-strap looms and then embroidered by family members, the corte (skirt) is woven on a pedal loom by men. Local women are encouraged to visit and sell their weaving directly to our guests.”
In addition, Laguna Lodge arranges for health care professionals to offer lessons on topics for the workers on issues like dental hygiene, managing finances and family planning. Guests to the resort can visit and see Mayan ceremonies and visit working indigenous villages with organic coffee plantations and traditional weaving operations that use plant-based fabric dye.
The property’s on-site restaurant, Zotz, features meat-free and plant-based cuisine.
“We convey that it is not just organic produce and local provenance that matters in the food chain but our food choices,” Brandon says. “Tourists partake in satisfying gourmet meals and learn that plant-based food choices are uniquely effective in reducing greenhouse gas emission and pollution while preserving biodiversity and water.”
Laguna Lodge’s conservation efforts focus on energy conservation, water conservation, waste management and chemical reduction. The property uses 180 solar panels producing 20kW of power as well as reusable bags, wooden and cardboard boxes, and non-toxic and biodegradable phosphate and chlorine-free detergents and natural cleaning agents. The property protects more than 100 acres of bio-diverse land, which is home to endemic bird species, including the endangered belted flycatcher.
In November, the resort was named one of 15 finalists for National Geographic World Legacy Awards, which honors travel and tourism companies, organizations and destinations for their drive to create sustainable tourism initiatives. Laguna Lodge was named a finalist in the Earth Changers category, which recognizes leadership in environmentally friendly business practices and green technology.
“Sustainable tourism is the foundation for the future of the travel industry, and those destinations and companies that understand this today will be the global leaders of tomorrow,” Costas Christ, chairman of the National Geographic World Legacy Awards, said in a statement. “Tourism is based on selling culture and nature—the very things sustainable tourism practices work to protect. Have you ever heard someone come back from a vacation and say, ‘I just had a great holiday hiking in a dead rainforest and then staying on a beach filled with trash?’ The World Legacy Awards finalists are all about protecting the places travelers love to visit and benefiting the local people who live there.”
Laguna Lodge has been honored for its focus on green operations and environmental responsibility. The panel noted the resort’s use of solar power and energy monitoring, as well as its locally grown food and vegetarian and vegan menu. Winners will be announced in March 2016.
For Brandon, sustainability means respecting and protecting assets of nature and culture, she says.
“Sustainable tourism with effective environmental policy and socially responsible business practices supports biodiversity conservation and benefits our local community.”