Welcome to part 3 in our Best Of 2011 series of posts. Part 3 is all about the Best Hotels of the year, from showers with a view to urban eco hotels in Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2011 and part 2 covers the Best Food & Beverages of the Year.
Yes, end of year round-ups can be lame. On the other hand, they can also be a valuable chance for us to look back on the year that was and remember just how damn lucky we are. Done right, an end of year round-up can also be a quick and easy way for you to get a dose of the best tips, tricks and truths that made our Trans-Americas Journey travels so special in 2011. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll hit the road yourself in 2012 (or 2013, no pressure).
First, a few relevant stats. In 2011 the Trans-Americas Journey thoroughly explored four, albeit very small, countries including Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. We drove 8,055 miles (12,963 km) and spent US$2,300 on fuel. We had one flat tire (after driving over a nail in Copan, Honduras) and bounced over about a billion topes/tumulos (vicious Latin American speed bumps) and through twice that many pot holes.
We also spent nearly all 365 nights of 2011 in hotels (whenever we weren’t staying with new friends, old friends, or family). Here are our best stays.
The best hotels of 2011
Best private plunge pool: The Honeymoon Cabana at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize has many romantic touches. The most irresistible one is the private plunge pool. It’s roomier and deeper that most plunge pools and it’s ultra-private with sweeping views over the hills and forests of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve and Privassion Creek below.
Best eco hotel: Sure Hotel Arbol de Fuego in San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador) has made all the usual eco moves like long life bulbs and “please re-use your towels” signs. But this homey, tranquil boutique guesthouse has also adopted a ton of other initiatives (low-flow showers for example) that have resulted in epic reductions in energy use, water consumption and pollution.The owner, a passionately green woman named Carolina, has kept meticulous records of the profitable side effects her eco efforts. Her success has been so big and so well documented that Carolina is now helping other small hotels in El Salvador take the environmental plunge. BONUS: Hotel Arbol de Fuego is within walking distance of the pupuseria La Unica which serves what we consider to be the best pupusas in El Salvador.
Best massage room: The petite spa at Belcampo Belize (formerly Machaca Hill Rainforest Lodge and now called Copal Tree Lodge) near Punta Gorda in Belize had just one massage room but it was a doozy. An entire wall is floor to ceiling windows with views into some of the 13,000 acres of jungle that surrounds the resort. Book a treatment in the morning or evening for the best chance of seeing toucans and howler monkeys right outside.
Best hostel kitchen: The shared kitchen at Casa Verde in Santa Ana, El Salvador had more tools and gadgets than the kitchen in our old apartment. It was also spotless and had two refrigerators–one entirely filled with ice-cold beer. Related thought: we’re loving this website that dishes about easy recipes that can be made in even the most basic hostel kitchen using cheap, available ingredients (and gadgets) with delicious results.
Best unexpected hotel moment: We were thrilled at the chance to witness the epic Semana Santa celebrations in Antigua, Guatemala. Then the owner of Hotel San Jorge (large, spotless rooms from US$50 with fireplaces and Wi-Fi arranged around a meticulously maintained and super-serene garden) invited us to take it one step further. And so we found ourselves helping her create a traditional temporary street decoration called an alfombra on the road in front of her hotel. We don’t know of any other hotel in Antigua that offers this experience. Our advice is to book your Semana Santa room now.
Best beach house: It’s a perfect recipe: a rustic chic private beach house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, small pool, hammock-filled deck, open air kitchen and living room all mere steps from the waves on a secluded beach. Even better, Los Caracoles, on Maculis beach in El Salvador, is owned and run by the same guys who operate the stunning Los Almendros hotel in Suchitoto–one of the best hotels in the country.
Best hotel for Mayanists: Hacienda San Lucas is a lovingly restored 100 year old family home which now oozes rustic charm in the foothills above Copán, Honduras which is home to the epic remains of the Mayan city of Copán. But you need not leave the hillside to get close to one of the most fascinating civilizations that ever existed. Hacienda San Lucas is run by Doña Flavia Cueva who is the daughter of a man roundly credited with preserving Copán and creating the archaeological discipline in Honduras. Doña Flavia’s daughter, Frida Larios, has turned her artists’ eye to Mayan glyphs, transforming the traditional ancient stone carvings into modern graphic art which decorates the hotel. The kitchen turns out traditional Mayan dishes during five-course gourmet dinners and the hacienda is just a short walk away from a small, mysterious cluster of Mayan remains called Los Sapos.
Best outdoor shower: The outdoor “jungle showers” on the decks of the plush hillside suites at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Jungle Lodge in Belize are spacious and beautiful but odds are you’ll be too busy admiring the view of the Caves Branch River, karst hills, and sprawling orange groves in this bucolic section of Western Belize to notice the tile work and charming use of a tin bucket. The perfect way to wash off your cave adventures.
Best boutique hotel newcomer: Newly opened five room Casa ILB in San Salvador, El Salvador is minimal, elegant and (for now) shocking affordable with rates from US$110 double including a lovely breakfast buffet. We did not want to leave.
Here’s more about travel in Belize
Here’s more about travel in El Salvador
Here’s more about travel in Guatemala
Here’s more about travel in Honduras