Private double w/ shared bathroom, $120 GTQ per night, 14th – 17th May 2014
A youth oriented hostel in a great setting, with plenty of opportunity to have a good time but without the over-arching pressure to party day and night.
The setting for El Retiro is around a 8-10 minute walk from Lanquin's 'centre' and it stands alone in a beautiful, lush and peaceful location by the river with view of rolling hills.
The mattress in our room was absolutely fantastic. Clearly a lot thought and craftsmanship has gone into El Retiro: the wooden cabins are very well constructed with quality materials and the artsy decoration of the wash-rooms is very pretty.
Animal lovers will also rejoice at the multiplying numbers of friendly felines, canines and poultry on-site (if we're honest, the five puppies we encountered were probably more of a highlight for us than Semuc Champey!)
Lastly, it is often all too easy for hostels aiming to attract younger visitors and keep costs down to take the easy option of cheap, transient labour in the form of volunteers (which we understand El Retiro's competitior – Zephyr – does to quite an extent). El Retiro does have a couple of volunteers behind the bar but thankfully the vast majority of the work-force is local - and the hostel 100% locally owned - which gets a big tick from us.
The shared toilets are quite a walk from some of the rooms, which can be inconvenient.
Also, our double room (Jaguar) was really really lovely, but we then discovered on our second night that people can stay in attic-type rooms above which was a real shame because wooden roofs are not by their very nature the most soundproof. You might want to ask about this when choosing your room, as we're not sure if all doubles had this above them.
value for money
We prefer to eat outside of our hostels most nights, but we did sample El Retiro's buffet one evening (50 GTQ for veggies / 60 GTQ for omnivores). If you only plan on eating one small plate, then this is obviously an expensive option, but for those who are ravenous after a day of hiking or tubing, then this truly 'all you can eat' buffet is excellent value.
This is a young-ish persons' hostel, but is thankfully not as 'in your face' about it as others at which we've stayed. You can party if you choose, but there is no pressure to join in drinking games or spend your daily budget on beer. For those content to have the odd drink and relax in a hammock, there are many options around the hostel to escape.
Most people will be staying in Lanquin to visit Semuc Champey. The hostel does offer tours (which we heard very good things about) but don't forget that you can make your own way there quite cheaply and easily. We made the choice to walk the 10 kms there to appreciate Alta Verapaz's vistas and it was well worth the next day's sore legs!
Wifi, bar, restaurant, chill-out area, satellite TV, river access, tours and shuttle bus service.