I can’t believe that my month in San Pedro on lake Atitlan is now coming to an end. I feel as if I just got here, although I also feel as if I’ve been here forever.
San Pedro is a good place to kick back and relax. Prices are reasonably low if you need to cut back on what you’ve been spending.
The climate around lake Atitlan is pretty much ideal, with temperatures around the mid twenties during the day, and cooler (but not cold) at night, meaning no need for AC or for heating.
The lake is beautiful. Imagine a clear Alpine lake, kept warm (-ish, around 21 degrees) by the surrounding volcanoes.
Since arriving I have spent a lot of my spare time visiting the other little lakeside towns. Originally I was looking for somewhere to move to for the next month, and that idea still isn’t completely off the table, however for the time being I am moving on to my next destination.
There are, depending on your definition, 11 separate towns around the lake. Some of them, however, have no roads and are really nothing more than a couple of houses with a dock in front.
Here are the towns and villages that I found the time to visit.
Known as the ‘hippy town’. I really expected to like San Marcos more than I did. It is only a small place, filled with various yoga classes, chakra workshops, et al. Fancy doing a course on permaculture ? (Actually I kind of do, but don’t have the time nor money to do it). Anyway San Marcos is the place to do all this.
In reality, however, I found it expensive. Many of the restaurants and shops seemed to be foreign-owned and the prices are high by Guatemalan standards.
Maybe if I’d stayed in San Marcos rather than just visited on day trips I might have felt differently, however I didn’t come to Guatemala to stay in a little Gringo haven, paying virtually the same prices that I would in Europe, and I prefer somewhere more authentic.
For the odd day trip on a Saturday, it was nice enough though. I wandered around the little shops, ate pizza and enjoyed a spot of people watching (always good to sit on the little boat and guess who is going to get off at San Marcos; I was rarely wrong).
There is a little swimming area; you turn left immediately after getting off the boat and follow the path down and there is a small area for swimming (you have to pay a fee to go in). You can jump off the rocks or if, like me, you are a more cautious swimmer you can simply scramble down into the lake.
I really liked Santiago. It’s a little isolated from the other towns; from San Pedro you use a dock separate from the main dock to get there and it costs 50 quetzals (about £5) there and back for foreigners.
Fridays and Sundays are market day, so good to go then. There are a number of stalls as you get off of the boat, selling mainly touristy stuff: textiles, bags, beaded jewellery etc. As you carry on up the hill you will come to a separate local market with a little town square/church.
One thing Santiago is famous for is the Maximon. This Mayan idol moves around every year; it is an honour to have the Maximon in your home. To find where it is you need to ask someone; I got one of the tuk-tuk drivers to whiz me up the hill. (No photo: you could take photos for 10 quetzals, although I thought it seemed a bit intrusive so I didn’t take any pictures there).
If you get a tuk-tuk you can also get them to take you to the lookout point or mirador. From here you can get some stunning views of the lake.
Pana is really more of a terminus for the buses and shuttles that drop you at the lake. You can get to pretty much anywhere in Guatemala from Pana. It’s a somewhat dusty place; I wouldn’t want to stay there for any length of time but some people seem to like it. The boat costs 25 quetzals from San Pedro and it is a bumpy ride, particularly in the afternoons when the wind starts to get up a little. My tip: head towards the back of the boat if there is space; it is often a more comfortable ride the further back you go.
Pana is good for shopping; Santander street is full of shops and stalls with souvenirs of all kinds, and the prices are about the best you’ll find. If you want to buy anything then Pana is a good bet. There is also a book shop. I download all my books these days, since having a large collection of actual books when you have no home to put them in seems a little pointless. However I met more than a few people complaining about the lack of books available elsewhere on the lake.
A small authentically Mayan town. Costs 20 quetzals from San Pedro.
Is virtually vertical so you need some strong calf muscles to get to the top. There are a few hotels dotted around near the docks; a couple of people have said good things about Iguana Perdido, if you are looking for somewhere economical to stay for a few days; I haven’t stayed there myself although I haven’t ruled it out as a possibility.
The views of the lake from both Santa Cruz and Jaibelito are about the best you will find. Costs 20 quetzals from San Pedro. Both these towns offer excellent hiking opportunities in the nearby hills. There isn’t a lot of tourist infrastructure, beyond a couple of hotels and cafes. This is either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view.
I liked San Juan a lot. Right next to San Pedro it is the place to go for textiles. You can watch the women weaving at a number of co-ops in the town. You can also see them dyeing the fabric using natural methods. If you want to have a go at weaving yourself then you can sign up for courses in San Juan.
San Juan is also good for tracking down brightly painted murals on the walls.