A February 2004 trip
to San Pedro la Laguna by lcampbell
Quote: In Part 5 of 7 of our month-long journey around Guatemala, we find out where all the tourists are! The villages of San Marcos and San Pedro are tourist magnets, with dramatic volcano scenery reflected on the vast calm of Lago de Atitlán.
The light-skinned masses are harder to ignore in the small towns around Lago de Atitlán. Their presence seems to overwhelm all local culture, and travelers tend to group together with each other, making for more of a western atmosphere. Much of Guatemala seems to be lost around the lake.
That said, the scenery can be quite spectacular, that is, when the pollution haze doesn’t obscure things. An early riser may catch some beautiful morning, before the bohemians come out in search of the first toke of the day.
There are plenty of villages to choose from around the lake, each with their own atmosphere. This journal covers two villages: San Marcos and San Pedro.
There were quite a few Guatemalan artists based out of San Pedro. Their paintings were beautiful, and unlike the folk art seen all around Guatemala, this is quality work, not tourist trinkets. Take home a colorful canvas.
Beware of pickpockets and thieves in the lake area. I had read the warnings in my guidebook, but didn’t really believe them until fellow travelers shared firsthand accounts of being robbed.
In Xela, take a minibus from the Xela main square to the bus station, costing 1 quetzales per person. We should have paid 10 quetzales (.25) per person to take the bus from Xela to Panajachel, which we found out too late, after paying 15 quetzales each.
In Panajachel, we asked for directions, down to the correct boat dock to go to San Marcos. The boats appear to leave when full and not necessarily on any schedule. We paid 15 quetzales ( per person), but we were once again overcharged (the locals pay less). Later in the week, I talked to another boat operator who made me feel at least a little better when he worded it that the locals get a "frequent boater" discount rather than us being overcharged. What can you do?
Panajachel to Antigua:
After boating back to Panajachel (15 quetzales, US per person), there are a series of buses and transfers that require quick movements, as follows:
Panajachel to Solola – 1.5 quetzales (20 cents)per person
Solola to Encuentros – 1.5 quetzales (20 cents) pp
Encuentros to Chimaltenango – 10 quetzales (US.25) pp
Chimaltenango to Antigua – 3 quetzales (40 cents) pp
Private or Shared Bath?
Shared. Showers were good, but there were lots of spiders.
The garden was pretty, but the owner was a bit stand-offish. No one else was staying here, which leads me to believe that there are better places to stay, but we just didn’t find them.
Food and Other Amenities:
No restaurant on-site, but there are plenty nearby.
From the boat dock, head west for a very short distance, then take the first right down a path. If you get to Piramides, you have gone too far. Follow the path, and Hotel San Marcos is on the right side.
I did not feel that Hotel San Marcos was very secure. Our room was on ground level, with large windows that didn’t seem to be very secure. The owner was always either hanging out in her apartment upstairs or off at a yoga class. The property was left open, and I didn’t see anyone else watching over things, although a young Guatemalan man was employed there, and he was likely around, but I just didn’t see him.
90 quetzeles ($11.25) per night
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 22, 2005
Hotel San Marcos
San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Private or Shared Bath?
Both are available, but we paid the extra for a private bath. Our shower was nice and hot, with good water pressure.
Señor Juan was a very friendly man. I don’t know if he was the owner or the manager, but he was a pleasure to work with. The whole place is painted a cheerful peach, and there are bright pink flowers growing all around. There is a dock on the lake for use by guests only. It is perfect for catching some sun, reading, or taking a swim.
Food and Other Amenities:
Casa Elena does not have a restaurant or laundry facilities, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby, and you can drop off your laundry just across the street at a convenience store for pickup next day.
To reach Casa Elena, come up from the boat dock, and turn left at D’Noz. It is about a quarter-mile down on the left (look for the huge peach building!).
Señor Juan kept a watchful eye from his entry-side room (glass window). The place is locked up at night. A second- or third-story room would, of course, be more secure than the ground-level rooms. I felt quite safe here, and this would be a good place for single women travelers as well.
Our room was 60 quetzeles (US$7.50) per night, but there are cheaper rooms with shared baths. The rooms I mentioned above cost more, presumably for the view and extra privacy. Room 14 costs 70 quetzales per night, and room 17 costs 80 quetzales per night.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 22, 2005
Casa Elena - San Pedro
San Pedro La Laguna
San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
My second impression of San Marcos was… yep, also not good. I hadn’t realized that San Marcos was not really a Guatemalan town. By that I mean that few Guatemalan people actually live there. The town is populated by expats from the world over, each of them running a hotel, restaurant, or a massage-yoga-meditation, or other holistic, place. The whole town is one big hippy yoga center.
Now, I’m all for alternative therapies and internal harmony, and I certainly want a balanced chakra, I mean, come on (what is a chakra, anyway?), but to stay in a town more like Boulder, Colorado, than a Guatemalan village is not what I came here for.
That said, there was certainly some good non-Guatemalan food to be had (at non-Guatemalan prices), and the view from San Marcos south is something to behold, when you are lucky enough for the atmosphere to be pollution-haze free.
The best spot in San Marcos to spend time was definitely the swimming spot on the far west side of town. There is a tiny beach and a small headland with plenty of rocky perches to catch some sun and read a book. There is also a short path on top leading to a great spot to cliff-jump into the fishing cove (at your own risk, of course!) The view from this point to the south is humbling. Massive volcanoes rise up, their height emphasized by the flatness of the lake.
Near the swimming point was a nice-looking café called Moonfish (unfortunately closed the day we were there). Just next to Moonfish Café was a guesthouse called Aaculaax (not in our guidebook). Aaculuux was full, but it looked like a great place with a more reasonable price (70 quetzales, US$9, for a double) than the other places in San Marcos. The owner does stained glass, and the place is funky and artsy, with a lot of character.
We ended up buying our own fruit, yogurt, and granola, which made for huge and cheap breakfast. There are a couple open-air stands that sell these items for good prices. The Piramides also had good food.
Here is a brief rundown of the hotels we looked at:
Hotel Paco Real - no double rooms
Hotel La Paz - one shabby double room
Piramides - full, but was recommended by a fellow traveler
Hotel Quetzal - looked good from outside, noticed it on far west side as we were leaving town
Hotel San Marcos - see separate entry
We walked from San Marcos to San Pedro, which was very nice and took 2 hours. We talked to a couple friendly local folks along the way and were not harassed by anyone trying to sell us anything. Once in San Pedro, of course that changed quickly. And along with the deluge of offers to buy food, drinks, and trinkets, my husband caught a 10-year-old boy trying to steal a flashlight hanging from my pack.
Once we broke through the sales staff, all highly skilled in knowing who is new in town, we found a fantastic place to stay. Casa Elena was big and bright and friendly. There was a dock on the water for guests to use, and it was great to lounge in the hammocks overlooking the lake.
There are a lot of good places to eat in San Pedro. All of the places down by the water seem to be geared toward tourists, and the prices and selection reflect that. The food definitely has a more western and international flair. If you go to the top of the hill, you should be able to find a number of traditional Guatemalan eateries. We had grown a little weary of corn tortillas, so we opted to stick with the more touristy places. We ate at:
Restaurante El Fondeadero (Guatemalan food) – very large plate lunches
Chez Tin Tin (Indian and Thai dishes) – the samosas were delicious, and the curry had a good flavor, but the meat was tough
D’Noz (western) – great chocolate cake!
Nick’s Place – good pizza, a nice size for light lunch for two people
Iglu – ice-cream stand, very disappointing – skip it
D’Noz also offers live music on Wednesdays, and they have free movies at 7:30pm every other night. This place is packed at night, so come early to get a spot to sit. Upstairs there is an Internet room with free coffee with 30 minutes Internet use. We saw the movie Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore while in San Pedro. I love this movie, but it is definitely a different feel to watch it with a room full of international travelers when you are the only Americans in attendance.
My favorite part of staying in San Pedro was meeting Miguel. He worked in an art gallery that we walked into. He said to us, "Do you speak English?" which I interpreted to mean that he would try to sell us art in English rather than Spanish. I was wrong. Miguel was studying for an English test and had a couple questions. I helped him out, and then throughout our stay in San Pedro, we stopping in twice per day to answer his questions while preparing for the exam. He emailed me a month later and said that he passed the test.
Finally, here is a summary of common San Pedro sights, smells, and sounds:
…dreadlocks… the subtle glint of beaded necklaces and body piercings… Mayan women washing laundry in the lake… the bitter-sweet smell of coffee beans being processed and dried… the also bitter-sweet smell of marijuana burning… bongo drums, too many bongo drums… endless sales pitches, especially for sweet breads and juice
Port Angeles, Washington