Written by lcampbell on 22 Jan, 2005
My first impression of San Marcos was not a good one. First, after being overcharged for our bus ride, we were also overcharged for our boat ride. The boat money collector blocked our way onto the dock until we paid what he demanded.…Read More
My first impression of San Marcos was not a good one. First, after being overcharged for our bus ride, we were also overcharged for our boat ride. The boat money collector blocked our way onto the dock until we paid what he demanded. Next, we were finding it difficult to find our way around. We were tired and frustrated and just wanted to find a clean and reasonably priced place to stay. Finally, I have a lingering image of a young boy, angry and stomping away from me when he didn’t feel I had given him enough money for "guiding" us to a hotel. We didn’t ask for his services, and he didn’t actually guide us anywhere but rather walked in front of us as we wandered around, pointing at signs we could read ourselves. We didn’t stay where we parted ways with him either. Ug.
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
San Pedro, like Panajachel and San Marcos, is filled with tourists. But, unlike San Marcos, at least there are Guatemala people running the businesses rather than foreign expats (although there are a few of those as well). The prices are better as well.…Read More
San Pedro, like Panajachel and San Marcos, is filled with tourists. But, unlike San Marcos, at least there are Guatemala people running the businesses rather than foreign expats (although there are a few of those as well). The prices are better as well. We liked it way better than San Marcos and wish we had gone there first.
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