Travel Guide : San Marcos at Lake Atitlan

The beautiful Lake Atitlan is located three hours away from Antigua. The lake is surrounded by eleven little villages, we stayed a few days in hippie village San Marcos. In this blog I describe everything you need to know for a visit to San Marcos.


As soon as you leave the boat to visit the tiny San Marcos you feel the peace and quiet that prevails in the village. From the deck you enter the village via a narrow street covered with bushes and rose hedges. The walls around you are full with cheerful wall drawings and also the ground is covered with colors. As you continue, you pass a number of cozy restaurants and stalls where local Mayan girls sell clothing, jewelry or fruit. In the side streets, you will find different yoga schools, meditation centers or retreat hotels.

The center of San Marcos is actually no more than this main street, which opens onto a square with the basketball court on one side and the church on the other. The rest of the village consists of winding alleys, steep streets and small houses. Most hostels and hotels are on the waterfront or have a view of the lake. Being so small, quiet and close to the lake, this village makes you feel close to nature. One of the most beautiful places is the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve, a nature reserve on the water that grows up against the rocks. Here we spent some nice hours in the sun!

San Marcos is a place where I could have stayed a few weeks and where our actual time of three days was far too short!

To Eat

Are you vegetarian or vegan? Then San Marcos is the place for you: you will find many restaurants that have dishes without meat or dairy on the menu.

Vida
This brand new restaurant is located next to the Cerro Tzankuijl Nature Reserve, and is run by the sweet Marcella. The atmosphere here is very nice, an open space with lounge chairs, hammocks and small seating areas. On the first floor you sit in the sun while you see the azure blue lake. We ate here the best pancakes of our entire trip; made with cardamom and topped with special rum syrup. Also a must eat: the rice pudding with coconut milk and chia seed. The perfect place for breakfast or lunch.

Pita Gordita
You can find real Israeli falafel, pita’s and shakshuka at Pita Gordita. So good, better than most shakshuka we ate in Tel Aviv itself. Behind the counter you will find a tall guy, the Israeli owner who opens these kind of restaurants throughout Guatemala. Pita Gordita is on the main street, and is not really a restaurant but more a takeaway with a few tables. Note: it closes at 17.00, so this is really a place to go for lunch.

Lake Atitlan: San Marcos

Il Giardino
At this Italian restaurant we ate good lasagne while we sat in the cozy courtyard. With everywhere small lights, flowers and ivy, there is a romantic atmosphere. The deserts seem to be delicious here and the lunch menu looked good too. This is also on the main street.

Circles Cafe
This hipster coffee shop makes great coffee which you can drink in their cozy garden. Ries can’t stop talking about the chocolate cake he ate here and also the breakfast looked very good. A must! In addition, this is also a hostel, so if you really like the coffee, you can always sleep here as well ;-).


To Do

Visit the Trampoline in the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve

As I wrote here, we went to this nature reserve several times during our stay in San Marcos. It is a park build on the rocks with all kinds of small beaches, seats and moorings at the lake. Great to stay here for a few hours, to swim or just to lie in the sun with a book. One of the highlights is ‘the Trampoline’, a wooden platform eight meters above the lake, from which you can jump. Fun to do, and maybe even more fun to watch!

Access to the nature reserve is Q15 per person.

Lake Atitlan - San Marcos

Watch the sunrise at Indian Nose

This is definitely a must do when you are in San Marcos. Indian Nose is a mountain that you can climb in 40 minutes. From here you have a great view over the lake with the three different volcanoes in the background. We did a sunrise tour to the top of Indian Nose and this was a really special experience. The alarm should be set super early since you will leave at 04.00 in the morning, but it is certainly worth it.

You can (theoretically) do this hike yourself, there are two different paths leading to the top. However, you cross private territory and we have heard many stories about angry farmers who, with a machete, followed tourists or raided tourists. It is therefore advisable to walk with a guide.

We booked this activity in San Marcos at a local office and paid Q100 per person for the hike with guide and transportation to Indian Nose.

Visit one of the other villages

Besides San Marcos, there are still ten other villages around Lake Atitlan. I myself am not a fan of San Pedro (backpackers’ village) or Panajachel (tourist hotspot) because I think both of them are too touristy. But the villages of Santa Cruz, Jaibailito or San Juan seem very nice to me!

You can dive in Santa Cruz. In the lake there is, among other things, a hidden city: because the water level has risen in recent years, several buildings have been swallowed up by the lake. You can explore this, just like the volcanic activity in the lake. You can dive with ATi Divers.

Jaibalito is one of the smallest villages. There are not many tourists and the village therefore has much of the Mayan culture in it. In addition, it is known for the beautiful pool where you can swim for a day.

San Juan is near the tourist San Pedro. Here it is a lot quieter and more authentic. When you go to San Juan, be sure to visit a traditional weaving cooperative. Here you can see how to spin cotton and afterwards how to weave it.

You can easily reach these villages by boat. The price of a return ticket by boat is between Q10 and Q20 per person.

Follow a yoga class or meditation course

As soon as you enter San Marcos, you will immediately see that this is the place to do yoga. Now I am quite a yoga fan, even though after four years of weekly practice I still cannot touch my toes, but Ries is not always up for it. This time, however, he also felt like it, probably because he was stiff and sore from the volcano trek we did a few days earlier. And it was great! I would love to just go here every day, to take one or two lessons or perhaps a meditation course. But that’s a bit too much for Ries.

We followed a yoga class at Yoga Forest (also a hotel) and paid Q50 per person for this.

Relax and do nothing!

Lake Atitlan and San Marcos in particular, is one of the best places to just relax and do nothing. Hours of chilling, watch the lake, sleep a little or read a book. Resting without the sounds and pressures of cars, work, social media and so on. Now that I write this, on the train in the Netherlands, I miss this place so bad!

hiking the Acatenango


To Sleep

Even though San Marcos is tiny, there are more than enough accommodations in different price ranges. Below are some places that we recommend!

Casa Madera €

We slept in this hostel. The rooms are spacious, clean and with good beds. But the best thing is the roof terrace with hammocks, bean bags and a nice view. Shared bathroom and toilet. From € 9 per night for 2 pers.

Click here

Lush €€

This lovely eco hotel is located close to the center of San Marcos. From the outside it is an oasis of green, inside the rooms are beautiful and luxurious. From € 44 per night for 2 people (including breakfast).

Click here

Yoga Forest €€€

This retreat, with welles and yoga studio, is located in the middle of nature outside the city. Pricey but the place to be if you want to relax completely. From € 90 per night for 2 pers. (minimum 3 nights). There are also dorms.

Click here


Tips

>> There is only one ATM in San Marcos (in a small shop), which is sometimes not working. So it is useful to get cash before you come here.

>> You can easily reach San Marcos by boat. From San Pedro or Panajachel there are boats every 20 minutes. There are also tuk-tuks available that run between the villages, but I advise against using them in the evening. Keep in mind that the road to and from San Marcos is poor and unpaved, a bumpy ride.

>> Lake Atitlan lies at 1600 meters altitude. During the day the temperature here is very pleasant, but in the evening it cools down a lot. A sweater or hoody is not a bad idea.

>> San Marcos is not a party village. After 11pm almost everything is closed and you won’t find any pubs here. Are you in for a party, then your chances are biggest at Hostel del Lago.

>> It is easy to book tickets for the shuttle bus from San Marcos to other places in Guatemala. Everywhere you will find small offices that sell this kind of bus tickets. Unfortunately there are no night buses available, you can only catch the boat to Panajachel and the bus there in the morning. There are also tickets for buses sold from 2 pm, but this seems to be a scam.Lake Atitlan


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3 Comments

  1. by C. Randen on 26 November 2018  08:15 Reply

    San Marcos looks and sounds amazing!! You are a great photographer! Is the lake as clear as it looks in the pictures?

    • by Charlotte van de Sande on 26 November 2018  08:34 Reply

      Thanks so much! It really is amazing! Yes, just as blue as it is on the pictures, amazing right!!

  2. by Claire McGee on 10 December 2018  22:41 Reply

    I've lived in San Pedro for nearly 4 years. It is a shame you judged the entire town by the touristic area, where the visitors make fools of themselves.... exiting party boats drunk and walking thru town in bikinis / so disrespectful to the local Mayan people. If you had walked up the hill to the local market, you would have seen blocks full of Tzujil Mayan people selling food of all kinds, beautiful handicrafts and woven items. The BACK road is away from the touristic area where you formed your opinion, and has many good restaurants and adult (not drunk 20 year olds) places to dine. Hotel Mikaso / Inner Indian Cafe / Idea Connection and about 8 more ...
    Sounds like you missed the best part of San Pedro. And you never even mentioned San Juan / filled with beautiful murals on nearly every building / women's weaving cooperativas .... oh well ...

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