San Marcos La Laguna is a quiet town on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. The town has become a resort for all things spiritual, with several meditation, yoga, and massage centers. It's one of the most beautiful spots on the lake, and quite easy to lose a few days in.
Take a shuttle boat from the public dock at Panajachel (Q20, 45 minutes).
If flying from outside of the country, the most effective and practical way to get to San Marcos is by means of plane then either bus or car. Fly into Guatemala City (known by the locals as 'Guate') then proceed to drive 3.5 hours. The major highways that are in route are mostly updated. When exiting, take caution to the windy, dirt road that leads to the small town of San Marcos.
There is also a shuttle from San Cristobal, Mexico. The shuttle provides a traveler with a rich cultural experience by traveling in what the locals refer to as a "chicken bus". The "chicken bus" will drop you off in Panajachel and from there you can take a lancha (small boat) to San Marcos.
If traveling from Antigua, a popular tourist destination in Guatemala, a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Panajachel, there are 12-person van services leaving from backpacker hostels, which cost about Q50/Q70 depending on the time you want to leave.
The most striking feature of this town is that it has practically no roads — everything is reached by thin foot paths through trees and between buildings. Handmade signs direct you to the most common destinations at any intersection.
The homemade paths have a very intimate feel to them. They are shaped by the plants and flowers that create almost fences that guide you in the correct path.
There are few streetlights and not many signs so pay attention to where you are going and don't be scared to ask for directions if you are lost. Many of the roads are narrow and curvy.
Most of the modern infrastructure resides in San Pedro where streets are paved and there are more signs dedicated to the comprehension of lost tourists.
Majority of the travel within the area around Lake Atitlan is by boat. There are fifteen 'major' pueblos or small towns surrounding the lake, San Marcos included. From San Marcos, there are boats leaving every twenty to thirty minutes to each of these individual towns. Some of the rates are as follows: from San Marcos to San Pedro it costs 10Q (US$1.25), from San Marcos to Panajachel it costs Q20-25 (US$2.50-3.50).
The lake provides natural entertainment and great scenic views. If you are adventurous, climb some of the dormant volcanoes. At some of the highest peaks you are able to see the lake and all of the small pueblos that surround it. From the top looking down there is one of the most beautiful views in Guatemala.
- Rock Jumping - There are a series of rocks that can be accessed by foot via the shore of the lake. From there, its a long way down to the water. Swiping of wallets, cameras, and pants have been known to occur, so come with minimal items. To the right from the jumping platforms foreigners usually go skinny dipping. This seems to have been accepted by the local community.
- Yoga - Many places run early morning yoga programs, that are of minimal cost or free. Hatha dominates here.
- San Marcos Spanish School, ☏ . Study in a relaxed, peaceful atmosphere surrounded by nature.
San Marcos is the 'spiritual heaven'! There are enough yoga retreats and spiritual centers to fulfill anyones spiritual needs. San Marcos is the perfect location for pure bliss and relaxation. Majority of the activities are based around relaxation and connection with your spiritual self. It has a very laid back feel and culture with no obvious worries. It has been described as a place that "takes life as it comes".
There is still a very strong and authentic Mayan culture in existence within the town of San Marcos. Their culture is best known for its bright colors in its clothing, artwork and food.
San Marcos is also great for outdoor adventure. Because of the lake there is a very rich ecological reservation of many endangered species. The lake also provides direct pleasure with swimming, sailing, kayaking, and even cliff jumping. The most popular cliff jumping site is a ten minute walk from the center of San Marcos. If you are an adventurous type, there is a lot of hiking up and down volcanos, enjoying beautiful scenery of the lake from a high point and also great bird watching. Scuba is also available if you are feeling adventuresome.
This is a great place for some who is interested in culinary tourism: travelling around to find the freshest produce and cooking up delicious feasts with the use of only local items. San Marcos and the surrounding towns have many open air markets that provide fresh fruits and vegetables of all kind to the locals and tourists. The market Microdyn is particularly recommended.
San Marcos offers a wide variety of studios catered to the pure relaxation of the tourist. Many of the studios include yoga, reiki and massage. Many yogis often travel to San Marcos to practice their yoga at the highest level of peace and harmony. Las Pirámides del Ka is an example of a yoga/massage/mediation 'camp', where the main focus is to get in-touch with your spiritual self and live in harmony.
For those workoutaholics, there is a local gym that accepts a monthly membership for 150Q or $22 American dollars per month.
San Marcos also houses one of the most harmonious massage clinics in all of Guatemala. It is located right next to the lake, so that massage clients can hear the sound of the water to make their experience more relaxing. The San Marcos Holistic Cottage is one of the most popular massage clinics in the area.
There is a sustained Mayan culture in the town of San Marcos. The local Mayan culture in infamous for its brightly colored clothing and its rich cultural heritage.
- Moonfish- Excellent mostly vegi fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Chai tea, the best, house-roasted coffee in the world, brownies made with their own cacao, sandwiches for Q25-30 (including grilled tofu or falafel), pizzas, salads from their garden, and more. Fresh fruit pancakes for Q10.
- Lush Atitlán- serves a continental breakfast from 8AM-10AM daily, on a balcony overlooking the garden and the lake for 50Q.
- Las Pirámides del Ka- The retreat has a great little veggie restaurant open to non-guests.
- A number of health-food and pizza restaurants have popped up along the walk from the docks to the square, mostly catering to the foreign travelers.
- On the way from the dock to the square, there is a small fruit shop on the left, with fruit on display near the curb. Inside, a lady makes tasty sandwiches for Q10, and sometimes other simple foods. It's one of the cheapest options in San Marcos. They don't always have food - you'll have to drop by and see.
San Marcos is known for its vegetarian cuisine. The open air markets provide great, fresh produce for very cheap so if your interested you are able to find an array of ingredients to cook a home cooked meal.
The street food is also very delicious. The vendors take full advantage of the local produce so majority of the offered dishes are vegetarian and all are fresh.
- Dragon Hotel and Restaurant (Restaurant & Lakeview Terrace), Barrio Chinimaya (next door to Hostal del Lago), ☏ . Specializing in Argentinean-style grilled meats, gourmet burgers and pizza, European-inspired dishes, and tantalizing desserts. Vegetarian options also available. Very outside the norm for San Marcos because of their many meat options, European aesthetic and commitment to high-level cuisine. Definitely a place worth going before leaving San Marcos. A bit hard to find but they have a pathway leading from Hostal del Lago straight into the restaurant. Or you can use the entrance to the property connected to the dirt soccer field in the far corner closest to the lake. US$5-$15.
- Lush Atitlán (Get off at the dock, head up the paved path and follow signs to your left), ☏ . Check-in: 3pm, check-out: 11am. At this little ecolodge each room is unique, built into the steep hillside, and decorated with recycled glass and murals. Great soft bedding and excellent beds even in the budget rooms. They only take reservations for the high end rooms from US$65 and up. It is the most luxurious and interesting place to stay in San Marcos. Great massages by Stephanie on-site as well. Excellent restaurant for breakfast. from US$14 to $120.
- Hostel del Lago (Check the map in the website.), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask for Mr. Lico. You can cook your own food if you don't want to go to restaurants. You have access from the street to the lake and you can park your car in the backyard of the hostel. There is a temascal (Mayan version of sauna) 30 feet (10 m) near the lake so you can take a bath and then jump to the lake from the private dock. Nowhere else you will be able to do this. Also it is very quiet, far enough from public noise. Bring your book and read alongside the lake or in one of the hammocks with lake view. US$20/day with breakfast.
There are many hotels that provide spa or yoga packages to ensure that relaxation is established. These hotel packages may include yoga sessions, meditation hours, and even massage and spa services.
Hostels are also another option for stay in San Marcos. The hostels have been described as 'original and cozy'.
Pasajcap Campground is also another option for board while staying in San Marcos especially for those traveling in a group of maybe three or more. Pasaj Cap offers travelers to rent out houses outside of San Marcos. The houses are very beautiful and private. The windows are described as 'open' where the "scenery is in your room". From these private homes, it is a twenty minute walk to San Marcos. On the way there the walk is down hill but on the way home it is uphill. Wear sneakers so that you don't slip on the rugged terrain.