Article submitted by Kimbriel Dean

We are excited to welcome you to our unique little community – we are small, but we’re striving for big things. Many businesses and individuals in San Marcos la Laguna are working hard to take care of our Earth and beautiful lakeside town. And, as visitor, you are incredibly important in helping us reach our eco-goals.

Lake Atitlan has been the home of indigenous Maya for hundreds of years. They fought the Spanish in the 1500s, and legends say they hid their wealth of gold and treasures somewhere on the lake to protect it from being plundered (hence the name of a small town across from us, Cerro de Oro, which means Hill of Gold).

With the Spanish, Catholicism took root here. Though the Maya largely adopted the religious practices of the Spanish, they were able to preserve their self-sufficient way of life until a new crop of foreigners started settling and traveling here. Then, globetrotters came to the lake in the 1960s and since then Lake Atitlan has been a must for many travellers.

Until this time, many things toxic to the earth – like pesticides and styrofoam – weren’t available here. The Maya didn’t import food in plastic bags or aluminum cans; rather, they ate off banana leaves and threw their biodegradables such as corn cobs and fruit peels on the ground, where compostables belong. This way of living was sustainable and in harmony with nature. They didn’t have the need for trash pick-up or recycling services because everything was biodegradable.

Currently, trash disposal services and new habits (throwing away trash in trash cans and, more recently still, sorting out recyclables) are being created. But we still have a garbage problem, and our goal is to greatly reduce the need for trash services altogether.

How you can help

By doing things the old Maya way, whenever we can. As a responsible traveler, we ask that you prepare for your trip in a way that will allow you to avoid the need for trash cans whenever possible. Below are ten things you can do to help protect this community and our Earth.

1. Pack a reusable picnic kit, with utensils, a sealable bowl or plate, a cloth napkin, and a reusable water bottle and/or mug. With this kit, you’ll be prepared to bring your lunch to our beautiful nature reserve or trek the volcanos.

2. Getting food and drink on the go. Remember to take your picnic set with you when you go out to eat at restaurants for anything you can’t finish or drinks on the go. Circles Cafe & Hostel loves it when you bring your own mug!

3. Pack reusable bags for your shopping trips. Avoid plastic bags when you buy groceries, produce and souvenirs by bringing your own.

4. Recycle aluminum cans, with Jose, the coconut seller on the main path to the dock by Shambala. If you are throwing away trash in the bins in the central park then pay attention to the signs. “inorganica” are meant for trash that’s not organic, like cans and plastics. The bins marked “organica” are meant for compostables such as vegetable scraps, grains and fruit. Love Probiotics will also give you Q2 for the return of their bottles.

5. Take a pass on plastic straws. We wonder why they were created in the first place…

6. Keep your showers short. Our water is precious and we sometimes run low when there has been a long period without rain.

7. Choose your soap with care. Though our lake is still amazing and beautiful, the health of this ecosystem is suffering because of harsh chemical soaps and other such unwelcome additions that have run into the water. Please either bring organic soaps made of natural ingredients with you, or buy locally made natural soaps while you’re here. We have an excellent natural soap-maker among our residents who often gives soap-making workshops. If you are washing clothes there is a soap powder by a company called Gallo, which does not have phosphates.

8. Switch to natural products. While you’re here, you can buy a number of handmade natural products – including deodorant, face wash, shampoo and more – from herbalists (check the directory or ask on our San Marcos Community facebook page).

9. Share your knowledge and skills. If you’re an artist or maker who would like to benefit our community by teaching locals how to make upcycled products out of garbage, please contact

10. If you want to meet new friends, you’re welcome to join the Earth Guardians for trash pick up. We meet by the basketball court on Sunday mornings at 9 am. A group run by kids but attended by adults too, you can find more information on the Guardianes de la Tierra del Lago Atitlan/Earth Guardians of Lake Atitlan Facebook page.

Without a doubt, there are plenty of other ways you can help protect this corner of the earth. We are excited to be working on aZero Waste grocery store and compost service, coming soon to the town. If you have any questions or want to know how you can make your business or town a Zero Waste operation, contact John Bushe at

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