Guest blog from Brittany Thiessen
It has been said before that Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful in the world and it definitely lived up to these high expectations, based on my experiences! Surrounded by three volcanoes towering over the lake, lush and thick jungle-covered mountains, and ringed by unique traditional Mayan villages that each have their own charm and character, Lake Atitlan is an incredibly beautiful, awe-inspiring, serene and completely magical place.
I spent eight days at the lake while staying in and exploring a number of the different villages along the shoreline and had such amazing experiences there. My only regret was not staying longer!
After spending three days exploring the colourful colonial city of Antigua, I took a shared shuttle van (these can be booked at any travel agency in Antigua for roughly the same price) to Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, which is the largest town and the most popular transportation hub upon arriving to the lake.
The drive from Antigua to Panajachel was scenic and beautiful, with views of the gorgeous volcano landscapes. We drove through small but bustling traditional villages along the way which were interesting to see. As we got closer to the lake, the roads became very winding and steep as we descended down through the lush green mountainous landscape. Panajachel was super busy and crowded and I looked forward to enjoying the peace and quiet in San Marcos, which was the first town that I stayed in! From Panajachel, I took a small public boat to San Marcos – the first village that I stayed at on the lake and then got around to the other villages via public boat as well.
I recommend devoting at least a week to Lake Atitlan on your Guatemala travels. Once you get there, you won’t want to leave (trust me)!
This is a responsible travel guide to the village of San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. I hope you enjoy reading about this gorgeous village!
San Marcos La Laguna
San Marcos La Laguna is a small, peaceful and laid-back village located in the western highlands of Guatemala and along the northern shore of Lake Atitlan and it is one of the most beautiful villages, in my opinion.
This village attracts a diverse crowd because of its incredible natural beauty, tranquility, and magical atmosphere and it is known as being the holistic, health-conscious and spiritual centre and the “hippie” town on the lake. It is one of the most beautiful and interesting towns on the lake, in my opinion.
You will find lots of massage places, meditation centres, vegetarian restaurants and cafes with seating in gorgeous lush gardens and serving healthy, fresh, wholesome and delicious foods, organic produce markets, a natural health food store, yoga retreats and a plethora of spiritual healing courses that you can take around town, like balancing your chakras, learning about permaculture, how to make fermented foods and drinks, taking a massage course, and more. The village has a peaceful and laid-back atmosphere, an alternative and hippie sort of vibe, and a strong sense of community. The locals and expats are friendly and warm and everyone greets one another when passing. There are breathtaking views of the lake and volcanoes from the town’s main dock and it’s also a fantastic place to enjoy the sunrise and sunset. It’s a very beautiful town and it was one of my favourites on the lake!
San Marcos was the first village that I stayed at upon arriving to Lake Atitlan from Antigua and I spent three days there. I took a three-hour shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel and then a forty minute long boat ride across the lake to San Marcos. The water was calm and the volcano, mountainous and jungle scenery was incredible. After being dropped off at the boat dock in on a beautiful sunny morning, I walked uphill along the gorgeous footpath that was shaded by such lovely and lush vegetation to my hostel, located close to the intersection of the pathway with the main street in the village. Even though there are not many specific activities or attractions in San Marcos, I found myself drawn to the town’s unique charm, stunning natural beauty, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere and the friendly and welcoming locals. I fell in love with San Marcos almost immediately after stepping off the boat.
Living a slow-paced life in San Marcos was so perfect and amazing. I woke up early every morning, walked down to the docks and watched the incredible sunrise over the volcanoes as Volcan Fuego spewed out smoke and local fisherman sat in their small wooden boats waiting for a catch. My days were spent wandering the narrow footpaths throughout town and photographing the gorgeous nature, street art along the walls, eating absolutely delicious vegetarian food (especially the curries!) and fresh fruit smoothies and juices, and exploring the traditional local area of San Marcos. The views of all three volcanoes from the shoreline of San Marcos were among the best around the lake.
Like almost all of the other villages around the lake, there was a separation between the tourist area and main village where the locals live in San Marcos. Close to the dock and lakefront is where you will find the hotels, restaurants, hostels, massage studios, meditation and yoga centres, travel agencies and small shops and markets located on the two parallel pathways leading north from the dock (with smaller pathways connecting them in between). If you keep walking north along the main pathways, you will reach the main village area with one street passing through and smaller ones stemming from it. This is where you will find three separate residential neighbourhoods on the lush mountainsides where the majority of the locals live (they are called Barrios 1, 2 and 3), a small park and outdoor theatre, a basketball court, large school and some small “tiendas” (convenience and grocery stores).
The village of San Marcos consists of narrow pedestrian-only walking paths shaded by beautiful jungle vegetation and meandering through the tropical trees and plants. There are no cars, just small three wheeled motorized vehicles called tuk tuks. Beautiful and colourful street art was painted on some of the walls along the pathways. There are two main footpaths that are parallel to each other and then smaller ones connecting the two. Because there are no roads, there are also no addresses in San Marcos and the locations of places are described using landmarks, which can make it difficult to find a specific place if you’re not familiar with the area.
Life in San Marcos is quiet, calm and serene and the surroundings are gorgeous and picturesque. San Marcos is well-known as the spiritual town on the lake and is the perfect place to stay if you are seeking relaxation, want to practice yoga or meditation, get a massage, enjoy the incredible natural scenery and small town local life in Guatemala, or participate in one of the many spiritual workshops around town. It is a beautiful place to simply enjoy some peace and quiet and take time to appreciate the gorgeous natural beauty around you.
There are incredible views of the lake, volcanoes and beautiful scenery from the waterfront in San Marcos. This town is the perfect place to stay if you are looking for a relaxing and calm atmosphere while being surrounded by gorgeous natural landscapes of mountains and jungles.
I absolutely loved staying in this village and it was a favourite of mine and definitely one of the most beautiful along the lake. I would recommend spending at least one full day but preferably longer in San Marcos. Even after my three-day stay, I wished that I could have been there for longer. San Marcos is truly a peaceful paradise!
San Marcos is the perfect place for health-conscious and mindful individuals who are looking to enjoy relaxation, a slow pace of life and an inspiring natural setting.
Where to Stay
San Marcos is a wonderful place to stay on Lake Atitlan and even though it is a small village, there are a good amount of options to choose from when looking for a unique and charming place to stay.
I stayed three nights at Circles Cafe and Hostel and really enjoyed my time there. You can read the full review that I wrote about this hostel at the link below.
Read More: Hostel Review: Circles Cafe and Hostel in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala
Here are some other alternative places to stay which are recommended by other travelers:
- Hostel San Marcos – Hostel San Marcos is situated along one of the beautiful treed pathways in San Marcos, close to the lakefront. I walked by this hostel numerous times when exploring the pathways in San Marcos and it looked like a beautiful place to stay. There was an outdoor common area courtyard with comfortable seating among lots of lush trees and plants. You can book a bunk in a 6-bed dorm for Q50 per night and they also offer a variety of private rooms starting at Q75 per person. You can read reviews from other travelers here.
- Casa Horus – Casa Horus is a family owned hotel in the main village where you can stay in charming and rustic cabanas in a quiet and authentic area. You can book a room on Airbnb here, here, here and here (if you haven’t already signed up for Airbnb, click this link to do so and get a discount on your first stay!)
- La Paz Eco-Hotel – La Paz is located on a small pathway which connects the two main paths in San Marcos (the ones leading up to the local area of the village from the dock) and is a gorgeous hotel surrounded by lush plant life. The hotel features six rooms in a natural setting, a vegetarian restaurant with fresh and homemade meals, a beautiful garden with hammocks, a traditional Mayan sauna and more. Past guest reviews on TripAdvisor are very positive and people mention clean rooms, a stunning garden, peaceful atmosphere, good food and strong Wi-Fi. I am planning on staying at this hotel during my next visit to San Marcos to try something different. It sounds and looks like a really lovely place!
- Hostel Del Lago – This is a popular hostel for budget backpackers in San Marcos and is situated along the main road going through San Marcos in a gorgeous setting on the waterfront of Lake Atitlan. The hostel has a private dock for swimming, a yoga platform overlooking the lake (check the hostel for their yoga schedule and times), a restaurant serving healthy and fresh foods, a spacious and comfortable common area for hanging out and meeting other travelers and fun evening activities open to everyone to attend. It’s rural location just outside of the town’s centre creates a quiet atmosphere that is perfect for relaxing.
Note: I have not personally stayed at any of the above accommodations, however I plan to on future visits to San Marcos!
Where to Shop
Women’s Weaving Cooperative
There is a small women’s weaving cooperative in San Marcos where you can purchase a variety of beautiful handmade textiles made by local women in the community.
I discovered this place by accident as I was exploring the town and was so glad that I did. I walked inside and was warmly greeted by a local Maya woman who worked there. She spoke excellent English and offered to show me around while explaining the process of weaving and creating the multi-coloured dyes. The woman was so kind and welcoming. I ended up purchasing a beautiful scarf with a colourful checkered pattern on it and the woman was so appreciative and told me how much of an impact my purchase would have for the woman who weaved it and her family. For many of the women, selling their handwoven items is the first time they have ever had their own income. It felt really amazing and empowering to support the local women in San Marcos.
If you are looking for a unique souvenir and want to make a positive impact on a local woman’s life, then I highly recommend checking out this weaving cooperative and supporting the community with a purchase.
Location: On the main pathway up from the dock, right before you reach the road going through the main village. This small shop is on the left hand side of the path and there is a large sign directly across from the entrance on the right hand side.
Natural Health Store
San Marcos tends to attract health-conscious and mindful individuals and as such, there is a small natural health store situated in the town. They carry dry foods, essential oils and natural remedies. I browsed around there during my stay and was impressed with the variety and range of items that they had stocked! I didn’t end up buying anything but could definitely see myself frequenting this place often if I were staying in the town longer or living there.
Location – On the main road through San Marcos across the street from the church and beside the park and basketball court in the village. From the dock, walk up the main pathway and turn right with you reach the road. You will see the store on the left hand side and they have a sign.
What to See and Do
San Marcos is a very relaxed and spiritual village and as a result, many of the activities and things to do in the town are centered on these themes. I can easily imagine myself spending months in San Marcos and just living at a slow pace, relaxing, finding balance and learning new things from some of the many workshops and events around town.
Get a Massage
There are plenty of options for places to get a massage in San Marcos! Just walk along the main pathway from the main boat dock by the waterfront and the secondary pathway that runs parallel to this one and the connecting paths to find them.
The most popular place is probably the San Marcos Holistic Cottage (click here to read the reviews) which is located about halfway down the secondary pathway that leads from the road to the lake, parallel to the main pathway (it is called Calle Unicornio but I never saw a street sign anywhere when I was there). It is situated inside a vibrant blue building with a sign on the front, so you can’t miss it. They offer full body massages and even massage courses. The Heart Center also offers massages and they are situated along the same path as San Marcos Holistic Cottage but closer to the lake. You can call them at 5723-0741 to make an appointment or visit the centre in person.
San Marcos is a town known for its relaxed and laid-back vibe, so getting a massage is the perfect thing to do when you’re there.
Practice Yoga, Meditation or Attend a Retreat
San Marcos is known as the spiritual centre of Lake Atitlan and as such, there are an amazing selection of places where you can practice yoga and meditation or attend a retreat.
The Yoga Forest offers daily drop-in yoga classes (at 7 am and 4 pm for Q50), yoga retreats and permaculture courses. Situated among lush greenery on a mountainside overlooking the beautiful lake, this is the perfect place to practice yoga. Even if you’re not interested in doing yoga, you can stop by there for a meal (but the staff ask that you let them know ahead of time that you will be dropping by, by contacting them here). You can also find daily classes at Hostal Del Lago in the local’s area of San Marcos (when you reach the main road after walking up the pathway from the boat dock, turn right and you will see the hostel on the right hand side). An up-to-date schedule is posted at the hostel and the yoga platform overlooks the lake in a gorgeous setting.
Exploring Beautiful Nature
The natural surroundings around San Marcos are absolutely breathtaking – the jungle-covered mountains towering over the town, the volcanoes, the pretty lake, hiking trails through the nature reserve, and the lush vegetation throughout the town. San Marcos is just so beautiful and it’s the perfect place to connect with nature and fully appreciate it.
Participate in a Spiritual Workshop
San Marcos is the spiritual centre of Lake Atitlan and it is THE place to go if you are looking to participate in a spiritual-based workshop. As you walk the pathways throughout town, you will see signs posted on bulletin boards, walls and buildings everywhere advertising a wide variety of courses and workshops that you can take. Take a look around and see what appeals to you!
Go Hiking and Swimming at the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil
The Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve is a beautiful and peaceful nature reserve situated just a short five minute walk outside of San Marcos along the lakefront (when you are at the main dock, walk up the pathway and then take a left at the first small pathway. Keep walking along this path until you reach the entrance of the nature reserve).
The entrance fee for the reserve is Q15 and you then have access to explore all of the nature trails and the densely treed park. There are a network of pretty hiking trails which you can explore and some of which lead to some look-out areas with beautiful views of the lake and volcanoes. There is a wooden platform built on the edge of a steep cliffside which is referred to as the “trampoline” and you can jump from the platform into the lake, which is 30 feet below. There are also some areas around the platform where you can access the lake easier if you just want to go for a refreshing swim. You can also rent kayaks at the nature reserve.
I spent an afternoon visiting this beautiful and peaceful nature reserve with a few friends from my hostel and had a lovely time. I loved hiking the trails and being among such beautiful nature and in such a calm atmosphere. I chickened out and didn’t end up jumping into the water from the platform because it was pretty high and would have been a big fall, but thoroughly enjoyed watching the others work up the courage to do it!
Visiting Cerro Tzankujil is the perfect place to spend a few hours relaxing, swimming, hiking the trails and/or kayaking.
Explore the Treed Pedestrian Pathways
San Marcos consists of two main pathways which are parallel to each other and head north from the dock, with smaller trails connecting them in between. These pedestrian-only pathways meander through lush green and beautiful tropical plants, trees and colourful flowers and the walls along the sides of the paths featured some really amazing and detailed street art! I loved all of the greenery and it felt like I was walking through a jungle-like garden everywhere I went!
Along the pathways and tucked away among the vegetation, you will find massage places, meditation and yoga centres, vegetarian-friendly and healthy cafes and restaurants with seating in gorgeous gardens, markets, and small hotels and hostels. The only advertising in San Marcos consists of small homemade and hand-painted signs at the pathway intersections with names of hotels, restaurants, massage and meditation places. San Marcos was such an adorable place to explore and everything felt so authentic. When you’re in San Marcos, I recommend spending time to simply wander these pathways and see what you discover.
I spent a good chunk of time wandering the pathways and enjoying the peaceful and serene atmosphere while photographing the beauty around me. I felt like I was walking in a jungle and not a town. The surroundings were just amazing and so pretty. When you’re in San Marcos, take the time to slowly discover these gorgeous and unique pathways throughout town.
Shop for Organic Produce at The Local Market
Located along one of the small connecting pathways between the two main ones, is the small local market in San Marcos. Inside, you will find lots of delicious, locally grown and fresh organic fruits and vegetables in woven baskets being sold by local women.
The outdoor market is covered by a roof and its walls are made of bamboo. I enjoyed wandering around there and picking up some fresh bananas for a snack.
Eat Delicious, Fresh and Healthy Foods:
San Marcos has a great variety of restaurants serving delicious, fresh and healthy foods and many of them offer vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
Almost all of the restaurants offer seating among gorgeous and natural outdoor gardens with lovely trees and plants everywhere. I loved eating the Thai and Indian curries at Restaurant Fe; the salads at Ill Giardino; the fresh fruit smoothies at Circles Cafe; and the vegetable tacos at Los Abrazos Maya Restaurant. There were just so many yummy things to eat in San Marcos and the delicious food was definitely a highlight of my stay there.
Discover the Traditional Village
If you walk up the main pathway from the boat dock, you will reach the only road that goes through San Marcos. This is where you will find the local’s area of the village and it is an interesting place to explore if you are looking to get away from the most touristed areas.
The main part of town is quite small but charming and you will find a covered basketball court, a stone church, a few convenience and small grocery stores, a central plaza and park with benches and lush greenery with an outdoor theatre and children’s playground, a small health food store, a school and a couple of local restaurants. I visited this part of town often and there was always lots of activity there with local women selling their fresh produce along the side of the street, tuk tuks zooming up and down the street, families hanging out in the park, church services in progress with loud music, lots of stray dogs barking and roaming the streets, and school-children playing sports at the basketball court. The residential areas of the village are split up into three “barrios” or neighbourhoods numbered from one to three. From the centre of town, you can walk along narrow roads and pathways surrounded by lush green, jungle vegetation in order to explore the local neighbourhoods. The landscape of jungle-covered mountains around the town was incredibly beautiful.
I explored some of the residential areas on the lush and dense mountainsides and it was interesting to experience a bit of the local life and go where there were no other tourists. It was fascinating to see the local’s area of the village and it felt very authentic. There were some spectacular views of the lake from some areas on the mountainside and the landscapes were just stunning! I also loved the beautiful artwork painted on the side of the Konojel Community Centre in the town (they have free purified water outside the building for the community residents, which I thought was such a good idea and they do a lot of good work for the locals such as: serving daily nutritious lunches to the at-risk indigenous population and offering education programs. You can support them by eating lunch at their Comedor Konojel restaurant located on the main path close to the basketball court from 12:15 pm to 2:30 pm).
Check Out the Evening Events at Hostal Del Lago
Hostel Del Lago is a popular hostel for budget backpackers located in the traditional town area along the shoreline of Lake Atitlan (just walk up the main pathway from the dock, turn right once you reach the basketball court in the centre of the village and keep walking along that road until it turns to gravel. You will see the hostel on the right hand side with colourful artwork painted along its exterior wall).
Every evening, the hostel hosts different group events and activities (they have a schedule posted at the bar in the hostel). Anyone is welcome to attend, not just those staying at the hostel. I was staying at Circles Hostel in San Marcos but they didn’t have anything going on in the evenings and almost everyone left to go hang out at Hostel Del Lago, so I joined them. The hostel was always busy with people hanging out and chatting and it had a very social and friendly atmosphere. There were lots of couches and tables for sitting in an open-air area with amazing views looking out to the lake (a fantastic place to watch the sunset!). They also had a restaurant and bar with a great variety of healthy and vegetarian-friendly meals, snacks and delicious beverages to order.
I ended up hanging out at Hostel Del Lago for most of the nights that I was in San Marcos to participate in the evening activities. Both nights, a group of us sat in a circle around a campfire in a hole in the wooden deck of the hostel overlooking the lake and just jammed and created music together using a variety of different instruments while some people sang. It was lovely and magical to connect with others through music and create beautiful sounds. I enjoyed taking my turn to play the drums and tambourine.
Some of the other events that the hostel had posted on their schedule during the time I was there were a games night and live music night with a local musician. If you’re looking for something fun and interesting to do in the evening, I would recommend checking out Hostel Del Lago to see what they have going on.
Admire the Lake and Volcano Views From the Docks (And Watch the Sunrise and Sunset!)
San Marcos has some of the most incredible and breathtaking views of the lake and the three volcanoes from its shorelines, in my opinion, after visiting numerous villages around the lake.
There are two public docks in San Marcos where you can check out the views. The main dock is the one where all of the boats arrive and it’s a large and well-built wooden dock with a roof over the portion with benches while you wait for the next boat. The other dock can be reached by walking up the main path when you arrive in San Marcos and then turning left at the first small pathway. Walk a little ways, pass by Hostel San Marcos and then make another left when the path opens up. You will see the lake on your left hand side. There is a smaller dock at the end of this pathway which is much quieter. From both docks you will find gorgeous views of Lake Atitlan and the volcanoes directly across from you. These docks are also the perfect place to watch the sunrises and sunsets!
I enjoyed admiring and photographing the incredible views from the docks. Every morning I would wake up early and walk from my hostel to the docks and watch the sunrise over the lake and volcanoes with a few other early risers who wee meditating there. It was absolutely beautiful and the atmosphere while at the dock was so peaceful and serene.
Where to Eat
There was definitely no shortage of delicious restaurants to eat at in San Marcos! For a small town, the food options were quite impressive and there was a fantastic variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants for health-conscious individuals. All of the restaurants were so beautiful with most of them having outdoor seating among gorgeous lush green gardens.
Here were my favourite restaurants in San Marcos.
Fe was my favourite restaurant in San Marcos and I ended up eating there several times during my short stay in the village.
Located along the main pathway through San Marcos, the restaurant had an open-air setting with seating in the garden courtyard surrounded by vegetation. The menu featured a variety of dishes including two pages of Indian and Thai Curries, as well as oven-fired pizzas, healthy salads, pastas, tapas, fresh fruit smoothies and more. They had many vegetarian and gluten-free options. I loved their curries and tried both the chickpea and lentil versions, which were both incredibly tasty. The curries were served with rice and the portions were very generous. The restaurant also had free Wi-Fi.
I found the service to be very friendly and professional as well. I definitely recommend eating here!
Location – About halfway along the main pathway up the dock. The walls are pink with their name “Fe” painted in black. They are open from 7:30 am to 10:30 pm daily.
Las Abrazos is a family-owned, local and authentic Guatemalan restaurant in San Marcos.
I ate at this small and charming restaurant for dinner one evening and it was such a unique and authentic experience. I was the only guest at the time of my visit and was served by this local family, who lived in a house behind the restaurant. I ordered the vegetarian tacos, which were hand-made from scratch by the grandmother in her family’s kitchen. The menu also had lots of other traditional Mayan and Guatemalan dishes.
While I was waiting for my food, the father, mother and their teenage son arrived home and I had the opportunity to interact with them and get to know them. Communication was a little challenging, as my Spanish was quite limited, but it was a fantastic opportunity to practice and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I understood and remembered. The family was quite interested in learning about me and where I was from and I asked them some questions as well. It was a cool experience to interact with the locals in this way! The family’s cat was adorable and he sat on my lap while I ate and their dog was friendly as well.
My tacos were absolutely delicious and it was one of the best meals that I had in San Marcos. It felt great to support this family by eating at their restaurant and my interactions with them were such a wonderful experience. If you are looking for an authentic experience and traditional Guatemalan food in a local restaurant, definitely eat here.
Location – On the main road going through the village of San Marcos (the local’s area, up from the dock). Follow the main path up from the dock and then turn right once you reach the road. Keep following this road around the corner and you will see the restaurant on the left hand side.
Circles Cafe is situated on the main level of a hostel by the same name (this is where I stayed – click here to read my full review of the hostel). They served healthy breakfasts, snacks and lunches and delicious fresh fruit smoothies and cafe beverages. Their entire menu was vegetarian with some vegan options as well.
I loved the “tipico” Guatemalan breakfast which consisted of eggs, soft white cheese, fresh corn tortillas, sweet fried plantains, and warm black beans.
The atmosphere inside the cafe was so lovely and relaxed. Behind the cafe, there was a gorgeous outdoor area for sitting with lots of padded couches and tables scattered throughout lush tropical plants and trees. This garden setting was absolutely beautiful and tranquil and the perfect place to enjoy a delicious meal. The Wi-Fi was also super fast and reliable.
Location – Along the main pathway as you walk up the hill from the dock. It is on the right hand side shortly before the path meets up with the main road going through the town. They are open from 8 am to 5 pm and you can check out their full menu by clicking here.
Il Giardino is an Italian restaurant in San Marcos serving a range of healthy food with their menu featuring pastas, pizzas, salads, and more. They had lots of vegetarian options as well.
I ordered the Mediterranean Salad and it tasted fresh and delicious. The tables were situated throughout the outdoor garden with beautiful plants and flowers all around. It was such a lovely and tranquil place to enjoy a meal.
Location – On the main path up from the dock, a little ways further than Restaurant Fe on the left hand side. They are open from 7 am to 10 pm daily. Check out their Facebook page here!
Juice Therapy “Saya La Papaya”
This was a small juice bar was located along the main pathway in San Marcos, about halfway along the path up from the dock, served a variety of healthy smoothies and juices. I ordered a strawberry and banana smoothie there for a snack once and it was super tasty! It was a great place to stop for a refreshing smoothie or fresh juice. Behind the juice bar, there was a second hand clothing store that was fun to browse around in.
Other restaurants in San Marcos (that I didn’t have time to try) include Moonfish, Blind Lemons, La Paz and Medicine Foods Cafe (this place serves fresh and healthy plant-based foods and looks so adorable from their photos on Instagram. I can’t wait to try it out during my next visit!)
Getting There and Around
Most travelers arrive to Lake Atitlan from Antigua, Guatemala City or elsewhere via shuttle transportation (these can be booked at any local travel agency throughout Guatemala) into the bustling and touristy town of Panajachel, which is the transportation hub of the lake. San Marcos is accessible via public boat. From Panajachel, walk down to the dock and take a public shuttle boat to San Marcos (just tell the boat captain where you would like to go and he will point you in the direction of which boat to board as there will be many boats lined up waiting for passengers). You may have to wait on the boat for a little while until more passengers arrive as they like to leave with a full boat. The boat ride from Panajachel to San Marcos costs Q20 and takes around 40 minutes to get there. It’s a really scenic ride and you get great views of the vastness of Lake Atitlan, the jungle-covered mountains and volcanoes surrounding it, and some of the small villages along the way. If you are traveling to San Marcos in the afternoon, be prepared for possible rough waters and lots of waves which are common at this time, making the journey take longer than it should.
If you are arriving to San Marcos from San Pedro (the second most touristy town on the lake behind Panajachel), you can also head to the boat dock and take a 15 minute boat ride which costs Q10. If you are coming from any of the other small towns around the lake, just stand on the dock and wait for a passing boat to pick you up and tell the captain that you would like to go to San Marcos. The public boats don’t operate on a fixed schedule but they are frequent and you shouldn’t have to wait more than 20 minutes for a boat. They start operating at 6:30 am and run until around 5:00 pm.
Some travel agencies in Antigua and probably elsewhere as well, will offer shared shuttles which bring you directly to San Pedro instead of Panajachel, making the boat ride to San Marcos that much shorter.
San Marcos is a small village made up of a network of narrow pedestrian pathways making it is easy to walk everywhere on foot. The pathways are surrounded by trees, plants and flowers which gives the town a very natural and intimate feel. The town is also unique in that there are almost no roads.
If you do need assistance however, there are red painted three-wheeled motorcycle-like vehicles called “tuk tuks” that can be found zooming along the main street going through the village (by the basketball court and church) and there is usually a row of them parked alongside the street as well, waiting for customers.
If you are walking alone after dark, make sure to bring a flashlight with you (or a phone with a flashlight feature) as there are no street lights anywhere in San Marcos, making it difficult to see where you are going and near impossible for tuk tuk drivers to see you on the road.
To visit the other villages around the lake, you can take a public boat called a “lancha” from the main dock in town. These boats stop by San Marcos every twenty minutes or so from early morning (around six am) until around five in the evening.
It is easy to find good Wi-Fi around San Marcos. I found that many of the restaurants offered a fast and reliable Wi-Fi connection (like Restaurant Fe, Ill Giardino and Circles Cafe) and all of the hostels and accommodations had internet as well.
As a woman traveling alone, I felt very safe in San Marcos the entire time I was there.
The town had a peaceful and friendly vibe and the locals and expats were warm and welcoming. It was a quiet and relaxing place. I walked along the pathways and the local’s area of the village alone during the day and after dark and never once felt unsafe or uncomfortable. From what I have heard from others and read, San Marcos sees little crime and most of the crime that it does experience, is opportunistic in nature.
The most important way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of opportunistic crime, is to not appear to be a “good” victim. Don’t display signs of wealth or flash expensive valuables around, don’t carry large amounts of cash on you, be cautious when hiking or walking in remote areas outside of town (it’s best to hire a local guide if you plan to do this, as putting yourself in an isolating situation is not a great idea), ask the locals about which areas and activities are considered safe, avoid walking alone in isolated areas, and respect the local culture by dressing and behaving appropriately.
Banking and Tourist Information
Up until November 2016, there were no banks or ATMs in San Marcos. However, that has now changed and there is one 5B ATM situated inside a local convenience store called “Super Tienda San Jose 2”which is located along the main road through San Marcos (after reaching the main road from one of the pedestrian pathways up from the dock, turn right and keep walking. The store will be on the right hand side). I used this ATM multiple times during my stay in town and had no issues. It always gave me the correct amount of money, was never out of cash and I had no weird charges to my account.
Since there is only the one ATM in town though, it would still be a good idea to withdraw money in advance and bring extra cash with you, as a back-up in case the ATM is not working during your stay. If the ATM in San Marcos isn’t working, the next nearest bank just a fifteen minute boat ride across the lake to San Pedro. It is also worth noting that the ATMs in Guatemala have a withdrawal limit of Q2000. Change is often difficult to find in small vendors and markets, so make sure to carry smaller bills and get your larger Q100 bills broken at travel agencies or proper shops.
For more information about traveling in San Marcos, check out this helpful local blog where you will find a comprehensive calendar of events going on in San Marcos and a directory of local businesses in town. This guide from the blog Neverending Voyage is also an amazing resource.
San Marcos is a beautiful, peaceful, serene and friendly village with such a relaxed and alternative vibe. I recommend devoting at least a couple of days to staying in this town and exploring all that it has to offer. I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to San Marcos and that it inspires your future visit to this lovely place!