Tips for Travelling to San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Visiting San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Many tourists visit San Pedro la Laguna every year for fun and relaxation in a beautiful location. There are many fun things to do and see during your visit to San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala.
From relaxing in a hammock overlooking a gorgeous volcanic lake, kayaking, or going on hiking trips, there is something for everyone in San Pedro.
This guide is to help you figure out where to stay, what to do, and how to get around to make the most of your visit to San Pedro.
I took this photograph during the September 15 Independence Day parade in San Pedro. The girls were marching in the parade, carrying items that were representative of the town. I believe they are holding locally grown onions, and woven cloth.
Image Credit: San Pedro la Laguna by SpikeyFlower. All rights reserved.
Where to Stay in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Hostels and Homestays in Guatemala
San Pedro offers an abundance of excellent places to stay the night, and for very cheap prices. The best place for you to stay in San Pedro mostly depends on what your interests are, and if there is something particular that you would like to get out of your experience in San Pedro.
Unless you are traveling in a very large group, or during a particularly busy season, it is really not necessary to make a hotel reservation before you arrive. There are many places available, and guides will meet your bus or boat and escort you to a hotel with available rooms.
If you are backpacking, I suggest getting whatever room is cheap and convenient for you the first night, and then using the second day to explore the town and find a room that you are more interested in saying in long term. You can usually get a discount if you ask for it, particularly if you are staying for a week, or more.
Often the distinction between hotel and hostel is fairly blurred to me. Some places have individual rooms, but offer the use of a kitchen, and other places have combinations of individual rooms and shared dormitories.
Hotels: There are a handful of very nice hotels in San Pedro. They are not exactly like hotel rooms that you might be familiar with at home, but they offer individual rooms and showers and beautiful landscaped garden areas. My personal favorite is Hotel Sakcari, which is located almost directly next door to the San Pedro Language School, and very close to El Barrio. Another popular option is Mikaso, which is located on the edge of the lake and has stunning views. People who do not stay at Mikaso come to the hotel to enjoy the rooftop restaurant as well. Both of these are popular options for large groups. Most of the hotel rooms are available for around $15 per night, but some may be more expensive, and some considerably cheaper.
Near the part of town that is called "Pana Dock" there is a row of hotels that all offer an excellent view of the lake. Most of them have women's names, like Casa Lola and Maria Elena. Ask around a few places and see where you can get the best price if you like what you see.
Another popular hotel is Zoola, which also has a great restaurant attached. It is extremely popular with the Israeli backpackers that come through San Pedro, and you will find that many people there speak Hebrew. It is very clean and nice, especially the garden areas.
Hostels: There are quite a few hostels in San Pedro as well, and often the line between hotel and hostel is rather blurred. Yo Mama's Casa and Pinocchio's are both popular options. You can normally find a bed in a hostel for about $5 a night, with the price fluctuating based on the amount of tourists.
Homestays: The most common way to get a good homestay is to work through a local language school. The language schools have a handful of families that they screen to host their students. Normally people take classes at the school for four hours a day, and eat their meals with a family. The homestays normally cost about $60 per week, inclusive of most meals.
If you already speak at least marginal Spanish, you can certainly ask around in town if there is a family that is willing to rent a room to you. You undoubtedly get a cheaper rate, but lose the benefits of screening the families and taking care of the billing that the schools offer you.
You should expect to be in a house where you feel safe, have your own room, and the family to speak with you clearly in Spanish during meals. The meals may or may not taste good, but generally you will be eating whatever they normally eat. Most of the families have a television and wifi is becoming common as well. They may have one other student in the house at the same time as you. Hosting students is a great source of income for local families, and an educational experience for their children, so most families are eager to excellent hosts to encourage good recommendations.
Participating in a homestay can be a really amazing experience. It is a fast way to meet many people in the town through your host family, you will learn lots of stories about the history of San Pedro, and you will learn a lot about their culture. However, it is also not right for everyone, such as people who are adverse to children.
Most people elect to do a combination, and stay in a hotel for a while and a homestay for part of the time. This provides them the opportunity to meet the family, but also to have some private space.
Are you preparing for a long backpacking trip through Guatemala?
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Learn Spanish in Guatemala
Spanish Language Schools in San Pedro la Laguna
San Pedro la Laguna is probably the most well known because of the abundance of Spanish language schools in the town. There are many language schools in San Pedro. There are also a lot of experienced Spanish teachers who try to work on their own to recruit students at a cheaper rate than through the schools. If you are interested in saving a little bit of money, ask around and you will find someone.
The benefit of working through the schools is that they screen the teachers and tend to have strict requirements for the people who work there. Most of the schools make the teachers take classes on how to teach, and most of the teachers are university students. The schools also have administrative offices that handle the billing, and can give you a receipt if you need one.
One of the best Spanish schools in San Pedro is SolMaya. The Spanish teachers at SolMaya are experienced, caring and very flexible. The individual tutors at SolMaya will help you overcome any hang ups that you have from high school Spanish, and learn much more quickly in individual classes. Expect to pay about $100 per week for an individual tutor for 20 hours per week. The Spanish classes in San Pedro la Laguna are some of the cheapest in Latin America.
The teachers are really great, and have a good understanding of how to explain grammar rules in Spanish. They take their job seriously, and are very professional. Also, the teachers will help you navigate San Pedro, and suggest activities for you to do after class and generally explain things to you.
If you are traveling alone or with a small group, the language schools are a great place to meet new friends.
What to Do in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Kayaking, Horses, and Hiking in San Pedro la Laguna
There are many fun activities to do in San Pedro, especially if you are into the outdoors. For any of these activities, you can ask at one of the numerous travel agencies located in San Pedro, and they can suggest how you can do them. Or, go to Pana dock, and you will find young men hanging out and ask them.
Kayaking: One great activity is to go kayaking out on the lake. When else can you go Kayaking in a lake that was made by a volcano? When you get out on the water you will have stunning views of the towns and mountains that surround you. If you are looking to hire a kayak, expect to pay about $1.25 per hour. Start with paying for an hour of time, you can always add more time if you'd like. This is especially true during rainy season, when the weather can change unexpectedly cutting your kayaking trip short.
Horseback Riding: Another popular activity in San Pedro is to go horseback riding. Many people who are in town for classes like to do this on Saturday morning when they do not have class. It is a good activity for small groups, and will give you the chance to see the town and the area around it from a different perspective.
Hiking Trips: Hiking a mountain located near Lake Atitlan called "Indian Nose" is probably the most popular activity in San Pedro. Make arrangements the day before to find a guide to take you. Expect that your hiking group will leave very early in the morning. The best thing about hiking up Indian Nose is that the top is a great photo opportunity. Take your cameras and ask your friends to take pictures of you at the top of the hike, with the lake in the background.
Weaving Classes: This is a great option for when it is too rainy for outdoor activities. Ask around and you will find someone who will offer you or a small group lessons on how to do traditional Guatemalan weaving on a hip loom. You can make your own scarf of coasters to take home as souvenirs. It is a slow process, so it is a good opportunity to practice your Spanish and get to know a local family. Often their daughters will also help you learn.
Learn Tzutzujil: If you already speak Spanish, you might want to try and learn some of the local Mayan dialect, which is called Tzutzujil. If you ask around in San Pedro, you will be able to find a private tutor for about $5 per hour. It is a fun way to spend the afternoon if it is raining. You can also ask around for private tutors who can teach you about the local culture, the history of San Pedro, and if you are particularly lucky, the traditional religious beliefs.
Visit Nearby Towns: If you are in San Pedro for a while, you might also like to explore some of the other towns around Lake Atitlan. If you are taking classes you can go after class or before class and not miss anything.
How to Get There
How to get to San Pedro la Laguna
How to get to San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala from:
Most people come to San Pedro la Laguna from Antigua. If you go to any of the numerous travel agencies in Antigua, you can buy a ticket for a tourist van to San Pedro. It does not matter where you buy it, because all of the places sell tickets for the same buses, but I have received good service with the agency called "Sonrise." There are normally a few buses per day leaving Antigua for San Pedro, but you might want to buy your ticket the day before so you know you will get a seat. You can usually find a bus that will take you directly to San Pedro, but if you cannot, take a bus to Panajachel, and from there take a boat to San Pedro. Either way you go, bring your headphones because it will take a few hours.
The bus will probably drop you off in San Pedro near Pana Dock. When the bus arrives, prepare for it to be swarmed by guides who will try and help you find a hotel room.
If you are coming from Panajachel, just take a boat. it will take you about an hour, and you will arrive at Pana dock.
If you are coming from Santiago dock, take a boat as well. This will be a bigger boat. The ride will also take you about an hour, but you will arrive at Santiago dock instead.
Night Life in Guatemala
Where to go out in San Pedro
Unlike many of the small towns in Guatemala, San Pedro has many options of places to go out at night. There are several bars and lively restaurants, and people often hang out together at the hostels as well. If you are looking for a place to meet up with other travelers and hang out, San Pedro is a great choice.
Pub trivia and movie nights are popular in San Pedro, and so is live music. On almost any day of the week you will be able to find something going on. Popular options include Buddha Bar and El Barrio, which are located close to each other, and Allegre, which is located near Pana Dock.
There are many other bars that are popular as well, and some of the restaurants have bars in them and sometimes have a lot going on. Take a wander around, and you will find somewhere that looks like fun to you.
Around the Lake - Day Trips from San Pedro la Laguna
Santiago, San Marcos and Panajachel
If you want to go exploring a little further, there are many small towns around Lake Atitlan to visit. You can go for an afternoon and come back the same day, or stay for a day or two to get a different experience.
The two largest towns around Lake Atitlan are Santiago and Panajachel. There are many small towns surrounding the lake, and some of them could benefit greatly from having tourists come visit and spend some money there.
Panajachel, Guatemala: Panajachel is an interesting town. You can explore the area and see many things. In 2010 it was where the international bike messenger championships were located. If you want to buy a new cell phone or camera, take a look in Panajachel. If you are staying in San Pedro for a month or so, you should consider going to Panajachel for a weekend to explore the town and check out the nightlife. You can also go swimming at the dock at night, and it has a gorgeous view of the lake.
Santiago, Guatemala: Santiago is another larger town around the lake. They have market days two days a week, and you can easily head over for the afternoon after classes end, and make the last boat back for dinner. There is a large church, park, and many small stores for buying souvenirs. If you will not be going to the market in Chichicastenango during your trip, you should consider looking for souvenirs in Santiago.
Santiago is perhaps the most famous for what is called the Cult of Maximon. Maximon is sometimes referred to as a "bad saint" although this is not technically true, because it is a separate religious belief than Christianity. Where people follow him they make offerings of alcohol and cigarettes. Some towns, but most notably Santiago, have statues of him that are guarded and people make offerings to, where he is surrounded by flowers and prayer candles. The location for the shrine is moved around from year to year. Boys in the town will crowd you when you arrive, offering to show you the way for a small tip. Also, be prepared to pay 10Q per photograph you take. There certainly is a tourist trap feel to the whole thing, but it is cheap and interesting and unique enough to outweigh that.
Unfortunately, Santiago is also famous for the extreme violence that occurred during the Guatemalan Civil War. The Death Squads were very active in this area. The two main incidents include a massacre in 1990 that left 14 people dead, and many more injured. In 1981 a prominent Catholic priest from Oklahoma named Stanley Rother was executed by the Death Squads while working as a missionary.
San Marcos, Guatemala: San Marcos is a fun place to go visit, especially during great weather. There is a location where people go cliff diving into the lake. If you do not want to do that, there is a nice area nearby to swim and jump off of some lower rocks, or just lay in the sun. Many people go to San Marcos for spiritual reasons. There is a meditation center called the Pyramids, where people participate in retreats. There are also several nice restaurants. The indigenous language in San Marcos is different than the indigenous language in San Pedro.
San Lucas, Guatemala: Another pleasant town near the lake is San Lucas. To get to San Lucas, go to Santiago and then look for the pick up trucks that have metal bars in the back, and ask if the driver is going to San Lucas, or ask for the Chicken Bus. The truck ride is nicer because you get an excellent view of some of the coffee fields. San Lucas is a simple town that does not receive a lot of tourism, but worth checking out. You can get some good food, such as a hole in the wall restaurant that makes great burritos, explore the waterfront, and see the church in town. If you are looking for a chance to see a part of Guatemala that does not have many tourists, this is a good option.
Santa Cruz, Guatemala: Santa Cruz is a pleasant village near the lake. To get there, take a boat, and you will arrive at the dock in Santa Cruz. Near the dock is a hostel called the Lost Iguana, which offers many different services. To get to the town, go up the steep road, you probably would want to take a tuk-tuk up because it is very steep. In the town there are not many things besides a basketball court, but it is nice to explore.
What to Eat in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Restaurants, Bread Ladies, and Special Diets in Guatemala
One of the many great things about San Pedro is the abundance of excellent cheap restaurants. You can buy food in the market and prepare it yourself, but it might not really be much cheaper than many of the restaurants are.
One particularly good restaurant is called Clover, they offer Irish food, and a variety of other types. Nearby is Buddha Bar, which also serves food and Jarachik which is a hostel and restaurant that makes great breakfasts. For burgers try Allegre, which is a pub. You can also find great taco places for cheap, normally for about $1.25 for three tacos.
There are many women who sell breads in the street, especially banana bread. If you are planning on going for a hike in the morning, consider buying a loaf of banana bread to take with you to eat for breakfast on your hike. There is one particularly well known bread lady named Rosario who sells delicious cakes at night and popcorn.
If you have specific dietary needs, either for health or religious reasons, you should still do just fine in San Pedro. Many people in San Pedro are vegetarians, or have different religious beliefs that effect their diet. If you have any food restrictions, make sure that you know how to explain them in Spanish. Most homestay families will work with you on dietary restrictions, as long as they are able to understand them.
How to Find Internet Cafes and Wifi in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
There are many internet cafes in San Pedro, and most of them offer Skype headsets. If you look in the area where most of the tourists are, they will be open for longer hours and charge about $1.00 per hour. If you want to save a bit of money, or have more privacy, go up the hill by the market in the center of San Pedro. These internet cafes are more for local residents, and have significantly cheaper prices.
Wifi is quickly becoming more and more prevalent through San Pedro la Laguna. Most homestays will offer you wifi now. Also the language schools and most bars and restaurants offer wifi. Some, but not all, hotels have wifi.
If you have an iPod Touch or an iPad you can use the wifi to make calls with Skype, the same as an iPhone that is put on airplane mode.
The Two Docks in San Pedro
Panajachel Dock and Santiago Dock
Many people get to and from San Pedro by boat, so directions are often given in relation to the two docks in town. Even if you arrive by tourist van, as many people do, you will probably be dropped off somewhere fairly close to Pana Dock. The word for dock in Spanish is "embarcadero" which is easy to remember because it sounds like the English word "embark."
Santiago Dock This is where you go if you want to take a boat to Santiago. Which you should try sometime, it is a neat town too. These boats are bigger and sometimes you will share them with chickens or coffee beans. Near the dock there are many small tiendas, and some hotels. If you follow the road going straight up the hill, you will wind up in the center of town where the market and the big white Catholic Church is. This is the part of town where most Pedrano families live.
Pana Dock Pana is short for Panajachel, and is where you would take a boat to go to Panajachel. This is a little bit misleading, because it is also where you can take a boat to almost anywhere around the lake. Near Pana dock you will find several bars and nice restaurants and hotels. You can even find organic foods here. If you are looking for a specific item or food from your home country, this is the area to look for it.
Religion in San Pedro la Laguna
Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, and Traditional Beliefs in Guatemala
There are several different religions that are common in San Pedro, and people are remarkably accepting of the different religious beliefs. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, people followed traditional Maya beliefs, but the Spaniards brought with them Catholicism. Many of the people in San Pedro are Catholic, and the Catholic Church is located in the center of town, by the market. Some people in San Pedro still follow traditional beliefs, or incorporate them partially into their Christian beliefs.
In the last few decades there have been a large influx of protestant missionaries coming to San Pedro. Many Pedranos converted from Catholicism to Evangelical Christianity. There are numerous small Evangelical Churches in San Pedro, most of them have a sister Church in the United States that helps support them.
San Pedro is a popular tourists destination for Israelis, particularly when they finish their military service. There are many Israeli tourists in the town, as well as a hostel and some restaurants that cater to them. In addition to the tourists who are Jewish, there is a small percentage of people who live in the town year round who are Jewish. Many street vendors speak some Hebrew.
How to get your clothes washed in San Pedro la Laguna
There are many laundromats throughout San Pedro. They are marked by signs that say Lavanderia. You will pay based on the weight of your clothes in pounds. Many places have a minimum price and are not open on Sundays. Unless you show up pretty early in the morning, expect to pick up your clothes the next day. It is all pretty nice though, when you get your clothes they are folded and wrapped in plastic.
If you are participating in a homestay, it most likely will not include laundry services. You can try and work out to pay your hosts to do your laundry, but will probably find it to be cheaper and easier to just drop your clothes off at a laundry service. Most families do not have machines in their home, and do the family's clothes by hand in the sink, and line dry them on the roof. This makes for a lot of extra work for the family to include extra clothes, and you might not feel like they are as clean as from a washing machine.
Banking in Guatemala
If you need to get cash, there are ATMs available in San Pedro. The most common bank is called Banrural, and you can identify it by the bright yellow color and green writing. ATMs are located inside alcoves, with a metal gate. This can make them a little hard to see when walking past.
If you are by Pana Dock, one will be on your left when you begin walking up the street that goes straight up the hill. If you see steep stairs heading up to a pub called Allegre, you are very close to it. From Allegre walk down towards the water about 15 feet and it will be on your right.
If you are by Santiago Dock, go straight up the very steep hill, and when you get to the market take the road that goes to your left. You should be able to see a big sign for the bank, which will be located on your left. It is near a pet store, an internet cafe, an office supplies store, and a typing school.
Remember, just because there are ATMs does not mean they will have money in them. The ATMs do not get money deliveries every day, and sometimes the money gets used up. Plan ahead and have enough money to last you a few days more than you think you will need. Or, if you need money suddenly and the ATMS are out, take a boat to either Panajachel or Santiago, which are bigger towns. This is especially true during the rainy season, when the roads might not be passable for delivery trucks, or the electricity may go out from storms.
Video of Semana Santa Celebrations in San Pedro la Laguna - Easter celebrations in San Pedro la Laguna
One of the best things about San Pedro la Laguna is the traditional culture. While they adapt to tourists and modern technology, they also have great respect for their traditions and make many efforts to preserve them.
This video depicts the celebration of Semana Santa, or Holy Week in San Pedro la Laguna. The white church that you see is the Catholic Church, which sits in the center of town next to the market. Recently the park area in front of the church was nicely renovated, and is a nice place to go take pictures.
Finding work in San Pedro la Laguna
Many backpackers decide that they want to spend a while in San Pedro, and decide to look for a job. It is not impossible to find work in San Pedro, but you will have a lot of competition. During the parts of the year when there are the most tourists, there are also the most jobseekers. Many foreigners need to have a work permit to legally obtain employment in Guatemala, and it is probably most common that places offer discounts in exchange for work instead of an actual paycheck.
Hostels: Some hostels may let you stay for free or discounted in exchange for doing a certain number of hours of volunteer work at the hostel.
Bars and Restaurants: Some local bars and restaurants like to have English-speaking foreigners as bartenders and waitstaff. Ask around and maybe someone will give you a chance. You will probably have some competition for this, so experience and an outgoing personality are a plus.
Sales Person: There are many small shops in San Pedro that sell things to tourists, and would probably prefer to have an English-speaking sales person.
English Tutor: Many families in San Pedro have extra rooms in their houses, and some might be willing to let a backpacker stay in their home for free in exchange for tutoring their children in English.
Online Jobs: Since it is difficult to get work while on the road, and they pay is very low, many people do odd-jobs online when traveling. Writing articles and copywriting are popular choices.