Why Visit San Marcos Guatemala?
Ahh, San Marcos Guatemala. Every time I scroll through the pictures I took in San Marcos, I feel a sense of peace and serenity. This tiny village in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is so otherworldly yet familiar and so tranquil yet full of life. As soon as you step onto the dock of San Marcos, you’re immediately invited by an indescribable magical flow of presence. With the town surrounded by majestic volcanoes towering over the lake, and inhabited by a mixture of traditional Mayan villagers and hippy yoga-loving ex-pats, San Marcos makes you feel as if you’re living in a dream. A dream full of soul-nurturing nature, vibrant colors, and warm sunshine.
When To Visit?
Guatemala has a nice climate all year round, not too cold and not too hot. However, precipitation does vary quite a bit during the year. Guatemala’s dry season runs from November to April, while the wet season starts from May onwards. However, don’t worry if you are visiting during the wetter months because the rainfall is generally only for a couple of hours (usually during the afternoon) a day. So you still can explore around as long as you bring an umbrella with you just in case.
I visited Lake Atitlan during the summer months, which were also the rainiest months of the year. (I didn’t do my research before going haha). But it honestly wasn’t too bad! Lake Atitlan was usually sunny and hot during the day, and once in while it would rain like crazy for a few hours, and then the sky would magically clear up again as if nothing ever happened.
What Activities To Do?
1. Learn Spanish
There are several Spanish schools in Lake Atitlan if you’re looking to improve your Spanish while you’re there. San Marcos Spanish school is the most popular one in San Marcos Guatemala.
2. Do yoga
On my 21st birthday, instead of going out clubbing and drinking to my heart’s content, I decided to attend a 9 AM yoga class at Hostel Del Lago. What I love about the yoga classes there is that it’s directly situated on a wooden platform overlooking the beautiful lake. Feeling the natural breeze and hearing the waves of the water while doing yoga makes concentrating in the present moment so much more effortless. Drop-in classes are around Q40 ($5USD), which is super affordable. Plus, the view is one-of-a-kind.
3. Meditate in nature
Meditation is a free activity that you can basically do anywhere and anytime you want. BUT…. meditating while you’re surrounded by the unreal spiritual atmosphere and beautiful greenery of this magical town, is definitely something else.
If I knew how to swim, I would jump into the lake first thing in the morning. The water is usually calm and clear early in the day, so it’s the best time to dip in for a nice relaxing swim. But if you’re like me and can’t stay afloat to save your life, rent a Kayak and explore the beautiful lake of Atitlan. Rentals are usually around Q20-25 ($2.50-3.00 USD) per hour.
5. Buy jewelry and accessories
As soon as you walk into the town of San Marcos, you’ll notice a lot of vendors selling all kinds of stunning traditional Mayan jewelry as well as accessories. Don’t go too crazy and spend all your money, but you can consider getting some souvenirs or gifts for friends and family. BUT…if you have time to head to Panajachel, I would recommend getting your souvenirs there since they sell the same things for much cheaper.
6. Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil
Cerro Tzankujil is a natural reserve with short hiking trails, swimming spots, and a 7-meter jump-off platform where you can dive head-first into the crisp lake water. The entrance fee is 15Q ($2 USD).
7. Eat, eat, and eat!
Even though San Marcos is a small town, there are quite a few different types of restaurants to choose from. All the way from Italian food to American food, Mediterranean food to traditional Guatemalan dishes, and even delicious Indian food!
Restaurant Fe was my favorite food place in San Marcos. It’s located along the main pathway through the town. And their menus include a variety of food options including pizzas, pasta, Indian curry, salad, smoothies, and also vegetarian and gluten-free options.
8. Explore other villages
If you’re looking to have a few drinks at a bar, and maybe go to some clubs. I recommend heading over to San Pedro, which is only 15 minutes away by boat. San Pedro is known as a great town to bar-crawl since everything is within walking distance. The Alegre Pub, El Barrio, Zoola, and Bar Sublime are just some of the many options that are available.
9. Hike the San Pedro volcano & the Indian Nose
If you want to go hiking, I would recommend that you hire a tour guide to go along with you. There have been a few robbery reports in some hiking trails in Guatemala. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The Indian Nose hike wasn’t too difficult of a hike. And you get to witness the breath-taking view of Lake Atitlan at sunrise. As for the San Pedro volcano hike, I recommend that you be mentally and physically prepared because the climb up takes around three to four hours. And to come down, another two hours. It was quite a challenging hike, and I’m not going lie, I almost quit half-way up. I had blisters on almost all my toes because stupid me decided to wear Converse. Yup, needless to say, I couldn’t walk right for days after. But overall, it was an amazing experience and I’m so glad I did it.
Where to Stay?
If you’re looking to stay long-term in San Marcos, there are plenty of small houses and apartments for rent since it is a quite popular ex-pat and digital nomad hotspot. However, places in San Pedro (a town 15 minutes away from San Marcos) tend to be cheaper. Also, try to search for housing during the low seasons since it’s more pocket-friendly. You can search for rental agents like Mayan Lake Realty to help you with the rental process, or look on the San Marcos Facebook Group for available housing
For backpackers who are only staying for a few days, I would recommend these options below. Hostel del Lago is great for solo travelers who want to meet people, and participate in fun group activities. They have social events every night so you never have to worry about not having anything to do. And most importantly, this hostel is absolutely stunning.
Get A Map of San Marcos
There are a few tour agencies scattered around San Marcos. So if you ever want more information or get a map of San Marcos, you can always pop on in there and ask a few questions. Funny story, the tour guide that gave me this map of San Marcos actually ended up being my neighbor. And we’re still connected on Whatsapp. So hey, you never know.
How to get to San Marcos Guatemala?
If coming in from Antigua:
- Private Transfer: Splurging on private transfer would be a good idea if you want a comfortable 2-hour + ride. You can book a private transfer with travel agencies or the hotel/hostel you’re staying at in Antigua. The driver will pick you up and drop you directly at your destination. This was my way of getting to San Marcos and all I can say is, it saved me a lot of unnecessary hassle.
- Shuttle/Rideshare: Although rideshares and shuttles are a bit more cramped and uncomfortable. You can save a bit of money and still get to your destination relatively quickly. Just keep in mind that sometimes with traffic, it can take up to four hours to arrive at Lake Atitlan. So bring some snacks and water! Also, you’ll probably have to add an extra 30 minutes to your journey for pick-ups in Antigua. Of course, if you’re the last one to get on the ride then you won’t have to worry about waiting. Shuttles/rideshares will drop you off at the Panajachel, a major town in Lake Atitlan, and from there, you can take a shuttle boat (lancha) to your final destination.
If coming in from Guatemala City:
Just like arriving from Antigua, you can either choose to take a private transfer or opt for the cheaper shuttle/rideshare experience. The only main difference is that Guatemala City is much further from Lake Atitlan. And most shuttles stop at Antigua to pick up more travelers. So do expect a total travel journey of around 4-5 hours from Guatemala City to Panajachel.
If coming in from Panajachel:
This is probably the most straightforward route. All you need to do is take a shuttle boat (lancha) from the public dock, and you will arrive in San Marcos within 40 minutes. The boat fare is Q20-25 ($2.5USD-3.50USD)
Getting Around Lake Atitlan
The interesting thing about San Marcos and the majority of the towns in Lake Atitlan is that there are almost no paved roads. And even if there is a road, it is usually paved with bumpy broken stones which are sometimes a bit dangerous to drive on.
Overall, the preferred way of transportation within the area around Lake Atitlan is by boat. There are around 15 small towns surrounding the lake, with San Marcos included. From San Marcos, there are boats leaving every twenty to thirty minutes to each of these individual towns. From San Marcos to San Pedro the boat fare is 10Q ($1.25 USD). And from San Marcos to Panajachel, one of the biggest towns in the Lake, it could cost Q20-25 (S$2.50-3.50 USD).
Pro-tip #1: Try to always have the exact change available when you pay the boat drivers. Because sometimes they will try to overcharge foreigners (Even though you already pay a higher fare than the locals).
Pro-tip #2: If you get sea-sick easily, please take anti-motion sickness pills beforehand. Because believe me, especially if you’re going towards Panajachel which tends to be a bumpier ride. You WILL literally want to die. I remember feeling the immense urge to jump off the boat because I just couldn’t anymore. It felt as if I was on a rollercoaster ride that just would not stop for thirty minutes. Ughhh, absolutely horrifying. I pray that you won’t ever have to go through what I went through lol.
Just Relax and Enjoy San Marcos Guatemala
I realize that many travelers including myself, tend to have the urge to jam-pack their schedules every day so that they can visit as many places as possible and not “waste” time. But when visiting San Marcos. I naturally released my desire to “go go go”. And instead, the tranquility and serenity of this ethereal village took over me and whispered in my ear. “Hey, just BE. As opposed to doing this and doing that, why don’t we all just relax for an hour or two and just CHILL?”
I know this might sound super hippy and spiritual, but I truly believe that sometimes just by being still and taking in the present moment, we get to see and feel much more. San Marcos is a village to be slowly savored and deeply appreciated. As fellow travelers, let’s try to acknowledge the beauty of every place we visit by taking the time to SEE and not just look.
I hope my short guide here has been of value to you, and please let me know how your stay in San Marcos Guatemala goes! This beautiful village in Lake Atitlan is one of my favorite places on earth, and I wish you will feel the same too. Happy traveling everyone!
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