Glorious Pasajcap, one of our favourite places to stay anywhere in the world. And the main reason Lake Atitlan has become our second home over the past decade. This extensive collection of fully-equipped apartments and cottages on the north side of the lake features gorgeous grounds and some of the best volcano views anywhere in Guatemala. Located about halfway between San Marcos and Tzununa, it is quiet and private while still being just a 15-minute walk (or 5-minute tuk tuk ride) from either village.
After doing the usual San Pedro budget hotel thing during our first visit way back in 2004, we returned in 2010 to stay at Pasajcap for the first time. Since then, we’ve returned for anywhere from 1 to 4 months every year except one and don’t expect to stop anytime soon. The French owner, Pierre, and his partner, Aska, have become good friends over the years (as well as their various dogs) and we’ve made countless other friends among the many other devoted returning visitors.
And, just to be clear, this is not a sponsored post. We are not receiving anything for writing this and chances are Pierre will actually find our enthusiasm a bit embarrassing. We just love the place and feel like our set of Lake Atitlan guides wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t share all the info about the main reason we chose Guatemala as our home away from home.
For more detailed information on all there is to see and do around the lake, check out our Complete Guide to Lake Atitlan.
Why Visit Lake Atitlan
If you aren’t already familiar with Lake Atitlan, it is, honestly, one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve ever seen. Created by a collapsing volcano thousands of years ago, it is surrounded by the steep hills of the caldera and features three still-standing volcanoes along its amazing south shore.
The views from the north side (Pasajcap, in particular) are truly stunning, with the phenomenal lake backed by looming volcanoes San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman. It is even possible to see the small outline of other volcanoes in the distance near Antigua. We can actually watch Volcan Fuego puffing away periodically right from our apartment.
The list of things to do on Lake Atitlan is practically endless and each village seems to have its own specialties.
San Pedro and San Marcos are very popular places to learn Spanish. San Marcos is the spiritual centre of all things holistic, from yoga and meditation to drum circles and cacao ceremonies. San Pedro is backpacker central, filled with cheap hotels and hopping bars. San Juan is known for its art, handicrafts and coffee tours. Tzununa features a very popular organic farming program that seems to get more extensive every year and this friendly little village is now rivalling San Marcos when it comes to interesting activities. From yoga, quiet dark retreats, and even cryptocurrency workshops to chocolate rituals, ecstatic dance parties and communal barbeques, Tzununa is quickly becoming a household name in the new age community.
All around the lake there are tremendous hiking opportunities, whether you are looking for a moderate walk with spectacular volcano views (Tzununa to Santa Cruz), want to climb to Indian Nose for the best sunrise view on the lake or tackle one (or all) of the volcanoes.
Swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding are popular all around the lake, with the Venga Atitlan sunrise paddle out of San Marcos being one of the more iconic experiences on Lake Atitlan.
Maybe the most interesting part of spending time on Lake Atitlan, however, is simply being part of traditional life that continues in the Highlands in a way you just don’t see in most parts of Mexico or Central America. The Mayan Guatemalans around Lake Atitlan remain very much in touch with their culture, clothing and traditions, which is refreshing to find in our increasingly homogenous world.
Weather / When to Visit
Another of the places we have eagerly tracked down around the world described as “Land of Eternal Spring”, Lake Atitlan has a near perfect climate all year-round (in our opinion). At 1,400 metres above sea level, it does not get as hot as most of Central America, with the temperature only occasionally reaching 25 or 26 Celsius. More commonly, the daily high is between 20-23C which, for us, is perfect. Not sweltering but plenty nice enough for a t-shirt and shorts. Nights get comfortably cool, usually in the 14-16C range, making it easy to sleep comfortably under a blanket without the need for air conditioning.
Dry season runs from late November to the end of April (give or take) and during this time it will be surprising if you see more than a few brief sprinkles of rain. This is by far the most popular tourist season. May to October is the “rainy season” and it’s true, it does rain quite a lot during this time.
However, we have spent plenty of time on Lake Atitlan during the rainy season as well and, for the most part, the mornings are usually still clear and sunny. Then around 11 or 12 it starts to cloud over and you can expect some afternoon rains.
But if you plan your activities for first thing in the morning and make sure you’re safely inside by late afternoon it really shouldn’t affect you too much. And the heavy evening cloud cover makes for some of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve seen anywhere in the world.
As far as Pasajcap, in particular, it is often fully booked well in advance for the high season from January to March but there is usually far more availability during the rainy or shoulder seasons.
Pasajcap Rentals Apartments, Cottages, Pool House and Overlander Camping
Pasajcap Rentals have grown considerably over the years from its humble beginnings as Pierre’s house and art studio. Now there is a wide range of units to choose from, a total of 17 in all that range from studio apartments to a house with a gorgeous infinity pool. You can see detailed information and photos for each of the units on their website and we have a few photos in this post but you may want to email for the latest prices.
Stand-alone cottages (1 or 2-bdr)
2-bedroom house with an infinity pool
In addition, Pasajcap is considered one of the best overlander sites in all of Guatemala. There are 14 drive-in camping sites that share a bathroom and some amazing views.
We have friends who drive to Pasajcap from Canada every year in their van named Slow Sally. They always have plans to continue further south but end up getting ‘stuck’ at Pasajcap each year. They have a great blog about their slow travels including one on why they keep coming back to Lake Atitlan.
Why We Love Pasajcap Rentals
Obviously, we wouldn’t have stayed there 11 times (and counting) if we didn’t love the place. Sure, it isn’t perfect (no place is, and that goes double for Guatemala) but the many benefits easily outweigh the minor inconveniences.
It all starts with the views for us. Pierre has designed every unit to maximize the views of the lake and volcanoes, meaning that wherever you end up you can look forward to enjoying stunning scenery right from your window.
In addition, the mild weather (and very few mosquitoes) has allowed him to use full front windows that open completely, making it feel like you’re outside even when you’re not. We usually leave ours open all night.
Palapas and Hammocks
Most units have their own “palapa” (covered hangout area) featuring a seating area, table, loungers and, best of all, hammock. There are also several more scattered throughout the property, all designed for maximum relaxation and views. A couple also have barbeques for guest use. Each unit also has a hammock inside if you want to do your relaxing from the comfort of your own place.
Combination of Privacy and Socializing
All the units are self-contained, allowing you as much privacy as you desire. And they are spread out enough with different entrances for the apartments that you can go a while without seeing other people if you want. Meanwhile, there are enough common areas that it is easy to meet people. Our daily happy hour (credit to Bill and Jan of Michigan) has become a social staple during high season, “getting avid drinkers together for a decade”.
Pasajcap maintains an ongoing staff of around a dozen local workers at all times, from managers and handymen to cleaners and groundskeepers, some of whom have been there since long before we arrived on the scene. Without exception, the staff are friendly, helpful and professional, always adding to the overall enjoyment of our stay.
Plus, Pierre is a little bit addicted to building new things, meaning that he almost always employs a construction crew of varying size, working on anything from new cottages and apartments to expanding the campground area to raising/lowering the dock or just sprucing up the grounds.
Pierre, Aska, Domingo, Diego or one of other staff members are always around to deal with any issues or provide advice. As well as offering supplies, water and laundry, they can also help you book transportation and provide all the latest information on things happening around the lake.
Pierre and Aska speak French, English, Spanish, German, Polish and maybe a couple more between them so anyone should be easily able to find a common language to communicate in. The staff only speak Spanish and their traditional language but Laynni doesn’t speak much Spanish and has always been able to communicate enough to get by.
This might be where Pasajcap really stands out compared to the other rental options around the lake. The entire complex is located in a securely fenced area with the gates locked at all times.
While physical robberies are rare in Guatemala there have been reports of petty theft from poorly secured lodgings (cash, laptops, etc.). Who knows if we would have ever had a problem but we love not having to worry about leaving our stuff behind when we’re gone.
Each unit has a large locked ‘safe’ spot where you can lock up passports and larger items if you want.
Swimming From the Private Dock
One of our favourite things about staying at Pasajcap is going for a daily swim every morning. While some strangely driven British or Dutch fellows take this as a challenge to see how fast and far they can swim, we fall more into the 10 minutes across the bay, 10 minutes back category. Others are happy to just throw a floatie in and bob around the dock reading a book. Whatever suits your fancy.
There are two docks, one for lanchas to stop at and one for swimming. The swimming dock has stairs down into the water or you can just leap off the end, which is anywhere from 1 to 3 metres high depending on the water level. It is at its highest at the end of the rainy season (November) and steadily drops all winter until the rains start again in late April or early May.
We find the water to be fairly cold, although we are routinely hassled over our “daintiness”. Apparently, as Canadians, we’re supposed to be made of tougher stuff. The thing is, though, we’re not. Basically, it makes us gasp every time but isn’t cold enough to stop us from going and we always feel great afterward.
The cleanliness of the water in Lake Atitlan is the subject of constant debate around the lake, with many hygiene improvements and sewage policies being implemented in recent years. Our opinion is that we probably wouldn’t swim right in front of any of the main villages (although many people do) but are perfectly happy doing so in a more remote area like Pasajcap.
I understand that water doesn’t exactly stay put so this isn’t exactly a foolproof system but, the fact is, we’ve been swimming regularly since day one and never had any problems so we believe it is fine.
Pierre takes great pride in ensuring the grounds are always immaculate. Actually, that may be even more down to Diego, a man who never seems happier than when he’s watering the grass or meticulously tending to some flowers. Either way, the place is like a lush oasis, especially noticeable in dry season when the surrounding fields have turned yellow and the roads are a dust hazard.
Bird lovers (twitchers, if you will) find it particularly fun because so many different species flock to Pasajcap for all the amazing trees and flowers. A few years ago there was even a hummingbird nest where we got to watch the two chicks go from dull eggs to creepy bald squawkers to flying off on their own. The naming ceremony got surprisingly heated.
Close to Amazing Hikes
The hike to Jaibalito or Santa Cruz can be done right from Pasajcap and is an outstanding 2-3 hour walk. There are also multiple options higher up in the hills above San Marcos and Tzununa, as well as a small waterfall up the valley behind Tzununa.
A couple tuk tuk rides and a pickup get us to Santa Clara to hike the ridge above San Juan and sometimes we continue on by colectivo (shared van) to Parque Chuiraxamolo where there are several hikes featuring impressive views from high above the lake.
Volcan San Pedro is one of the most popular hikes on Lake Atitlan but Volcan Atitlan actually offers more better panoramic views at the top (but also requires a guide and more planning).
For GPS maps and more details, check out our Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan
Close to Villages but Quiet
It is an easy 15-minute walk from Pasajcap to the centre of San Marcos where you’ll find tiendas, restaurants and a wide range of activities. It is roughly the same distance to Tzununa in the other direction, which also has a couple of nice restaurants, Atitlan Organics permaculture farm and some yoga retreats.
Meanwhile, because it isn’t right next to any busy areas, Pasajcap tends to be blissfully quiet (save for the occasional hyperactive dog). A few years back we developed a fairly intense one sided feud with the neighbour’s early-rising rooster but, thankfully, he has since moved on to greener pastures (or someone’s kitchen table).
Rentals Units are Well Supplied
Each unit comes completely furnished with a fully-stocked kitchen so you have everything you need to be self-sufficient. Pots, pans, cutlery, dishes, etc., plus extra bedding and plenty of shelves, closet space and storage.
Many of the units also have fireplaces. We don’t use ours but many love to have a nightly fire. Another thing worth mentioning is that most bathrooms have a view of the lake. Our shower has a full wall of windows with views of the lake and volcanos but still has privacy since there are no vantage points to see in.
As we mentioned, Pasajcap is close enough to the villages to make shopping or other outings easily accessible. Plus, Pierre always stocks a selection of essentials available to guests for purchase. Well, things the French consider essentials, anyway, namely wine, steak, pate, fish and shrimp, although he seems to be adding more things to the list every year. They also recently started a Thursday vegetable market which brings the produce right to you.
Maybe the biggest convenience, though, is that he keeps a stockpile of 20-litre water jugs on site at all times. We pay a nominal fee for them but when we need another we just have to let one of the guys know and they deliver it to our door. If we ever start to take that for granted we are always jolted back to reality seeing some expat in town struggling to wrestle 2 or 3 jugs into a tuk tuk to haul them back to their place.
Apartments are cleaned regularly with the exact frequency determined by the length of stay (i.e. daily for short stays, twice a week for long-term stays). This is mandatory because ants and other bugs can appear quickly and become quite bold if things aren’t kept nice and clean. While guests do have to pay for this service, it is very affordable and – in the opinion of someone who would happily never again use a mop or clean the crumbs out of a toaster – absolutely worth it.
An optional service we also take advantage of is laundry. For a small fee staff will wash and (air) dry anything you want cleaned.
Everyone in Guatemala speaks Spanish (except for maybe a few old timers in very rural locations). However, in the Highlands, Spanish tends to be the second language behind one of the indigenous Mayan dialects. There is a fair bit of overlap but, in general, the people around San Juan and San Pedro speak Tz’Utujil, those between San Marcos and Pana speak Kaqchikel and up the hill in Santa Clara and surrounds most people speak Quiche.
Typically, locals speak Spanish to tourists (for obvious reasons). However, the older generation usually speaks Mayan amongst themselves, while the younger generation often uses a confusing blend of the two. There are many excellent Spanish schools in both San Pedro and San Marcos, and it is also possible to learn one of the Mayan dialects if you’re really looking for a challenge.
Because Spanish is a second language for most people around the lake we find they speak it much slower and simpler than in, say, Mexico, where it can sometimes seem like each conversation is a race and a competition to use as much slang as possible. I would describe my Spanish as “conversationally adequate for a 10-year-old”, so I find it much easier to communicate on Lake Atitlan than in most of Latin America.
Quite a few of the younger people also speak some English and it is definitely common to find some English in the bigger restaurants (many of which are expat owned and run).
Despite Guatemala’s unsavory reputation, Lake Atitlan is actually quite safe. Violent crimes are very rare and we never feel unsafe during our stays. However, there are stilll enough incidents that you need to be smart and take reasonable precautions. Occasionally tourists are robbed at machete point while hiking, in particular on the popular trail between Santa Cruz and San Marcos.
It is recommended to always hike in a group or hire a guide, and not to carry valuables. Having said that, while we usually do that hike in a group at least once a week, Laynni and I have probably done it a hundred times or more just the two of us and never had an issue. But we never carry anything that even looks tempting (no backpack or fanny packs) and always do our best to look sweaty and impoverished (not a big stretch).
There have been some serious issues with groups being robbed while hiking to the top of Volcan San Pedro to the point the park has been closed occasionally. But if guides are taking people up when you’re there it is because the situation is safe and you shouldn’t need to worry. Other than that, use general common sense like watching for pickpockets in the crowded market and not wandering back to your hotel drunk at 2 am and you should be fine.
Money and ATMs
You should be able to use credit cards at most hotels and restaurants but will still need cash for the tiendas, street vendors, tuk tuks, lanchas and local markets. The maximum withdrawal is 2,000 quetzales ($US260) and all Guatemalan ATMs occasionally run out of money so don’t wait until you’re completely out of cash to try making a withdrawal.
There is just one ATM in San Marcos inside “Super Tienda San Jose 2” just left up the hill from the church. There is a good, reliable ATM at the Banrural in San Juan on the corner of the main road through town (SOL-4) and Calle 6.
In San Pedro, the best ATM is up at the top of the hill near the market and main church. If you are stuck there is another one just up from the Panajachel dock but it has a long, sordid history of scams (illegal card readers, debiting your account but not giving cash, etc.). If you have to use it be sure to keep a close eye on your account for a few days after.
You can sometimes change $US at the bank in either San Pedro or Panajachel but they don’t make it easy. You usually need to have your passport with you and your bills have to be immaculate or they won’t accept them. They don’t accept bills smaller than $20 and some banks require that you have an account with them. Even then they often set a monthly limit of around $500. Basically, you don’t want to count on it.
Keep in mind, change is like gold on Lake Atitlan, so try to break your 100Q bills every chance you get in restaurants and tiendas. Many small vendors won’t have any change and you need exact change to pay for the lanchas (or you will definitely end up paying more).
If you are coming down for a longer stay we would recommend ordering some Guatemalan quetzales through your home bank. The Royal Bank of Canada allows us to specify small bills so we usually bring a stockpile down with us.
Costs in Pasajcap
Pasajcap definitely falls in the mid to high price range for accommodation on Lake Atitlan. However, we think it is still a much better value than the cheaper options because of all the added benefits.
For example, you can usually rent a room or small house in San Marcos for $200-300 per month, roughly a third of what we pay at Pasajcap. But it won’t be lakefront, can often get pretty noisy and probably won’t have internet, views or a secure grounds where you can feel safe leaving your things. You usually have to pay for gas, water and electricity separately, plus arrange for your own cleaning service (or, ugh, do it yourself, I suppose).
Grocery Stores and Markets
There are several fruit and vegetable vendors set up around the tourist area where we top up on things from time to time. However, we buy the bulk of our produce at the weekend market in San Pedro as they have better selection and prices. Or for the greatest convenience just stock up at the weekly Pasajcap vegetable market, where the produce comes right to the property.
There are also lots of good little tiendas in San Marcos (the best are on the small plaza next to the basketball court) but for anything “western” like cheese, butter or Pace salsa (my guilty pleasure) we usually go to Johanna’s in San Pedro. The biggest and most western grocery stores are in Pana.
Also, all fruit and vegetables should be washed before eating. There are vegetable cleaning solutions available in the local grocery stores.
Internet & Mobile Data Plans
All units at Pasajcap have wifi, although it probably won’t match up to the speeds you are used to back home and it is definitely affected by what people are doing in the rooms around you. However, they have recently upgraded the internet and most of the long-term residents have no problem using it to work online. There is also talk that a Sterlink internet installation will soon be coming to Guatemala so it could be getting even better.
However, just to be more in control of our connection, and because power outages in Guatemala are relatively common, we also always buy a local SIM card with data to ensure we stay connected and can use it as a hotspot if necessary.
You need to have an “unlocked” phone (not tied to a specific carrier) to switch to a Guatemalan SIM card. Tigo and Claro have the best coverage on the lake and a typical SIM package costs 150Q ($20) for limited calling and texting and 2GB of data for a month, recharged at 100Q per month after that. There are often specials that bump the data to 4GB and at least twice a week both companies offer “triple saldo”, when you receive 3Q of calling credit for every 1Q you purchase.
I’m Convinced! Now How do I get to Pasajcap Rentals?
Private shuttles are the most common way for people to arrive at Pasajcap. Pierre can organize a private shuttle with the very reliable Chema (or one of the guys who drive for him).
We’ve been getting Chema to take us directly to Pasajacap for years and his price ($120 from Guatemala City / $90 from Antigua) includes a stop at one of the big grocery stores in Guatemala City where we stock up on things that aren’t as easy to find at the lake or are a hassle to haul from town (i.e. huge stacks of beer). His vehicles range from small SUVs to 9-passenger vans.
The next options are tourist shuttle to San Marcos or “chicken bus” to San Pablo, then tuk tuk from there (10-15Q). Shuttles from Guatemala City to San Marcos la Laguna usually take 4-5 hours and cost around 250-300 quetzales ($US30-40).
Shuttles from Antigua to San Marcos la Laguna will be a bit shorter (3-4 hours) and cost just 150-200Q ($20-25) because it is a much more common route. The closest major city is Xela (Quetzaltenango), just 2 hours away for roughly the same price as from Antigua.
Iconic chicken buses are extremely Guatemalan. You’ll see these highly customized former North American school buses and their garish paint jobs all over the country. They are everywhere, running all the time, and cost next to nothing. Of course, they are sometimes very crowded (standing room only), very bumpy and occasionally a bit reckless.
If you don’t mind the chance of a bit of discomfort (although at least half the time we end up on mostly empty buses) and are okay with the risk (Central America in a nutshell) they are often just as fast as the shuttles and much cheaper.
In general, we recommend trying to get on where the bus originates to ensure you get a seat by the window, which means that at worst you’ll be squished in but at least won’t have to worry about standing or being stuck half on a seat (and half hovering in the aisle). Buses don’t go as far as San Marcos but you can take a tuk tuk (10Q) to/from San Pablo where the San Pedro bus passes through.
We usually take the private shuttle when we first arrive in Guatemala (mainly for the grocery stop) but for all other trips (with just small backpacks) we usually use chicken buses. Also, whether you are arriving by bus or shuttle, you can choose to go to Panajachel first and take the boat across but it is usually faster (and cheaper) to go direct to San Marcos.
How do you get around Lake Atitlan?
Most of the time your best choice for getting around the lake is by “lancha”, the small boats that run every 20 minutes (approximately, very approximately) all around the lake. Pasajcap has its own dock where lanchas stop. It helps that it is a very noticeable one, since it can be hard to flag down a boat from some of the other private docks hidden back in little bays.
You pay when you get off and the price is based on how far you’ve gone. Be aware there is a multi-tiered pricing system – locals / expats / tourists – so don’t expect to pay exactly what everyone else is, especially if it is your first visit.
The trip from Panajachel to Pasajcap (and vice versa) usually takes about 30 minutes and should cost 20-30Q. If you have a choice, the lake is usually much calmer in the mornings, making boat trips both faster and more comfortable. Afternoon rides can occasionally turn a bit adventurous. From Pasajcap you normally pay about 5Q per village:
Tzununa / San Marcos 5Q
Jaibalito / San Pedro / San Juan 10Q
Santa Cruz 15Q
Prices did go up slightly during the pandemic, however, and we can’t be sure if they will eventually change back so just prepare to be flexible. No matter how you slice it, the prices are very cheap.
While some of the villages are pretty much only reached by boat (Santa Cruz, Jaibalito), most are also connected by tuk tuk, the small 3-wheeled taxis that are also known as rickshaws in other parts of the world.
These generally cost just 5Q to go anywhere within a village, then anywhere from 10-40Q between villages depending on distance. From San Marcos to Pasajcap it is usually 10Q per person during the day and 15Q at night, although with 2-3 people you can usually pay a little less per person.
Another possibility is pickup truck. Small trucks with railings in the back to hold on to transport surprisingly large groups of people in the box, usually for 5Q per person. Just flag them down and squeeze in, then pay when you get off.
Things to Know for Your Stay or Before You Book Pasajcap Rentals
- Have patience during the booking process – sometimes it will take a while to get a reply to your email.
- Pasajcap Rentals is not on AirBnB. Pasajcap is the name of the area so there is a place with Pasajcap in the name on AirBnb but it is not part of Pasajcap Rentals.
- The units do not have A/C, although we’ve never felt we needed it. There are also no TVs, which only becomes an issue if there is a big game on that I’m unable to stream, which usually serves as an excellent excuse to head over for an afternoon at Alegre Pub.
- It is important to have at least basic fitness to stay at Pasajcap because getting anywhere requires at least some physical effort. It is the equivalent of about 10 flights of stairs to get down to the water and around half that to get up to the road (depending on which unit you are staying in). Getting in and out of the lanchas can be tricky in big waves and it is good to be able to walk to and from town occasionally if tuk tuks aren’t readily available.
- Scorpions are a common sight in Guatemala and they will occasionally find their way into your apartment. It is a good idea to shake out clothes and shoes before putting them on and just remember that they aren’t actually dangerous. We’ve both been stung a couple of times and it is similar to a bee sting, it just hurts a bit for a day or two.
- Having to send your deposit by international money transfer can seem daunting but is usually fairly straightforward. Pierre gives you all information you need to send it through your online banking. Of course, we use a Canadian bank and the process may be different depending on your location but most banks are set up for this sort of transfer.
- We always pay our entire rent ahead of time online so we don’t have to bring down a lot of cash or try to take large amounts of money out of ATMs.
- We recommend opting for the private transport from Guatemala City or airport to stop at the grocery store to stock up on heavier items. Everything you buy at the lake will have to be hauled to Pasajcap and carried up or down to your accommodation.
- The local Mayans are relatively modest and it is respectful to their culture to cover up more than you might at home and never swim or suntan topless or nude.
- Bring re-useable shopping bags as some of the villages have gone plastic free.
Obviously, we have grown pretty attached to Pasajcap, which is why we keep returning year after year. The people, the views, the lake, the hiking – it is all very addictive. So, whether you are looking for a short, unique adventure or someplace to settle in for a long, affordable stay, Pasajcap should definitely be on your list.
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