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San Marcos la Laguna: Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Most Spiritual Village

Lake Atitlan is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. A collapsed volcano surrounded by more volcanoes, steep hills and terrific villages, it has become our favourite place to settle down for a few months each winter. There are many different villages on the lake, each with their own character and culture, but each year we return to Pasaj-Cap, which is just a short walk outside San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala.

The views across the lake from San Marcos to the trio of looming volcanoes – San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman – are simply unbeatable. We also like being away from the most hectic tourist areas on the lake (although “hectic” may be a strong word to describe anything in this wonderfully relaxed place).

Village of San Marcos la Laguna from the mirador

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San Marcos la Laguna attracts a very unique crowd of tourists and backpackers, drawn by its reputation as an “energy vortex”. It is filled with yoga retreats, holistic healing centres and new age workshops. A hippie village, if you will. But it also boasts a lot of fantastic restaurants, good value hotels and beautiful lakefront areas.

Most of the tourist action takes place close to the lake. Following the narrow little path leading up from the dock you will pass most of the hotels, restaurants, shops and tour agencies. There are several even smaller paths leading off from there that are well worth exploring but if you continue uphill you eventually reach the main road of San Marcos la Laguna.

San Marcos La Laguna shoreline

There is a basketball court, church, tuk-tuks and several handy little tiendas here, and if you head up on the side streets you’ll reach the main “barrios”, which is where the vast majority of locals live, work and go to school.

For more info to help plan your visit, check out:

Is San Marcos la Laguna Safe?

Yes, violent crimes are very rare and we never feel unsafe during our stays on Lake Atitlan. However, there are enough incidents that you need to be smart and take reasonable precautions. It is important to take precautions on the hike between San Marcos and Santa Cruz and there have also 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.

21 Things to Do in San Marcos – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

There is no shortage of things to do in San Marcos La Laguna, with plenty more options available around the lake (just a short boat ride away). However much time you have to spend in San Marcos, this list should make it easy to fill your time.

1. Take a Yoga Class or Attend a Yoga Retreat

San Marcos la Laguna is definitely the place for yoga on Lake Atitlan. There are plenty of places where you can join a single class, sign up for a package or settle in for a full yoga retreat. Most drop-in yoga classes cost around 40Q and they usually provide mats if you don’t have your own.

Yoga shala
One of the yoga shalas at Yoga Forest

One of the most popular centres for San Marcos la Laguna yoga is the Yoga Forest, with its spectacular location way up the hill (a 25-minute walk or 10Q tuk-tuk). You can choose any level from drop-in classes to immersive yoga teacher training.

Check out our full guide to the Best Yoga Retreats on Lake Atitlan

Meanwhile, Eagle’s Nest* somehow boasts even more impressive views with their amazing yoga platform overlooking the lake in all its glory. They have daily drop-in classes, plus some unique options like Acro yoga and handstand workshops.

*included on our list of 16 Best Lake Atitlan Photo Spots

San Marcos La Laguna Eagles Nest
View from the Eagles Nest yoga shala

The most popular drop-in option among our friends at Pasaj-Cap are the classes at Hotel La Paz, featuring a nice yoga palapa in a lush garden.

Finally, Hostal Del Lago also offers daily hatha and vinyasa classes on a scenic platform right on the lake. There is a schedule near the entrance that gives details on the classes and teachers available each week.

2. Learn Spanish

Lake Atitlan is one of cheapest and most popular places in Central America to take Spanish classes. San Pedro has the most schools and homestays but San Marcos also has some excellent options. San Marcos Spanish School is very good (they were my first Guatemalan teachers) and is affiliated with San Pedro Spanish School. Some people combine their classes between the two locations.

San Marcos La Laguna Spanish school
Outdoor classes at San Marcos Spanish School

We would also highly recommend Spanish Classes with Rebeca, an excellent teacher who has provided private lessons to us and several others at Pasaj-Cap over the last few years. She offers online classes, or will meet at Blind Lemon or you can arrange for her to come to you instead.

Hostel Del Lago also offers private and group Spanish classes with local teachers at very reasonable rates. You can pay per class or get a reduced rate for a package of lessons.

3. Sunrise Hike to Rostro Maya / Indian Nose

Known as Rostro Maya (Mayan Face) in the local Mayan dialect, but commonly called Indian Nose (less politically correct), this is one of the best viewpoints on the entire lake. Located on a tall point in the northwest corner of the lake, it provides a stunning look out over the lake, with incredible views over all three nearby volcanoes (San Pedro, Atitlan, Toliman) and, on a clear day, 5 more toward Antigua. If you’re lucky you may even see Volcan Fuego puffing smoke near Antigua.

Sunrise view over Lake Atitlan and volcanoes from Indian Nose - San Marcos La Laguna

While Rostro Maya is a worthwhile viewpoint at any time, it is truly special at sunrise when you can watch the sun slowly and colourfully make its way up over the impressive line of volcanoes. There are two ways to reach it:

1) Via a steep, 1.5-hour climb from San Juan.

2) By hiring a guide and tuk tuk to drive you around past Santa Clara to a different trailhead, from where it is a shorter 30-45 minute walk to the viewpoint. For more details, check out:

The Nariz del Rostro Maya Sunrise Tour

4. Get Out on the Lake on a Paddleboard or Kayak

The lake is the big star of the show so you should definitely take the chance to get out on the water. Cruising across the calm, morning waters in a kayak or on a paddleboard offers a completely different perspective. The waves tend to pick up in the afternoon so the earlier the better, and always keep a close watch for boats.

Paddleboarding on Lake Atitlan in front of volcanoes near San Marcos La Laguna Guatemala

If you don’t mind getting up early you should definitely join one of the local paddeboarding tours in San Marcos (check the bulletin board across from Circles cafe for the latest info). Being out on the glassy, serene water as the sun slowly comes up over the volcanoes is something you won’t soon forget. There is also a very good chance you’ll see restless Volcan Fuego puffing in the distance.

Sunrise paddleboarders
Sunrise paddleboarders with Venga

Los Elementos in Santa Cruz also runs one of the best all-day adventure tours that includes kayaking, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, cliff jumping (optional, obviously), archery, trampolines and, if you behave, even some time to relax with a view. This trip is very popular with families.

5. Conquer Volcan San Pedro

Hiking to the summit of magnificent San Pedro volcano is a rite of passage for energetic visitors to Lake Atitlan, and one of the best hikes on Lake Atitlan. It is a fair bit of work but the payoff is more than worth it (on a clear day, anyway). The San Pedro climb is around 10 kilometres (return) with 1,200 metres of elevation gain (which is a lot). Hiking times will vary considerably based on your fitness and determination but a rough average would be 3 hours to reach the top and about 1.5 hours to get back down.

The volcano is part of a protected park above San Pedro la Laguna and all visitors must pay a 100Q entrance fee ($13), but that amount includes a guide. You don’t have to go with a guide (we usually don’t now that we’ve done it a few times) but if it is your first time we would recommend it. It is also important to check the latest situation as there have been reports of robberies on the trail, a problem that seems to come and go throughout the year.

6. Relax and Slow Down

There is so much to do around Lake Atitlan that it can be tempting to fill your days without leaving any time for the ultimate lake experience – slowing down and taking some time to do, well, very little. And whether that constitutes reading in hammock, having a 2-hour coffee or settling in on the point to watch the sunset, be sure to set aside some time relax during your visit to San Marcos la Laguna.

7. Try a Cacao Ceremony

If you want to try your hand at a very unique energy transfer and healing exercise look into joining one of the immersive, 5-hour cacao ceremonies provided by Keith the Cacao Shaman. He charges 200Q for your first visit and 100Q each time after that, and they take place Wednesdays and Sundays starting at 12:30 pm. The ceremony starts with some standard meditation and gradually increases in intensity.

You could also try the one held by Lava Love Cacao shop.

San Marcos La Laguna Lava Love cacao shop

8. Hike from Santa Cruz to San Marcos

Included in our Best Hikes on Lake Atitlan, the “Mayan Trail” is our favourite hike on Lake Atitlan because of its perfect combination of effort, time and views. The entire hike usually takes around 2-3 hours, features plenty of small ups and downs (and just one long climb) and passes through many small farms and through the villages of Tzununa and Jaibalito. The lake and volcano views are sublime.

Hikers on trail from Santa Cruz to San Marcos La Laguna Guatemala with Lake Atitlan and volcan San Pedro behind
Volcano views along the Santa Cruz to San Marcos hike

Tourists have occasionally been robbed on this hike so it is recommended to always hike in a group or hire a guide, and don’t 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 by ourselves and never had an issue. But we never carry anything that looks tempting (no backpack or belt bags) and always do our best to look sweaty and impoverished (not a big stretch).

9. Shop for Local Handicrafts

There are loads of little shops in San Marcos la Laguna selling both local and tourist made crafts, jewelry and art.

Local handicrafts for sale in San Marcos La Laguna

Plus, the main path up from the dock is lined with people set up on the ground and along practically every alley you’ll find even more choices. Wander and shop to your heart’s content.

10. Get a Massage

After a big day of climbing volcanoes or paddleboarding you can treat yourself to any of a wide selection of different types of massage in San Marcos. There are plenty of private massage therapists with ads posted on boards around town or you can check out the many choices at San Marcos Holistic Cottage, including foot reflexology, Indian head massage and full body Swedish massage.

Sign for holistic cottage

The diverse group of therapists at the East West Center can do therapeutic, deep tissue, Swedish, Chi Nei Tsan, couples and facial massage along with reflexology and Chinese cupping, as well as many other variations.

11. Take a Class or Workshop or Indulge in a Full Retreat

The boards lining the alleys in San Marcos offer a vast array of different services, classes, workshops and retreats. Two of the best places to find the latest info are on the boards across from Circles bakery or on the fence at Hostal Del Lago.

Flyers

Along with the activities we’ve already talked about you are likely to see info on any and all of the following:

  • Crystal healing
  • Meditation
  • Past life readings
  • Shamanic readings
  • Ecstatic dance
  • Lucid dreaming

To find out about some of the latest offerings before arriving and/or get advice from locals on where to find your perfect fit, consider joining the San Marcos Community group on Facebook.

While many other places have come and gone, Los Piramides has been in San Marcos since before we first started visiting Guatemala. They offer Sun and Moon courses that include yoga, meditation, and metaphysics (i.e. lucid dreaming and astral traveling, astrology, tarot, and numerology) trainings that can be anywhere from a single day to a whole month long.

In addition to yoga, Eagle’s Nest has a variety of workshops and events including Mayan Fire Ceremonies, hula hoop workshops, alchemy breathwork and sound healing and Kriya art and meditation.

San Marcos La Laguna Eagles Nest
You can stay at Eagles Nest while you learn and have a room with a view.

San Marcos Holistic Cottage offers courses in massage, reiki, energy harmonics, foot reflexology, connectivity masterminds and kinesiology.

In nearby Tzununa you can learn about permaculture and natural building at Atitlan Organics. Take a tour of the fully-functional, profitable, organic permaculture farm or settle in to take the Permaculture Design Certification and/or Natural Building courses. We know a couple who took the permaculture course and now have their own farm in southern France based on the concepts they learned in Tzununa.

The East West Center Atitlan not only administers massages, but also offer classes teaching you how to do it yourself.

Love Probiotics is a small business based in San Marcos that produces kombucha, apple cider vinegar, organic kefir yogurt and more (including Laynni’s favourites – ginger beer and super food bliss balls). They offer regular group fermentation and food production workshops or you can organize a private workshop if you have at least 5 people.

Love Probiotics products

The Yoga Forest holds various retreats including meditation, yoga, reiki, healing arts, Thai Massage, creative writing, Song and Sound Ceremony and Sacred Plant medicine.

Meanwhile, Hostal Del Lago hosts a weekly fire and drum circle (with drums provided if, for some reason, you don’t have your own).

12. Volunteer with Konojel

This terrific non-profit organization has been working to reduce chronic malnutrition and poverty in San Marcos since 2011. Their programs are all run by indigenous managers and cover a wide range of topics including nutrition, clean water, education, female entrepreneurship and computer development. They have a nutrition centre to feed malnourished residents, a free computer centre available to all and a women’s cooperative that produces food products and uses recycled materials to make handicrafts.

Konojel store front in San Marcos La Laguna

Even if you don’t have time to volunteer on one of their projects you can support this great organization by eating at their delicious vegetarian restaurant, Comedor Konojel, located across from Circles café and staffed by women who have completed the Konojel job training program. It is very affordable and they have everything from pupusas to pizza (not to mention good wifi).

13. Wander the “Streets”

Mazey and confusing, San Marcos is a fun place to simply wander. Whether you find yourself along the “hippie highway” among the narrow alleys near the lake with people selling fruits and necklaces or in the high barrios up the hill among the local tiendas and homes, it is a fascinating place to explore.

Local man walking down San Marcos Lake Atitlan 'street'

14. Go Swimming, hiking or “Cliff” Jumping in Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil

San Marcos la Laguna has the best swimming area of all the Lake Atitlan villages (which is why it also is on our list of the Best Places to Swim in Lake Atitlan). About 200m west of the main dock you’ll find the great the Cerro Tzankujil Protected Area featuring a small maze of hiking trails. The park is open from 8 am – 4 pm and there is a 20Q entrance fee (15Q for Guatemalans) that gets you multiple entries in the same day.

Sign for a hike in San Marcos la Laguna

It also has nice swimming areas and several platforms to jump into the lake that are referred to as las trampolinas (the highest is a whopping 12 metres above the water – not for the faint of heart). The water levels change regularly so make sure to take a close look at your landing area before making the leap.

deck in front of volcano

They also rent out kayaks and if you are in the mood for a hike, there are several different trails, one of which leads right to the top (Cumbre de Mirador).

There is a nice, rocky trail all the way around along the water where you’ll find several viewpoints, rest areas and the jumping/sunbathing terraces. Then, on either side, you can follow the trail up the hill to a set of ancient Mayan altars and, eventually, the summit, with impressive views of the town and western bay.

Unfortunately, views across the lake to the volcanoes are mostly impeded by trees so you can actually get better shots of these from the bottom.

Viewpoint in San Marcos La Laguna
View from the top
Village of San Marcos la Laguna from the mirador
The San Marcos views are actually better than the volcano views from Cumbre de Mirador

15. Try a Coffee or Peruse the Bakery at Circles

Circles Café and Bakery is the centre of activity in San Marcos and the best place to get all the latest info. However, don’t get sidetracked and forget to enjoy their great coffee and terrific baked goods. In our opinion, they have the best bread anywhere on the lake (we go through 2 heavy loaves of “pan integral” every week and also swear by the baguettes).

San Marcos La Laguna bakery

The coffee shop enjoys a beautiful and comfortable garden location along with good wifi.

Another decent spot for coffee is Arati Cafe.

Coffee shop

16. Take a Coffee Tour With Shangri-La Atitlan

Speaking of coffee, if you want to see what is involved in getting that coffee into your cup, head up into the village and sign up for a tour with Shangri-La Atitlan. Contact them the day before to set up a time. The tours last between 1-1.5 hrs.

San Marcos La Laguna coffee tour

You can also buy coffee and other local products in their small shop.

They get their coffee beans from different micro lots (small farmers) in the hills above San Marcos and pay over market price to help support the locals. They also try to keep the best coffee in the village and export the rest.

17. Watch the Sunrise or Sunset

Lake Atitlán is famous for its unbelievable sunrises and sunsets. There are many great vantage points but a few of our favourites are Punta Tzuncuil (near Pasaj-Cap on the road to Tzununa), from the nice deck at Restaurante Tul y Sol or from basically any dock along the lake.

Enjoying the view from Punta Tzuncuil
Sunset over Lake Atitlan
A rainy season sunset

There are the public boat docks and many hotels have a private dock to enjoy the views from. Or, as we mentioned earlier, sunrise from a paddleboard in the middle of the lake can be a pretty special experience as well.

Sunrise paddleboarders

The best sunsets take place during the rainy season but at any time of year you can suddenly be surprised by a spectacular light and colour show.

18. Try Out a Freshly Squeezed Juice

This juice is squeezed while you wait. It does not get any fresher than that.

Fresh juice stand

19. Have a Drink With a View

Hostel del Lago Cafe (formerly La Sala) is the only place we know of in San Marcos la Laguna that has draft beer. It also has a variety of fresh juices, smoothies, specialty cocktails and ginger beer. Head up to the second floor for the best view.

Along with the drinks, they partner with a cooperative of four local women to serve food. Hostel del Lago does the serving and the local women keep 100% of the food profits.

Person drinking beer on deck

20. Watch a Local Football Game

Matches take place all day Saturday and Sunday and occasionally during the week. This beautiful new stadium was only recently completed and makes for a much more comfortable viewing experience (not to mention how much nicer it is to play on than the old dirt pitch).

Football stadium

21. Explore Lake Atitlan’s Villages

Every village on Lake Atitlan has its own character and at least one or two good reasons for a visit. If you are staying on the lake for a few weeks or more you should be able to explore them all one at a time. San Juan is known for its art and traditional clothing shops, while San Pedro is the busy backpacker hangout with the best nightlife and both are very close to San Marcos la Laguna.

Umbrella street In San Juan La Laguna
San Juan

However, there are also Tzununá, Jaibalito, Santa Cruz, Panajachel (Pana), plus several others over on the far side of the lake, Santa Catarina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo, San Lucas Toliman and Santiago Atitlan.

Woman walking in front of painted building in Santa Catarina Polopo
Patterned buildings in Santa Catarina Palopo

If you don’t have a lot of time to spend at Lake Atitlán but still want to enjoy the best bits, the most efficient way is to sign up for a full-day Lake Atitlan boat tour out of Panajachel, although they will pick you up in San Marcos if you want. Along with enjoying the fabulous scenery all the way around the lake, this 6-hour tour includes stops in traditional Santiago Atitlán, gorgeous San Juan la Laguna and local coffee plantations and textile shops.

Where to Stay: Marcos La Laguna Hotels

For our full list of ideas on where to stay around the lake, check out the Best Lake Atitlan Hotels – Where to Stay in Each Village. Meanwhile, here are some of the best hotels in San Marcos:

Lush Atitlan probably has the most comfortable suites in town, very close to the lake. With a luxurious feel, amazing views and a top-notch restaurant, it is a popular choice.

View of flower and volcanoes at San Marcos La Laguna hotel Lush
Lush views

La Paz Eco-Hotel is an excellent budget option. Simple but right in the middle of the action with a good, cheap restaurant and a fun vibe.

One of the newest and nicest places in San Marcos is Kula Maya Boutique Hotel & Spa, a beautiful, high-end hotel with a perfect location just west of the main dock. It is the only place in San Marcos with a pool, the grounds are lush and the rooms are modern and comfortable, all with impressive lake views.

Kula Maya hotel gardens and trees

El Dragon has a terrific spot right on the waterfront with good swimming. With a multi-tiered deck and plenty of relatively private lounging areas/chairs, El Dragon is one of the best places in San Marcos to sunbathe, swim and enjoy the volcano views.

San Marcos La Laguna hotels El Dragon
El Dragon

Jinava Bay is just outside of town on the way to San Pablo and has comfortable, quiet rooms and excellent views of the lake.

Yoga Forest is one of the top yoga retreats on Lake Atitlan and boasts a spectacular location high above the village. They have a mix of rooms and a wide range of classes and courses.

Hang out area at yoga forest - a Lake Atitlan yoga retreat
Yoga Forest

Where to Eat: San Marcos La Laguna Restaurants

There are plenty of good restaurants in San Marcos. These are our favourites:

Tercer Ojo is part of the Fata Morgana Group, and is excellent Italian restaurant that is connected to our favourite San Pedro restaurant (Idea Connection) and another coffee shop there as well (Fata Morgana Cafe).

Hostel del Lago Cafe offers big portions of standard bar favourites, plus the profits go to a local women’s collective.

Restaurant Fe for a wide variety of options including curries, sandwiches, and pasta.

El Tul y Sol has been an expat favourite for a long time and its location right on the lake means their deck has amazing views. The surprisingly impressive ham and cheese sandwich is always a crowd pleaser.

View of volcanoes from San Marcos La Laguna restaurant
View from Tul y Sol

Il Giardino has good vegetarian options as well as pizza and pastas and is located in a picturesque garden.

Garden restaurant

Another vegetarian option is La Paz, and we have friends who go every week for the vegetarian burrito. Most of the menu can also be made vegan on request.

Eating at Comedor Konojel supports a great local cause, with consistently good food and friendly workers.

Blind Lemon is a short walk outside the main area, has terrific food and owner Carlos puts on jazz nights. It is also the go-to spot in San Marcos to watch the Superbowl. The food can sometimes be a bit slow but, hey, what’s the rush?

Samsaras Garden has good choices for vegan food.

Vegan restaurant

One of our favourite takeaway spots is the fried chicken and fries stall that sets up in front of the basketball court around 5 pm every day.

Local woman selling fried chicken and fries at a stall in San Marcos La Laguna Lake Atitlan

Finally, Maya Moon Lodge isn’t technically in San Marcos as it is about 2/3 of the way down the road to Tzununa. But it has a fantastic waterfront location and a good selection of meals (I am particularly enamoured with their French toast).

Where is San Marcos La Laguna?

San Marcos la Laguna is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands. It is one of the most popular villages on the lake and is easily reached by public lancha (boat). It is also accessible by a rather rough road down from Santa Clara.

For all the details, check out:

Lake Atitlan Transportation: Getting There and Away

Lake Atitlan Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

Summary

San Marcos la Laguna is probably the most unique village on Lake Atitlan. Yoga, massage and meditation are standard everywhere in town, plus there are endless options for holistic learning, spiritual introspection and personal growth. Or maybe you just want to get high and bang on a drum.

Either way, San Marcos is the ultimate destination for those looking for a hippie vibe in Guatemala. And even if none of that strikes your fancy, it is a pleasant little village with amazing views of the volcanoes, a convenient location and friendly locals.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

Tzununa: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Holistic Village

Pasajcap Rentals: Our Favourite Place to Stay on the Lake

Jaibalito: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Quietest Village

Santa Cruz la Laguna: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Village With the Best Views

Panajachel: Gateway to Stunning Lake Atitlan

Santa Catarina Palopo: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Most Colourful Village

San Antonio Palopo: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Pottery Village

San Lucas Toliman: Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Secret Village

Santiago Atitlan: Guide to an Authentic Mayan Town

Climbing Volcan Atitlan Guatemala

Semana Santa on Lake Atitlan

A Volcan Acatanengo Hike Guide

Volcan Santiaguito

Xela to Lake Atitlan Hike and Volcan Zunil Summit