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San Pedro la Laguna: Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Best Backpacker Village

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Vibrant San Pedro la Laguna is the main backpacker destination on gorgeous Lake Atitlan. The lake is surrounded by volcanoes, including Volcan San Pedro itself which looms over the town like a steadfast guardian.

One of the best destinations in Central America, Lake Atitlan welcomes a steady stream of travellers looking to check out many of the 13 different villages on the lake. However, the vast majority of budget travellers end up basing themselves in lively San Pedro La Laguna because of the great value hotels, restaurants and Spanish schools. Of course, there are a few more luxurious options, too, in case your shoestring days are behind you.

Three volcanoes on Lake Atitlan
San Pedro volcano looming over the town

We’ve been spending a few months on Lake Atitlan every year since 2010 and even though we stay in an apartment over by San Marcos, we inevitably end up in San Pedro a few times every week to eat, drink and generally be merry.

The 23 Best Things to Do in San Pedro la Laguna

One of the reasons San Pedro is so popular with backpackers is because there is so much to do. It is the village on Lake Atitlan where you will have the most options to keep you busy, regardless of whether you are interested in local culture or just looking for a friendly bar to unwind in.

1. Learn Spanish

San Pedro la Laguna is one of the best places in Central America to take Spanish classes. There are dozens of choices, from organized, highly recommended schools like Lake Atitlan Spanish School to private homestays where you take classes but also immerse yourself speaking Spanish with a local family.

Spanish class huts in San Pedro La Laguna
The teaching palapas with a view of the lake at Lake Atitlan Spanish School

The homestays are excellent value and can be a great and memorable cultural experience on their own. You get to experience local life and customs firsthand and usually get included in their day-to-day activities (such as cooking or shopping) to whatever extent you wish.

Of course, you also have the option of staying at a hotel on your own and simply taking as many (or few) classes as you want. Prices vary but many are as low $5/hr for private lessons.

2. Tour a Coffee Plantation

Guatemala is famous for its outstanding coffee, which is grown all over the Highlands. There are several different harvests per year, often staggered even within adjacent fields, so it should always be possible to see some of the coffee plantations at its best. Coffee plantation tours are a popular outing, most of them taking place on the plateaus up behind San Pedro and San Juan.

Flowering coffee plants
Flowering coffee plants

These tours will walk you through the production process, including planting, growing, harvesting, cleaning and drying, right on down to roasting the beans. And, of course, they almost always end with you enjoying a fabulous cup of local coffee on a terrace while enjoying spectacular views out over the lake. Café Las Cristalinas does tours and is also a popular digital nomad hangout.

3. Sunrise Hike to Rostro Maya

Most appropriately called Rostro Maya (Mayan Face) in the local Mayan dialect, but more commonly known as Indian Nose, 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, 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 Indian Nose 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-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 short 30-45 minute walk to the viewpoint.

For a detailed description, check out:

The Nariz del Rostro Maya Sunrise Tour

4. Shop at the Local Market

San Pedro has one of the best, most vibrant local markets on Lake Atitlan. It is an entirely local market, where the Pedranos do their weekly grocery and supply shopping. So don’t expect a lot of souvenirs or Gallo beer t-shirts, but if you find narrow streets crowded with stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to fish to woven baskets to drinkable coconuts, well, this is your kind of market.

Local women selling fruit and veggies at the local market in San Pedro La Laguna Atitlan

Even though we usually stay near San Marcos we do all our weekly fruit and vegetable shopping in San Pedro. The market exists every day to some extent but is at its busiest and best on the weekend. Try to get there in the morning as many of the stalls start packing up around 1 pm. Also, keep in mind that San Pedro la Laguna is now plastic-free so you will need to bring your own reusable bags.

Woman cutting up mango
Our favourite place to buy mangos in San Pedro, Atitlan

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 typical average time would be 3 hours to reach the top and about 1.5 hours to get back down.

You may also want to check out our list of the 16 Best Lake Atitlan Photo Spots

View from Volcan San Pedro
View from the top of Volcan San Pedro

The volcano is part of a protected park 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 which seems to come and go throughout the year.

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

The lake is the big highlight of all Lake Atitlan villages 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.

Two people paddleboarding on a lake
Taking a break while paddleboarding from Pasajcap to San Pedro La Laguna

As we mentioned earlier, the waves tend to pick up in the afternoon so the earlier the better, and always keep a close watch for boats. San Pedro Paddle is a good place to rent paddleboards and several lakefront hotels and restaurants have kayaks.

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.

7. Shop for Local Handicrafts

While most people head to nearby San Juan for their handicraft shopping needs, San Pedro has a lot of choice available as well.

Handicrafts

Head either way on the main street just up from the public dock and start browsing.

Handicrafts for sale in San Pedro La Laguna

8. Find the Street Art

Many of the buildings in San Pedro (and the other villages) sport some fascinating murals and art.

Street art in San Pedro La Laguna

The murals are spread out around the town, so just set aside some time to wander and keep your eyes peeled for the next great image.

Street art in San Pedro La Laguna
Street art in San Pedro La Laguna Lake Atitlan

9. Experience Semana Santa (Holy Week)

Semana Santa is a major celebration all over Latin America and Guatemala is no exception. San Pedro, in particular, is known for its massive Good Friday procession. One of the most unique features of Semana Santa on Lake Atitlan is the intricate creation of “alfombras” – colourful carpets made of dyed sawdust, sand and/or flowers – that decorate the street all the way along the processional route.

Local women carrying a cross during Semana Santa at San Pedro La Laguna Atitan

While each village has its own procession, the one in San Pedro on Good Friday is the largest and perhaps the loudest. Starting around 9 am it goes for a full 3 hours before making its way into the Church of St. Peter (San Pedro in Spanish, of course), the main church in town. It is loud, colourful, crowded and absolutely worth seeing.

Crowd in San Pedro Guatemala

10. 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.

Street with umbrellas
San Juan’s umbrella street

While San Marcos is a new age, hippie enclave, and both are very close to San Pedro. Santiago Atitlán is a bit further away and boats to it leave from its own dock but its an intriguing village.

There are also Tzununá, Jaibalito, Santa Cruz and Panajachel (Pana) further along on the other side of the lake.

View over Santa Cruz la Laguna
View of Santa Cruz from the trail from San Marcos

In the southeast corner you’ll find the lesser known villages of Santa Catarina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo and San Lucas Toliman. If you are on a tighter timeline, or just want to check off a bunch in one fell swoop, you can book a private boat tour through one of the hotels or restaurants.

Painted buildings in Santa Catarina Palopo

11. Take a Cooking Class

Located right in the main tourist area near the Panajachel dock, Mayan Kitchen offers cooking classes Monday to Saturday where you can choose which recipes you want to learn. Most classes run from 9 am to 12 or 1 pm, can be in Spanish or English and include a trip to the local market to shop for ingredients. There are authentic Guatemalan dishes, plus dessert and vegetarian choices, all of which go home with you at the end of the day.

12. Venture Out on a Pub Crawl

Probably the most fun of our many annual Atitlan traditions, spending an afternoon (and occasionally longer) bar hopping from village to village is a less wholesome but still authentically Guatemalan undertaking. We usually start at Sublime because of its good lake views and excellent food, then make our way to Alegre Pub, my personal favourite sports pub on the lake.

The start of a pub crawl at Sublime Restaurant

I’ve spent many an ill-advised morning watching Arsenal lose while putting back a litro or two of Gallo. From there we usually mix it up, and there are far too many options to list them all, but El Barrio, Chile’s and Jakuu are good starting points.

13. Try a Freshly Squeezed Juice

D’Juice is run by a group of Tz’utujil women who make fresh-squeezed fruit smoothies just down the street to the east from the Panajachel dock. They also sell the best bananas in town (every week I pay the extra few Q for the good stuff).

An even cheaper, often more convenient option, is to get a freshly-squeezed orange juice from one of the young women selling from carts lining the main street up the hill from the dock.

14. Go for a Soak in Los Thermales

Los Thermales is a set of 5 small hot tubs/pools located in a small clearing behind Buddha bar. 50Q gets you access to the pools for a relaxing soak with a good view of the lake. You can even bring your own drinks. There is a basic outdoor shower and very basic toilet.

Empty pools

The small pools are filled up each time with new water. You need to book ahead or pop by to give them at least a half hours notice.

15. Have a Coffee and Watch the Action

Café Tz’utujil is located right on the main, bustling intersection coming up from the Panajachel dock.

People watching at coffee shop
The perfect place to have a coffee and take it all in

People who know about such things say their coffee is the best and it also happens to be a great place to while away an hour or two sipping your cup of joe and watching the chaos of the busiest street corner in town.

Crowds of tuk tuks and people at main junction up from the dock at San Pedro Lake Atitlan
The chaos of the corner just up from the Pana dock in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

If you want a view of the lake and a bit more quiet then head to one of the many cafes along the shore. Sababa is always a good choice.

Coffee place in San Pedro La Laguna

16. Visit the Main Square and the Church of St Peter

This large church is impressive on its own but it also happens to have the very pleasant, peaceful Parque Puerta Hermosa welcoming visitors just out front. There are some nice statues and a bit of green space to enjoy.

Main square

Tourists are welcome at the Spanish church services if you feel like further immersing yourself in the local culture.

Semana Santa carpet leading to church at San Pedro La Laguna Guatemala
Alfombra leading up to the church during Semana Santa
White church

17. Learn Weaving with a Women’s Cooperative

At the Atitlan Women Weavers Cooperative you can spend the day learning about traditional Guatemalan techniques for spinning cotton, dyeing string and weaving beautiful textiles. They provide all the materials and show you every step of the process from harvesting the cotton to the finished traje tipico (traditional dress) and traditional scarf.

Person being taught to weave in San Pedro La Laguna
Learning to weave a place mat

You can even learn to weave your own place mat (about 4 hours) or scarf (about 8 hours). You can also buy a variety of traditional handicrafts made by local women.

Traditional handicrafts

18. Compete in the Pub Quiz at Alegre Sports Bar

Test your trivia knowledge of history, sports and pop culture at Alegre’s wildly popular Sunday night Pub Quiz. Most are in it for the bragging rights but there are also some good prizes to go with food and drink specials.

19. Hit the Beach

Brown sand beach with volcanoes in background

One of the few actual sand beaches on Lake Atitlan can be found an easy, pleasant walk out of San Pedro toward Santiago Atitlan. Simply known as La Playa (The Beach), it won’t win any soft, white sand awards but it is longer than you’d expect, has great views of Volcanes Atitlan and Toliman and is almost never busy.

You can walk there from central San Pedro in less than an hour or take a tuk-tuk to the end of the road and walk about 20 minutes from there.

20. Visit the Museo Tzunun’ Ya’

At this small museum you will see a short video then a tour of the four rooms. The english speaking tour guide provides information all about the geology and volcanology that shaped Lake Atitlan as well as a history of the area and traditional information such as the Mayan calendar. Well worth a look.

Museum building

21. Take a Painting Class

You can take a painting class at one of the art galleries. Take the first right coming up from the dock. You’ll find it on the right in about 100 meters.

Painting class in San Pedro La Laguna

22. See the View over San Pedro

At the top of the S-curve on the way to the football stadium from the local market you will find a great view over San Pedro. Right next to Casa Cubano.

Viewpoint over San Pedro La Laguna

You’ll get your heart rate up on the way but also get to see a part of San Pedro that few tourists do.

23. Watch a Game at Bellavista Football Stadium

A few years back they upgraded to this magnificent stadium located at the highest point of San Pedro. With nice bleachers, top quality turf and absurd views over the lake, it is worth stopping in to watch a local match for the experience alone.

Also, to keep the games going at night they have an impressive bank of lights visible from everywhere on the lake.

Crowd watching a futbol game in San Pedro la Laguna

Where to Stay: San Pedro La Laguna Hotels

San Pedro is the top choice for most backpackers and it has the largest selection of cheap accommodation on Lake Atitlan.

Sababa Resort Atitlan

Sababa Resort Atitlan is an excellent high-end option with a bar, pool and palapas with amazing views over the water.

Swimming pool at a Lake Atitlan Hotels

It is just far enough on the edge of town to be quiet but still be close to everything. You can enjoy your excellent included breakfast at a table by the pool with views of the lake.

Restaurant table at a lake atitlan hotel

But be aware that you have to pay in cash so plan ahead.

Sababa Resort in San Pedro

Check here for Sababa Resort Atitlan prices

Mikaso Hotel

Mikaso Hotel has a mix of private rooms and dorms with views over Lake Atitlan.

Chair at San Pedro La Laguna hotels

It has its own restaurant on the top floor and is very close to a wide choice of other restaurants as well.

Sign for San Pedro La Laguna hotel

It is on a quieter part of the lake so will be quieter than many other San Pedro hotels.

Check here for Mikaso Hotel prices

Hospedaje Lolita

Hospedaje Lolita is an economical option with private bathrooms, a view from the roof and a shared kitchen and lounge.

Green hotel

Relax in one of the hammocks when taking a break from seeing the town.

Check here for Hospedaje Lolita prices

For more ideas on where to stay around the lake, check out the Best Lake Atitlan Hotels: Where to Stay in Each Village

Where to Eat: San Pedro La Laguna Restaurants

San Pedro is full of great restaurants catering to a huge variety of palates and budgets. With many international options, loads of vegetarian choices and terrific local Guatemalan places, you will have no problem finding just what you’re craving in San Pedro. Here are just a few of our personal favourites:

Idea Connection

Restaurant in San Pedro La Laguna

Don’t let the odd name fool you (it was once the main internet café in town), this is hands down the best Italian place in San Pedro.

Excellent pastas and other Italian specialties made by a pair of Italian expats that have been in Guatemala for decades. They also have a fantastic bakery.

La Quinta Dimension

Vegetarian restaurant

This the best vegetarian place in town. Started by a British friend years ago, it is now owned and managed by the very local Guatemalan women who spent years there working as cooks and managers. The views from the top deck are outstanding.

Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

Man holding up half-eaten burger

This is also a weekly tradition for many Pasajcappers, offering excellent steaks, ribs and other carnivorous favourites, along with a great buffet of sides. It is a lot of food. There are also drinks, music and a pool to enjoy if you want to hang out and make a day of it.

The Alegre Pub

The Alegre Pub sign with tuk-tuks in front

This pub is my favourite place to drink and/or watch sports. They also have a good selection of cheap, tasty bar food (I’m usually good for at least 4 or 5 Cajun chicken burgers per season). Thursday Pie day is particularly popular (British-style pies, with meat and stuff).

El Barrio

Breakfast
Part of the brunch

Barrio is a good place to drink, watch sports or eat. Or all three at the same time. Their weekend brunch is huge, delicious and an insanely good deal. It has been a mainstay of our weekly routine for years (walk around the lake from San Marcos, load up on groceries at the market, then gorge ourselves on brunch).

Sublime

We thing that Sublime has the best burgers in town, and they can be enjoyed on a nice deck overlooking the lake.

Hostal Sublime in San Pedro

Hummus-Ya

Hummus-Ya is a good Israeli restaurant with delicious falafel.

Zoola

People in San Pedro La Laguna restaurant

If you like to lounge while you eat then this is the place for you.

Where is San Pedro La Laguna?

Located on the southwestern shore of Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan Highlands, San Pedro 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.

Man walking down street with tables selling handicraft on the main street in San Pedro La Laguna
The main tourist street of San Pedro La Laguna

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. 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.

Lake Atitlan Map

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Summary

San Pedro la Laguna is the best choice on Lake Atitlan for backpackers looking to be in the heart of the action. While we prefer the better volcano views from the north side of the lake, San Pedro has the best variety of affordable accommodation and food choices, plus is nice and close to some of the best hikes on Lake Atitlan.

With a nice mix of local culture and tourist facilities, San Pedro is the ideal choice for those who are looking to stay busy and enjoy lots of social interaction during their visit to Lake Atitlan.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

San Juan la Laguna: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Artistic Village

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

Pasajcap Rentals: Our Favourite Place to Stay on the Lake

Tzununa: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Holistic Village

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

Best Yoga Retreats on Lake Atitlan

Semana Santa on Lake Atitlan

Climbing Volcan Atitlan Guatemala

A Volcan Acatanengo Hike Guide

Volcan Santiaguito

Xela to Lake Atitlan Hike and Volcan Zunil Summit