a group of boats on Lake Atitlan on the shores of San Marcos

Everything to Know About San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlán

If you only have a few days to visit Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, like we did, then you’re probably a bit overwhelmed by choice, like we were. (I don’t know about you but I am not good at making decisions.) I was travelling in Guatemala with my friend Ellie, and we spent quite some time chatting to people in our hostel about where to stay on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Of course, everybody had a different answer! You’ll find my full guide on where to stay in Lake Atitlan here, but for now, let’s talk about San Marcos La Laguna.

Ellie and I didn’t actually stay here – we actually stayed in San Pedro and took the boat over to San Marcos for the day. It’s really incredibly easy to get around Lake Atitlan by boat, and cheap, too. So I do always reiterate not to worry too much when you’re choosing where to stay in Lake Atitlan. No matter where you are, as long as you’ve got a dock, you will be able to visit all of the towns and villages that surround one of Central America’s most beautiful lakes. 

It’s also worth noting that, if you’re travelling from Antigua to Lake Atitlán (like we did), it’s not the best idea to try and get the chicken bus (or private shuttle, or anything else) all the way to San Marcos La Laguna (which from now on I’m going to call just San Marcos, like the cool kids). Ellie and I actually went all the way round to San Pedro by chicken bus, and this was a big mistake and got dicier by the minute (and yes, again, it was totally my fault and I take responsibility for it!). Take a ride to Panajachel and then take the boat from there. It’s 100x easier.

If Lake Atitlán is going to be the first stop on your trip, find out how to get to Lake Atitlán from Guatemala City Airport.

San Marcos La Laguna: The Practical Stuff

San Marcos La Laguna is renowned for its hippie vibe, which we thought we might like. However, Ellie and I spent around an hour here before deciding it wasn’t for us. 

I don’t know how to put it politely: it turns out when people said “hippie vibe”, they meant the kind of vibe that attracts people willing to spend 100$ on a 1-day yoga retreat and buy artisan clothes at US prices. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay a lot for artisan clothes, not at all, it’s just that the price tags stood out from all of the other price tags we saw in Guatemala…). 

This place was clearly geared to a specific kind of tourist, and that tourist was not us. 

The two things to go to San Marcos specifically are; holistic retreats (do try and shop around to make sure you’re not getting ripped off, because it seemed like there was a lot of that around!) and cliff jumping. Let’s break it down…

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San Marcos Cliff Jumping

Most of the people we met going to San Marcos were seeking a thrill in the form of cliff jumping. There are several spots to do this around Lake Atitlan, and with relative safety. (I say relative because I don’t want to get sued for saying it’s safe, but what I mean is that they’re well-used and the platforms are robust, and it’s much safer than jumping off a random cliff and hoping for the best which I do NOT recommend.) However, this spot in San Marcos is the most popular, and it’s so easy to get to. When you arrive in San Marcos (or when you set off from your hostel, if you’re staying there), head to Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. When we went the entry fee was 20 Guatemalan Quetzales, which is $3-4. The nature reserve is really close to the town of San Marcos, so it’s an activity you can do with just an hour or two to spare.

San Marcos Holistic Retreats

One of the biggest attractions in San Marcos is the wide range of spiritual retreats and wellness centres available. This town is known as the holistic hub of Lake Atitlán, attracting visitors from all over the world looking to engage in yoga, meditation, and various healing therapies. There are several places around where you can simply take a yoga class to cool off on your travels, or you can dive head-first into a cacao ceremony or a retreat with daily classes in just about anything.

Many centres also provide alternative healing practices such as Reiki, sound healing, and holistic massage. San Marcos draws like minded people together and if this sounds like your thing then I’m sure you’ll be in your element! 

If you’re looking for something specific I would definitely recommend booking in advance because it’s a pretty touristy place, but just walking around San Marcos you’ll find plenty of posters and flyers advertising various workshops, events and healing treatments available on-the-spot. It’s worth checking out a few different places to find what resonates best with you.

Where to Stay in San Marcos

There are a lot of hotels and hostels that are specifically geared towards guests looking for the holistic healing practices that I mentioned above. Places like Eagle’s Nest, Las Pirámides, and Yoga Forest offer programs that cater to different levels of experience. Also if you just want accommodation that has drop-ins for a single class or treatment, there are plenty of opportunities to do so. Like I said above, I haven’t personally stayed in any of these places but I heard good reviews from various people.

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Best Things to Do in San Marcos

Other than the holistic retreats (which can either take up an hour of your time or your entire trip, depending on your preference) there’s not much more than a day’s worth of activities in San Marcos itself. That’s not unusual, though, the same goes for each of the small towns around Lake Atitlan. The charm, and the experience, comes from visiting the different towns as each one has a unique feel and vibe. It is nice to stay in whichever town that fits your vibe the best, but if you have enough time you’ll be able to visit them all, anyway!

Click here for my guide to the towns around Lake Atitlan.

You can literally just walk down to the dock and hop on a boat to any of the towns (just make sure it’s going the right way before you get on!). If you want to buy a return ticket, be aware that there are different boat operators so you will have to wait for your boat company to take you back to San Marcos. They have different timings for their last boat (none of them are very late – between 5 and 7pm – so if you miss the last boat home of your company you may have to buy a new ticket).

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