San Marcos La Laguna
Take a shuttle boat from the public dock at Panajachel (Q25, 45 minutes (Nov 2017)). You can also take a shuttle boat from San Pedro La Laguna (Q10, 15min). Do not be convinced to take a pricey private boat. Panajachel is the main hub of the lake and a great entry point.
If flying from outside of the country, the most effective and practical way to get to San Marcos is by means of plane then either bus or car. I recommend flying into Guatemala City (known by the locals as 'Guate') then proceed to drive 3.5 hours. A lot of people start their experience in Antigua. The major highways that are in route are mostly updated. When exiting, take caution to the windy, dirt road that leads to the small town of San Marcos.
Instead of driving, take one of the shuttle vans that wait outside the arrivals area at the airport. They're very affordable and will take you to Antigua at most hours of the day and evening, and you can connect there with a shuttle to San Pedro or Panajachel that day if early enough (before 2-ish?) or the next day, and boat to San Marcos from SP or Panajachel.
There is also a shuttle from San Cristobal, Mexico. The shuttle provides a traveler with a rich cultural experience by traveling in what the locals refer to as a "chicken bus". The "chicken bus" will drop you off in Panajachel and from there you can take a luancha (small boat) to San Marcos. Not recommended for first timers.
There are also plenty of mini-van shuttles from San Cristobal to Panajachel, very affordable, much more comfortable than a chicken bus.
If traveling from Antigua, a popular tourist destination in Guatemala, there are shuttles leaving several; times a day to Panajachel, where it is easy to catch a public lancha, or boat, to San Marcos. It costs about Q70/Q90 depending on the time you want to leave.
Hiking around is quite easy and safe, as the village has paved/cobblestone streets and neighbouring communities (nearby Pasaj-cap and Tzununa) are connected by a dirt road along the lake.
Although there are roads to Tzununa and onto San Pedro, most travellers opt to hop the ferry boats to get around. San Marcos also has many tuk-tuks that will take you anywhere you want to go.
The homemade paths have a very intimate feel to them. They are shaped by the plants and flowers that create almost fences that guide you in the correct path.
There are minimal streetlights and not many signs so I would recommend paying attention to where you are going and don't be scared to ask the locals if you are lost! Be sure to carry a flashlight with you if you will be walking home at night. Many of the roads are narrow and curvy so I suggest your full attention to where you are going!
Most of the modern infrastructure resides in San Pedro where streets are paved and there are more signs dedicated to the comprehension of lost tourists.
Majority of the travel within the area around Lake Atitlan is by boat. There are fifteen 'major' pueblos or small towns surrounding the lake, San Marcos included. From San Marcos, there are boats leaving every twenty to thirty minutes to each of these individual towns. Some of the known rates are as follows: from San Marcos to San Pedro it costs 10Q (US$1.25), from San Marcos to Panajachel it costs between 20/25 Q (US$2.50-3.50).
The lake provides both natural entertainment and also great scenic views. There are beautiful sunsets every night and across the lake there are three volcanoes. If you are adventurous, I definitely recommend climbing some of the dormant volcanoes. At some of the highest peaks you are able to see the lake and all of the small pueblos that surround it. From the top looking down there is one of the most beautiful views in Guatemala.
San Marcos offers a wide variety of studios catered to the pure relaxation of the tourist. Many of the studios include yoga, reiki and massage. Many yogis often travel to San Marcos to practice their yoga at the highest level of peace and harmony. El Centro de Meditacion Las Piramides is an example of a yoga/massage/mediation 'camp', where the main focus is to get in-touch with your spiritual self and live in harmony.
There are currently no ATMs in San Marcos, so remember to stock up on quetzals before arriving.
For those work-out-aholics, there is no longer a local gym that accepts a monthly membership for 150Q or $22 American dollars per month. Closest one is in San Pedro for the same fee.
San Marcos also houses one of the most harmonious massage clinics in all of Guatemala. It is located right next to the lake, so that massage clients can hear the sound of the water to make their experience more relaxing. The San Marcos Holistic Center is one of the most popular massage clinics in the area.
San Marcos is the 'spiritual heaven'! There are enough yoga retreats and spiritual centers to fulfill anyone's spiritual needs. San Marcos is the perfect location for pure bliss and relaxation. Majority of the activities are based around relaxation and connection with your spiritual self. It has a very laid back feel and culture with no obvious worries. It has been described as a place that "takes life as it comes".
There is still a very strong and authentic Mayan culture in existence within the town of San Marcos. Their culture is best known for its bright colors in its clothing, artwork and food.
San Marcos is also great for outdoor adventure. Because of the lake there is a very rich ecological reservation of many endangered species. The lake also provides direct pleasure with swimming, sailing, kayaking, and even cliff jumping. The most popular cliff jumping site is a ten minute walk from the center of San Marcos. If you are an adventurous type, there is a lot of hiking up and down volcanos, enjoying beautiful scenery of the lake from a high point and also great bird watching. Scuba is also available if you are feeling adventuresome.
Take caution when travelling around the lake. Many roads are extremely rural and theft is not uncommon. Locals with machetes rob unsuspecting tourists quite regularly, but very rarely injure anyone. Leave your essentials in a safe in the hotel and just bring a few hundred quetzals with you. Get the local Whatsapp number of a trusted tuktuk driver if you plan on going out at night.
This is a great place for some who is interested in cooking tourism. A new emerging type of tourism that focusing on chefs or food lovers traveling around to find the freshest produce and cooking up delicious feasts with the use of only local items. San Marcos and the surrounding towns have many open air markets or mercados that provide fresh fruits and vegetables of all kind to the locals and tourists. The best market that I visited was the Microdyn, it had the freshest produce for the best price.
There is a sustained Mayan culture in the town of San Marcos. The local Mayan culture is famous for its brightly colored clothing and rich cultural heritage. Along the well-manicured stone footpath from the main lancha (ferry stop) into the centre of town you will find many locals and expats selling their wares, including jewellery, clothing, masks, fruits and vegetables, tapestries and more.
There are several small to mid-sized stores (tiendas) in town where you can buy the essentials, including wine, beer, groceries, personal items, fresh produce and more.
"Blind Lemons" - As some tourists know it is the only place in the town with satellite tv (Directv). It is owned by an ex-Pat from North Carolina. He is very friendly and some nights plays saxophone for guests. The food is mediocre. But If you are in town and want to watch a game from back home it's the place to go. "Il Giardino" - offers fresh wholesome meals in a secluded garden setting. "Fè" - One of the first restaurants that you see when you walk up the main path. They have a large menu and all dishes have very large portions and are very good. San Marcos is known for its vegetarian cuisine. The open air markets provide great, fresh produce for very cheap so if your interested you are able to find an array of ingredients to cook a home cooked meal.
Moonfish Cafe has the best fresh fruit pancakes I have ever eaten in my life. Not to mention they were huge and delicious and only cost us 10 Q!
Hostel Del Lago has a full menu and busy kitchen that makes delicious and filling meals.
The street food is also very delicious and I never seemed to have a problem with my stomach after eating it. The locals take full advantage of the local produce so majority of the offered dishes are vegetarian and all are fresh!
Allula is a Japanese sushi bar. I found it very interesting that there is Japanese food even in Guatemala. From my experience, all of the sushi seemed very fresh and had a Guatemalan twist to it for sure!
There are many hotels that provide spa or yoga packages to ensure that relaxation is established. These hotel packages may include yoga sessions, meditation hours, and even massage and spa services.
The "Unicornio" hotel is a mere three minute walk from the beach. It has a very cozy feel but is also one of the most luxurious hotels that San Marcos has to offer.
Many expat locals offer their extra rooms, cabins, cottages and bodegas to rent on Airbnb.com. A great way to meet some friendly locals!
Hostels are also another option for stay in San Marcos. The hostels have been described as 'original and cozy'.
Pasaj Cap is also another option for board while staying in San Marcos. I would recommend this option for those travelers traveling in a group of maybe three or more. Pasaj Cap offers travelers to rent out actual houses right outside of San Marcos. The houses are very beautiful and private. From what I have read on blogs, the window are described as 'open' where the "scenery is in your room". From these private homes, it is a 15 minute walk to San Marcos. On the way there the walk is down hill but on the way home it is uphill. I recommend wearing sneakers so that you don't slip on the rugged terrain.
Easiest way out is to hop a ferry back to Panajechel and then book a shuttle to Antigua. Xocomil Tours, just up from the lancha on the right, is reliable option.
Shuttles are offered from various travel agencies around town to all of the main destinations in Guatemala. Signs at the agencies list what times they leave. You can also catch a shuttle boat at the dock to other lake towns.