In general, I loved Guatemala. I loved the people and the scenery and the atmosphere. It is at the top of my list for places I recommend to other travelers looking at Central America. Beaches, ruins, mountains, volcanoes? The nicest people ever? Adventure and relaxation? Check, check, check, check… you get the point.
But for various reasons, I just didn’t feel any connection at all with Lake Atitlan. In all fairness, most of the factors contributing to our less than spectacular experience were either avoidable on our part or easily fixed for others, but nevertheless, it became the ONLY place in Central America where we left earlier than we planned on.
It should definitely be noted that at this point in the trip I was sick and getting to Lake Atitlan sucked, so I showed up with a bad attitude to start out with. I slept a vast majority of our first day, so when I woke up FINALLY feeling like myself again I was raring to have a great day away from the constraints of the windowless room I had barricaded myself in the day before.
Our hotel had extremely crappy Internet and we had no idea what we wanted to do, so we found a café with wifi and drank delicious Guatemalan coffee while Google showed us our options. And…we didn’t want to do any of what we found. I wasn’t feeling up to hiking or kayaking since I wasn’t feeling 100% better and it was 10 am and we are boring, so partying wasn’t an option, which left us with…not a whole lot. We were really disappointed with the lack of options, since we had really been looking forward to a few days on the beautiful lakeshore.
Other bloggers I follow really loved Lake Atitlan and I think had we made different choices we would have too, so I am determined to give Lake Atitlan another chance. We love, love lakes and we love, love Guatemala, so it seems natural that this would be an ideal place for us. Next time we will be doing a few things differently.
- We will NOT stay in San Pedro. Other than being sick this was the factor that largely determined our luke-warm feelings on our Lake Atitlan visit. I guess I didn’t really realize that people go to San Pedro to learn Spanish and party. San Pedro is the “backpacker” town on the lake and I figured that since WE were backpackers, we would like it there. I have since learned that while we do carry our stuff in backpacks when we travel, we are not really traditional “backpackers”. We don’t really like to party, we avoid dorms, and while we are not anti-social, as a couple we generally don’t feel the need to seek out the company of others. Basically, we are kind of lame. The town itself is pretty dirty and rundown and there were no public places to hang out by the water. Seemingly you needed to stay at a hotel or hostel with its own lake access, which leads me to…
- We WILL stay somewhere nicer with lake access. Our place was fine (and only $8/night for a private room), and was on the lake technically, but the view was eh, and the only place to sit and enjoy it was two plastic chairs on a slab of cement. So romantic, not to mention comfy! We had assumed that lakeside hostels would all have places from which to swim, but we were sadly mistaken; there are actually very few access points into the lake from San Pedro. We really had just wanted to relax by or in the lake, so next time we will make finding accommodation where that is possible a priority.
- We WILL go out and explore. This obvious activity was skipped mostly because of my lingering illness (and subsequent negative attitude), but we probably could have made more of an effort to find passive modes of exploration (versus ones requiring energy like hiking and kayaking). The area is really beautiful and as terrible as getting to San Pedro was, I did find myself wishing the driver would stop so that I could snap some photos.
All that negativity aside, there were two standouts from our time on the lake. The first was a thermal hot springs where we were able to squeeze in some lakeside time. For Q80 we got a private tub with solar heated hot water. We were the only people at the hot springs, so we were able to enjoy the jungle oasis in blissful privacy. The hot springs is very rustic (the owners fill the tubs with a hose and then leave you alone), but it was super relaxing to soak in the warm water.
But the number one highlight of San Pedro were the street tacos Logan found while I was sleeping off my illness. Two teenage boys seemingly ran the taco stall, both of whom were sipping on beer and watching Michael Jackson videos all three times we visited the cart. Yeah, three times in 48 hours. We talk about these tacos all the time. Seriously. They are the best we have ever had.
Up until this point we had stuck to the itinerary I had planned out before we left, but we just felt no need to spend another day feeling underwhelmed in San Pedro la Laguna. Had circumstances been different we may have simply changed towns along the lake, but my cranky attitude had reached a critical level and I just needed a total reset. So we left.
We really did not love San Pedro la Laguna. We had really been looking forward to Lake Atitlan, but we just didn’t find any magic there. But as I have learned more about long-term travel and myself I have discovered that usually your opinion of a place has just as much to do with your frame of mind than the place itself. We did not do Lake Atitlan justice. Guess we will have to go back a try again. Bummer.
Dollars and Sense
Thermal baths: Q40/ person for the day
Street tacos: Q4 each and located right across from Casa Elena
TIP: You can bring your own food and drinks to the thermals baths. Beer in the bath for the win.