Updated: November 2019!
During our most recent visit to Guatemala, we needed to spend some time in San Pedro la Laguna. It’s without question one of our favourite places in not only Guatemala, but the whole of Central America. There are so many great things to do in San Pedro; from hiking and kayaking, to learning Spanish or simply relaxing.
Like the islands of Southern Thailand or the beaches of Goa. Certain places have a vibe; a feeling unexplainable to those who’ve never been, but one that’s fluent to those who have spent even the briefest moment in such places. San Pedro la Laguna is definitely one of these spots.
The perfect backpacker town, San Pedro is one of the most popular villages on Lake Atitlan. Stop in for a quick visit, or stay for weeks. There are plenty of great activities to keep you occupied.
The Top Things to Do in San Pedro, Atitlan
Hike San Pedro Volcano and Indian Nose
One of the biggest reasons for visiting Lake Atitlan are the jungle hikes for some incredible scenery and views over the lake and its villages!
Catch the Sunrise from Mayan Face (Indian Nose)
On our most recent visit, several locals at tour agencies referred to Indian Nose as Mayan Face. One gentleman told us that it’s because “We are not Indians, we are Mayan.” Definitely can’t argue with that logic!
Hiking Mayan Face is probably the best way to catch the outstanding sunrise over Lake Atitlan. Sunrise treks start around 4 am, and involve a drive around to the backside of the mountain. From here you’ll hike about 25 minutes to the summit. Most hikes also include tea, coffee or cacao, and a lesson in Mayan culture on the mountain.
- Cost: We were quoted prices as high as Q125 per person, but met people who paid just Q60. So be sure to ask around!
Hike San Pedro Volcano
Hiking Volcán San Pedro is by far the most popular trek at Lake Atitlan. It’s also the most challenging, but with challenge comes a great reward. The 7-hour round-trip hike to the top of this ancient (and extinct) volcano takes a fair bit of effort, but almost anyone in average condition can tackle it.
Walk through dense jungle, past avocado and banana trees, Tarzan-esque vines, and colourful flowers. At the top, you can see over the other peaks surrounding the lake and off into the horizon.
Important to Note:
As of summer 2019, hiking to the summit is not recommended. There is a viewpoint part of the way up where you can still get some good views and take in some hiking. However, there are numerous reports of armed bandits at the summit.
Even with a guide, robberies are becoming common. Some suggest making the trek without money or valuables, but there have even been reports of shoes being stolen. You don’t want to descend this mountain barefoot.
Learn Spanish for Cheap
San Pedro is known for being one of the most inexpensive places in Guatemala for Spanish language classes. And while you may find them a little cheaper elsewhere, such as Xela, you certainly won’t be in such spectacular surroundings!
Prices vary, depending on how many hours you study and whether you’re doing a live-in with a family. Generally, expect to pay around $120 for a 20-hour week.
A few popular schools are:
Learn Local History from the Tz’unun Ya’ Museum
Tz’unun Ya’ is actually a former name in the Mayan language for San Pedro. It translates to “Hummingbird of the Lake.” And this really interesting Museum of the same name is something we completely missed during our first visit to San Pedro.
Stop in for a short but very informative tour, guided by a local, detailing everything from the geological formation of the lake, to traditional customs and beliefs. It also touches on the inevitable evolution of their culture as the outside world continues to influence their lifestyle.
- Cost: Q35
Go Kayaking on Lake Atitlan
Kayaking is another great way to explore the smaller villages near San Pedro. Across the lake, between San Juan and San Pablo are a few small stretches of sandy beach. Several others can be found near Santiago. All of these can be reached via kayak.
You can either rent one for a day and explore on your own or go on a tour. The tours can be useful if you’re inexperienced and don’t wish to be scrambling around the lake on your own.
- Cost: Q15 per hour kayak rental
Go Horseback Riding through Local Farms
Get a taste for the traditional life with a horseback tour through the surrounding hills around San Pedro. Clip-clop through corn fields, vegetable farms and coffee plantations, and witness traditional methods of farming and harvest.
There are other Guatemalan coffee tours available in the region, exploring the lakeside villages by horseback gives a unique perspective.
- Cost: Prices vary depending on duration and the type of tour you take, but typically fall around Q40 per hour. Ask around at local shops!
Walk Around and Take in Village Life
The entire village of San Pedro is easily walkable in a short time; one could probably hit every street within a few hours. Make sure to get away from the main tourist hub near the docks and get lost in the winding streets higher up.
Pop into some of the local shops away from the crowds, or kick a soccer ball around with some local kids. San Pedro is such a relaxed town with so many friendly residents, it’s the perfect location to mingle with locals and get into the village life.
Eating in San Pedro
For this update, we ended up eating so much, this ended up becoming its own post!
Find out the best restaurants and places to eat in San Pedro!
There are plenty of bars around town as well for the nightlife lovers. The Alegre pub and Bar Sublime are two of the most popular, located right near the main dock. Other smaller pubs are scattered throughout the town, all with varying happy-hours and nightly events.
If you’re looking for some fun, just wander the streets in the evening and follow the sounds of laughter and music. You’ll inevitably stumble upon a bar or restaurant heavily flowing with drinks.
Where to stay
Unless an experience is over and above, we avoid recommending specific accommodations. The fact that prices fluctuate so regularly and management changes are often frequent, we prefer not to send out inaccurate advice.
That being said, in San Pedro, you’ll have no problem finding something that suits your needs. There are plenty of options closer to the main dock and several cheaper options are spread out a little further away. Seeing as almost no point in town is more than a 15-minute walk, you don’t need to worry about basing yourself near the action.
We have stayed twice now by the Santiago dock, it’s much quieter and cheaper than closer to town, and there is still quite a few places to eat and drink around that area as well.
Moving around the town itself should bring you no added risks whatsoever. Following the same basic safety precautions as you would in any other part of the region should be enough. While we had no issues walking around in the evenings, there’s always an added risk – taking a tuk-tuk or walking in groups lower any risks.
The areas where you do need to be concerned are on the roads linking the towns. The road to Santiago in particular is notorious for bandits and as such is highly recommended to avoid completely. If you’d like to visit Santiago, there is a separate dock on the east end of town that will take you there. As well, we have heard a few stories of daylight robberies on the road to San Juan. Considering a tuk-tuk is only Q10, it’s easier to avoid putting yourself at risk.
Getting to San Pedro la Laguna
From Panajachel, ferries run frequently throughout the day and cost Q25 to reach San Pedro. Do yourself a favour and leave earlier in the day, the water becomes quite choppy around mid-day and makes for a rather uncomfortable ride.
Plan to Stay Longer
There are plenty of reasons San Pedro la Laguna is one of the most popular spots on Lake Atitlan. If you find yourself headed this way and happen to have a little extra time, be prepared to spend some of it here. If you’re anything like us, you won’t want to leave.