Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

A fruit stand and women in traditional dress in front of one of many dozen murals in San Pedro.

If you know me, you know I wouldn’t have come to San Pedro La Laguna if someone had told me about the road. The drive from Antigua involved 13 hairpin turns on a steep two-lane road thousands of feet above anything that wasn’t air. Luis drove skillfully and carefully but my mind doesn’t respond to skill and care or any kind of logic in such situations. At last, Suzen gave the all-clear and I opened my eyes right before we dodged a landslide coming out of hairpin turn #12. But I survived! The excitement continued the next day when an earthquake shook our hillside casita. It was Suzen’s first earthquake!

Susan on the wall of our patio, overlooking the lake.

In spite of all that or maybe because of it, we are enjoying San Pedro on beautiful Lake Atitlan. It’s one of the world’s deepest and, like so many places in Guatemala, surrounded by volcanoes. The town is funky and friendly, with lots of ways to enjoy the lake. You can kayak, paddle board, ride a horse, take a ferry to neighboring villages, hang out on the beach, or enjoy the view (and Thai curry) from a lakeside cafe.

Late afternoon kayaking on the lake
Corn is king, queen and madre in Guatemala. This San Pedro mural also celebrates the ever-present Mexican grackle, which are called urracas in Mexico.

San Pedro is a mecca for backpackers, and communities of Israeli and Chinese immigrants. We see signs in Chinese and Hebrew everywhere, and some local Guatemalans have learned Hebrew to improve their business prospects. This kind of diversity means there is a lot of excellent, healthy food, and also a feeling that we’re all in this together. San Pedro also has a lot of shops with Guatemalan crafts, mostly of the souvenir variety. We are definitely the oldest and least tatooed people in town.

Surprisingly worldly, this little outpost

Yesterday, I took a “lancha” across the water to the village of Santiago. When I took a seat, I didn’t know the boats don’t leave the dock until they’re full. After about 40 minutes, I walked back down the dock and was told the boat was unlikely to leave for maybe an hour because it needed 9 more passengers. So I paid for nine more passengers — still a bargain — and three of us had the 20-minute shuttle to ourselves.

One of the several docks serving San Pedro’s inter-village transportation needs (but don’t take the roads!)

After arriving in Santiago, I walked several blocks up the hill past tiendas of local folk art to meet Angelica in Plaza Central. Angelica and her family are friends of friends in San Miguel and I was so happy to have the connection. Angelica, who is 17, learned English on Google translate and attends university on zoom. She also speaks perfect Spanish, which is not the native language of Santiago. (It’s a Mayan dialect called Tzutujil). We chatted about her dream to run a business on our way to a local restaurant to meet her parents, Juan and Maria, sister Maia, and brother Ricardo. After lunch, we went to Maria’s studio where she makes incredible beaded animals that Juan sells in a larger neighboring town.

Angelica and her mom, Maria

On the way back through town, Angelica took me to a small house down a narrow alley, Inside — next to a full sized statue of dead Jesus — was Maximón, a Mayan deity who smokes and likes the ladies. In the tradition of Santiago at least, he also paves the way for whatever you need, including things the Catholic church doesn’t think you need. I paid 50 quetzals (about $6) for Maximon to help me with my need to have more adventures like this one.

Maximon and key adherent


  1. I really enjoyed this posting Kim. San Pedro La Laguna and Lake Atitlan sound heavenly. I’m not surprised a bit by your reaction to the scary drive there (fear factor augmented 10x by a landslide!). However, I am a bit surprised that you didn’t manage a horseback ride. Maybe you’ll return someday for that… if you can screw up your nerve for another thrill-ride there and back. Wise decision on the “lancha” ride across the lake which looks absolutely marvelous nestled among the mountain peaks. The people, the landscape and the vibe you describe sound wonderful. What a fabulous experience!

    1. Hey Vic, I would have gone horseback riding but the horses look pretty hungry. I needed the workout more than they did so we went kayaking. No need to return via that road. We’re taking the lancha across the lake where the road out is more like a highway 🙂 xoxxoxo

  2. Kim, I always enjoy your off-the-beaten paths of the places you visit 🙂 This is a Guatemala that I was unaware of. Your description of the “hairpin turns on a steep two-lane road thousands of feet above anything that wasn’t air” reminded me of a similar trip my sons and I took by bus in Ceara, Brazil.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s