A truly lovely way to spend a day at Lake Atitlan is a trip to San Juan La Laguna, a quaint pueblo on the west shore of the lake.
To get there from Pana, you might get lucky and catch a launcha directly to San Juan from the Tzanjuyú dock for Q25. Otherwise, take the direct boat to San Pedro and from there either a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride to San Juan for Q15 or a 5-minute boat ride for Q10.
Once you arrive, you’ll find there’s lots to love about this quaint and quiet town.
The first thing you’ll notice upon strolling through town is that it is unlike every other Guatemalan city, town or even rural trail you’ve seen—it’s almost completely free of litter. There are neither empty plastic bottles nor used chip bags strewn along its streets. San Juan is sparkly clean, and that makes it a pleasant environment in which to spend time.
To be honest, there’s not a whole lot going on in San Juan and that’s what makes it so wonderful. It’s a tiny town, tranquilo, quiet and serene. Best of all, you can stroll along, gazing at the surrounding beauty and shopping (or not) in a relaxed leisurely way, without being accosted by any street vendors hawking cheap souvenirs or young boys offering to shine your shoes.
San Juan is home to several local cooperatives, from beekeepers to coffee growers to backstrap loom weavers, many of whom use natural dyes from carrot, coffee, beets and tons of other organic color sources. The money you spend on textiles, honey, and other items from fair-trade cooperatives enables local artisans and farmers to support themselves and their families. Bonus: the vendors in San Juan tend to be super-duper awesome, friendly and kind.
Although it is a small town, San Juan has a fair amount of shops to browse through. It does not offer as many stores or options as Pana or Santiago, but for someone like me who likes to shop for one hour, max, San Juan is perfection.
There are not that many tourists here. Most restaurants in San Juan serve authentic Guatemalan fare as opposed to the “gringo food” you find in Panajachel or Santa Pedro. Stop into a comedor such as Hotel Maya’s eco-themed restaurant for patin, a local dish of tomato salsa served in a banana leaf with chicken or fish. The locals are Tz’utujil Maya, and the economy is based primarily on agriculture, with the main crops being coffee and corn.
Like every town around Lake Atitlan, San Juan boasts lovely views of the expansive blue lake and lush vegetation in its vibrant gardens.
If you’re in the mood for a hike, consider a visit to the “Indian Nose” (Rostro Maya) national park for some exercise and spectacular views of the lake. It is situated to the northwest of town along the main road heading out of town towards San Pablo and costs Q50 to enter. The hike takes about three and a half hours, round trip. (Another alternative is to head to the Rostro Maya from Santa Clara la Laguna, which makes the hike much shorter and easier.)