The scenery along the drive to Lake Atitlan, along roads that continued to climb higher, was spectacular with verdant greenery and distant volcanos appearing then disappearing again with each twist of the serpentine route. Arriving in San Pedro we thought we were on a movie set for a sequel to Mad Max or Water World. Down by the Panajachel dock dreadlocked travelers, wearing eccentric attire, filled the streets along the lakeshore. Feeling as if we had time traveled, we were relieved to find our Airbnb far out of town on a dead-end road that ran along the lake. According to Google maps the road was unnamed. Our host said “tell the tuktuk drivers you are staying on Calle Finca,” which referred to a distant and abandoned coffee farm, about an hour’s walk from the trail head at the end of the road.Our new home for our last week in Guatemala had a wonderful porch with great view of Lake Atitlan and tranquility. A relaxing change of pace was called for after the Christmas and New Year’s Day celebrations in Antigua. Bird calls or the soft Mayan chatter of coffee pickers, harvesting ripe beans right outside our door, were the only sounds that filled the air. Fortunately, we were much closer to town than the abandoned coffee finca and were able to walk to the daily outdoor market, along streets where we could see women washing clothing in the distant lake, and make-shift scales were set up to buy coffee beans hauled down from the slopes of Volcan San Pedro.
As we neared the market the streets became steeper than those in San Francisco, CA. Every morning vendors set up vegetable, poultry, meat, flower and used clothing stands. The fish monger displayed freshly caught fish, pulled from Lake Atitlan earlier in the morning, still flapping in baskets along the edge of the road. And multiple varieties of avocadoes were available to satisfy our cravings for them. San Pedro lacked a proper super market, so if we wanted meat or chicken, we had to purchase it here. The key to buying meat or poultry was to go first thing in the morning, before the heat of the day and most importantly before the flies started to stir. Shopping this way, we did not have any issues with the meat, poultry or vegetables we bought. There were several small panaderias in the blocks around the market that had great baked goods. We rounded out our pantry with fresh eggs, yogurt and coffee from the farmer next door to us. Large numbers of tourists didn’t seem to venture up the steep streets of San Pedro away from the waterfront, which was filled with coffee cafes, art galleries, hostels, restaurants, and bars.
Aside from researching an affordable and charming place to stay on Lake Atitlan we didn’t know much about San Pedro La Laguna itself. Fortunately, we were able to reach out to one of our Instagram followers who does medical missions to the area several times a year. Cathy was right on with her coffee and dining recommendations. Straight uphill from the Panajachel ferry dock, Luis at Cafe Las Cristalinas brewed a great cup of coffee and served wonderful empanadas, among other delights as promised. On the street that follows the shoreline, La Terraza Coffee Shop & Kitchen offered a quiet respite and a wonderful view of Indian Nose mountain towering over the village of San Juan, just across the lake. Closer to the Santiago Atitlan ferry dock at Restaurant Idea Connection we enjoyed their Italian menu and coconut macaroons, outside in the garden. The brunch offered on Saturdays and Sundays at El Barrio can’t be missed if you are in San Pedro over a weekend. Plan on eating only one meal the day you choose to go, so that you can fully enjoy their incredible and very affordable four course brunch. Smokin Joe’s BBQ has a store on this side of town which sells local and imported meats, all vacuum sealed and frozen. We were impressed with their selection.A short ferry ride took us to San Juan La Laguna, a weavers and artists village that visually celebrates its Mayan heritage with colorful street murals. The steep walk uphill from the boat dock to the center of town was lined with art galleries.
The streets at the top of the hill of were full of various weaver’s cooperatives that use locally grown cotton, wool or bamboo and only natural dyes. Here we serendipitously stumbled across the Casa Flor Ixcaco, the first weaver’s cooperative in San Juan, founded in 1996 with only five members. Today more than 100 women support their families through this weaving cooperative. The variety of designs created on backstrap looms and the color range they created from natural dyes was amazing. The question here was “what not to buy?” because everything was so beautiful.Six years ago, when we first visited the lake, we stayed at Posada de Santiago in Santiago de Atitlan and met Carolina, an American expat who has been in Guatemala going on thirty years now. We’ve stayed in touch over the years. Being so close by, a reunion was in order.It’s a long ferry ride to Santiago de Atitlan and even longer when the wind churns up whitecaps on the water, and the small boat we were in rocked side-to-side for the duration of the crossing. We silently said our prayers when the local folks stated to reach for the life preservers. Fortunately, we were never too far from shore and know how to swim. It is a breathtaking view coming into the boat dock at Santiago with its namesake volcano towering over the town and Volcan San Pedro just an avocado toss away, across the water.
The waterfront seemed the same with kids swimming and women doing laundry in the lake, but the walk up to the tuktuks overwhelmed with craft stands and vendors calling out their sales pitch. Lunch was as delicous as we remembered at Posada de Atitlan and as wonderfully lively as we anticipated with Carolina. Very interesting embroidery art by the late artist Antonio Ramirez Sosóf hung on display in the restaurant. These are truly amazing pieces of cultural art that were all delicately hand stitched and depicted indigenous and Mayan culture around the lake.Enjoying the stars from our porch we were surprised when fireworks celebrating Epiphany lit up the night sky above villages across the lake, their colorful bursts reflected brilliantly on the water. With magical moments like this, still fresh in our memories, Guatemala tugged at our hearts as we packed for our next adventure.
Till next time,
Craig & Donna
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