San Marcos La Laguna: Guatemala’s New Age Center

Warm lighting from a palapa-covered room contrasts with light fog on the nearby lake.

Lake Atitlán from the Hotel Jinava in San Marcos la Laguna. Photo © Semio, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

San Marcos is a unique lake town in that it harbors a strangely esoteric vibe, aided by its prominence as Guatemala’s New Age center. It’s about a three-hour walk from Santa Cruz and two hours from San Pedro. Most visitors arrive at a boat dock beside Posada Schumann, though boats stop first at the main dock a few hundred meters east. A road runs beside the lodge into town, which together with a parallel street 100 meters west, form the main pedestrian arteries into town.

Map of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Lake Atitlán

Sights and Recreation

Among the spiritually inclined attractions is Las Pirámides (tel. 5205-7302 and tel. 5205-7151), offering a variety of New Age alternative psychology courses, including a one-month “moon course” beginning with the full moon and culminating in a full week of fasting and silence. With completion of the moon course there’s further study, including a three-month sun course, featuring elements of Kabbalah, tarot reading, and lucid dreaming. Nonstudents can join in on hatha yoga sessions at 7 a.m., classes on various spiritual topics at 10 a.m., and meditation techniques at 5 p.m. Sessions range $5-13. To get here, follow the path up the hill past Posada Schumann and then turn left along the signed pathway. It’s about 200 meters on your left.

Back toward Posada Schumann is San Marcos Holistic Centre (10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.), offering a wide assortment of massages and holistic therapies. There are training courses in Reiki, shiatsu, massage, reflexology, and Bach flower remedies. English, Spanish, German, and French are spoken. A typical treatment costs somewhere around $15.

It’s not recommended, but you can hike from San Marcos east to Tzununá and Jaibalito. Check on the safety situation with local sources, as hiker robberies between here and Tzununá have been frequent in the past. Going west to Santa Clara La Laguna is a safer bet. If you do go, leave your valuables behind. Until recently, the waters here were excellent for swimming, when the lake was nice and clean. In the aftermath of Atitlán’s recent cyanobacteria algal blooms, you may be hard-pressed to find a decent place to swim.

Kayaks are available for rent next door to the Aaculaax hotel and cost $3 per hour. The owners of Tul y Sol restaurant (tel. 5293-7997) can arrange paragliding.

Accommodations

Posada Schumann (tel. 5202-2216, $15-50 d) is the first place you’ll come across if, like most people, you arrive into town at its dock. Most of the comfortable, well-furnished, and tastefully decorated rooms are housed in quaint stone-and-mortar cottages. An excellent value, room number 12 is a deluxe second-floor wooden bungalow ($25-36 d, depending on season) with its own deck. Numbers 8 and 10 have awesome volcano and lake views. The restaurant overlooking the well-tended gardens serves sandwiches, smoothies, and Guatemalan fare for breakfast and lunch, though the service can be slow.

West along the lakeshore past Las Pirámides is one of Guatemala’s most unique hotels. Aaculaax (tel. 5577-5072, $26-140 d) is a work of art constructed out of recycled building materials, including glass, carved pumice stones, and colorful papier-mâché. Each of the seven rooms (two suites and five double rooms) is unique, though all have private bathrooms with composting toilets and lovely terraces. A newer addition includes five budget rooms costing $13 per person. The rooms are literally built around the rocks of the surrounding hillsides, which are prominently displayed in the architecture of some of the suites. The glasswork in evidence throughout the property is simply delicious, as is the food served in its Restaurante Las Mañanitas (8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, $2-5). A gorgeous second-floor terrace lounge caps off the hotel’s atmosphere quite nicely.

The footpath continues farther west to Jinava Bay (tel. 5299-3311 or 5406-5986, $20-38 d), on the edge of town right on the lake in a quiet bay with its own beach. The five rooms are housed in Spanish-style whitewashed, tiled-roof villas with private terraces and have private or shared bathroom and attractive decor with tile floors and colorful textiles. The restaurant serves decent meals, including Thai, Indian, Mexican, Greek, Italian, and Guatemalan dishes. There’s also a full bar.

Up the path into the main part of town is budget-friendly Hotel Restaurante El Quetzal (tel. 5350-0610, $10 d) with clean shared-bath rooms, good-value food, hot water, and a nice patio for lounging. Further up the path is Hotel Unicornio (tel. 4289-4754, $7 pp with shared bath), an eclectic sort of place with firm beds housed in simple but brightly painted A-frame cottages. There’s a Guatemalan mail (El Correo) drop-off here. Closer to town is pleasant Posada del Bosque Encantado (tel. 5208-5334, $20 d), with rooms housed in a charming adobe structure and surrounded by tranquil gardens. The rooms have Guatemalan furnishings and vaulted ceilings; some have an extra bed on a second-floor loft.

Near the top of the path leading straight up the hill from the dock at Posada Schumann is Hotel y Restaurante Paco Real (tel. 4910- 3855, $17-25 d), with simple but comfortable rooms and shared or private bath. The wooden, thatched-roof cabanas include Guatemalan furnishings and woven reed floor mats in a peaceful garden setting. There’s a restaurant and bar on the premises where the highlights include Mexican dishes, seafood, and curried pineapple chicken.

Food

Word has gotten out concerning San Marcos’s culinary hot spot, F’e (tel. 5994-4320, 7:30 a.m.-midnight daily, $8-20), where you can feast on curries, pastas, meat, and fish dishes in a sublime garden atmosphere accented with Guatemalan textiles. There’s a covered second-floor patio bar.

Enjoying a wonderful lakeside location west of Posada Schumann is French-owned Tul y Sol (tel. 5293-7997 or 5854-5365, all meals daily) offering decent sandwiches served on thick slices of bread, grilled fish, and pasta. Located up the path toward town from Posada Schumann, Il Giardino (tel. 7804-0186, 4 p.m.-midnight Thurs.-Sun.) serves delicious burritos, pizza, and spaghetti dishes in a tranquil garden setting. It also has Internet access. Next to Las Pirámides, Il Forno (dinner only) is another recommended Italian restaurant. For breakfast all-day, your best bet is Restaurante Las Mañanitas (at Hotel Aaculaax, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, $2-5), where you’ll find the usual staples such as eggs, fruit smoothies, granola, and pancakes in addition to more exotic cravings such as shakshuka (a spicy Israeli egg-and-tomato dish similar to huevos rancheros). Heading into the town center from the lakeshore and crossing the main road through town, you’ll find Blind Lemon’s (tel. 5540-0399, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.), inspired by blues musician Lemon Jefferson and housed in a pleasant colonial- style courtyard. Tasty burgers, pizzas, steaks, chicken, and pasta are on the menu. There’s live blues on Fridays starting at 8 p.m. (or whenever friendly owner Carlos wants to play for you) and movies are shown on a big screen almost every night.

Information and Services

Casa Verde Tours (tel. 5837-9092 or 7721-8344), of San Pedro fame, also has an office in San Marcos and can arrange transport and local hikes. They are located at the top of the hill along the trail that leads straight into town from Posada Schumann. Another option is the newly formed Jóvenes Mayas (tel. 5527-2017), composed of local community guides offering English/Spanish guided hikes to local waterfalls, San Pedro, and the Pakachelaj forest reserve. They are also located on the path into town from Posada Schumann, near Il Giardino.

There are no banks or ATMs in San Marcos.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Guatemala.

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