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San Pedro la Laguna in Guatemala has earned a reputation as one of the top Central America backpacker destinations, due to its low prices, low-key lifestyle, and life-changing natural beauty. Cradled between dream-lake Lago de Atitlan, the San Pedro volcano and craggy forested cliffs, San Pedro la Laguna is the perfect retreat for self-meditation – and for enjoying a bounty of other Guatemala attractions.
San Pedro is much less touristy than Panajachel, a fact that appeals to San Pedro’s international backpacker community. There are less souvenir shops, and more Spanish schools; in fact, San Pedro La Laguna is becoming Guatemala’s secondary Spanish school capital after Antigua Guatemala. The tranquil lakefront settling is definitely conducive to learning Spanish!
What to do:
San Pedro la Laguna might be modest in size, but due to its otherworldly setting and substantial community of international backpackers, there’s no lack of things to do.
- Soak in San Pedro’s thermal pools: The thermal pools in San Pedro la Laguna are a particularly unique attraction. For just $2.50 US, relax in soothing volcano-fed pools and dine on inexpensive organic cuisine.
- Explore Lake Atitlan: Rent a kayak or canoe and paddle into the blue expanse, or join the San Pedro la Laguna locals and jump off the dock for a swim.
- Hike the San Pedro volcano: The journey up the 3020-meter Volcán San Pedro is about four hours. You can also choose to ride horses part of the way. Whatever you do, take a guide: robberies have been reported on the volcano trails.
- Visit other villages: There are numerous other Mayan villages ringing Lake Atitlan, some well-traveled (Panajachel, Santiago Atitlan), some less so (Santa Catarina, San Pablo, San Juan).
When to go:
San Pedro la Laguna exuberantly celebrates Semana Santa, or Easter Week, as well as the Festival of San Pedro (June 24th) with colorful religious processions.
In general, the climate in Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan region is among the best in Central America. It’s rarely too hot; and when it’s cold, you’ll hardly ever need more than a windbreaker. Rainy season takes place between May and October, though the sun tends to shine at least part of every day.
Getting there and around:
To get to San Pedro la Laguna from Panajachel, take a lancha speedboat from the main dock. The speedboats leave as soon as they’re full from 6am to 5pm, and cost about 15 Quetzales, or $2 US. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay more than the Mayan woman behind you. Depending on stops at other Lake Atitlan villages, the boat ride to San Pedro should take twenty minutes to half an hour.
It’s possible to get to San Pedro la Laguna by local bus from Guatemala City, Antigua and Solola, but be prepared for some the worst of Guatemala’s famously bad highlands roads. Direct minibuses are also available in Antigua and Guatemala City for about $10 US.
Everything in San Pedro la Laguna is within walking distance. Once you arrive at the main dock in San Pedro la Laguna, you can go right, left, or uphill. Right takes you to scenic San Pedro restaurants Restaurante al Meson and Restaurante Valle Azul (part of Hotel Valle Azul). Left takes you on a winding path past modest hotels, restaurants, and the San Pedro thermal baths, eventually culminating at the Santiago dock. If you head straight uphill – and if you’re out of shape, be prepared for aching calf muscles – you’ll reach the town market.
Tips and Practicalities
Like those in Panajachel, San Pedro la Laguna restaurants reflect the village’s melting pot of cultures. Enjoy everything from organic vegan food to Asian food to indigenous Guatemalan. Try Nick’s Place beside the main dock, or the Buddha , a three-story quintessential backpacker hangout with hookah, pool, and free movie screenings.
Accommodations in San Pedro la Laguna are cheap -- as low as $3 for a dorm bed to $7 for a private bathroom and hot water.
The Banrural Bank in the center of town will exchange traveler’s checks.
It’s worth re-stating: if you plan on hiking up the San Pedro volcano, or trekking the trails around the lake, travel in a group and bring a guide. Robberies – and worse – have been reported numerous times on these remote trails.
San Pedro la Laguna is well-known for its society of ex-patriates. Americans, Europeans and other foreigners have been migrating to the Lake Atitlan village for decades, falling in love, and refusing to leave.