20 Authentic things to do in San Juan La Laguna
San Juan La Laguna is one of the smaller villages around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala and is a great day-trip destination from Panajachel or San Pedro. It is one of the less-visited towns around the lake, offering a more authentic, Guatemalan experience. When you visit the town, you may only go for the women’s weaving cooperatives, but I discovered plenty of other hidden gems worth visiting. In this post I will tell you about 20 amazing things you absolutely must do in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala.
Wander around and see the various murals in San Juan La Laguna
San Juan La Laguna is famous for its artists and murals that can be admired all over town. Wander around the village and notice the various murals depicting aspects of Tz’utujil life and legend.
Go for a quick hike to El Cerro del La Cruz (the cross hill / the Cruz lookout)
The official path to El Cerro del La Cruz (the Cruz lookout) is the same as hiking to Indian Nose, so it is best done together. However, you can also decide to only hike to the Cruz if you just want a quick view of the eastern shore of Lake Atitlán. For me, it was definitely one of the best things I have done in San Juan La Laguna. The entrance is opposite the gas station on the road to Santa Clara La Laguna. The hike is easy and only takes you around 15 minutes. The admission for the Cruz lookout is Q20 / $2.75.
Hike to Indian Nose from San Juan La Laguna and see a surreal sunrise
If you love hiking and want to see one of the world’s most surreal sunrises, you have to hike to Indian Nose! Indian’s Nose, or La Nariz de Indio, is located at 2,863 meters (9,393 feet) and looks over the villages of San Pedro, Santa Clara and San Marcos. Its name comes from the fact that the profile of the mountain looks like a sleeping Indian. In the past, the peak was considered sacred by the Mayans, who would pray and conduct religious services at the top. The hike to the top is not too hard and only takes around two hours from San Juan La Laguna.
Visit an organic coffee farm in San Juan La Laguna
When you visit the town of San Juan La Laguna in Lake Atitlán Guatemala you may only go for the women’s weaving cooperatives, but there’s a hidden gem worth visiting… an organic coffee farm. Guatemala is known for gourmet coffee, so I wanted to taste it right at the source. If you drink coffee, you might find it interesting to learn about how its produced. I can recommend a visit to El Tata Café. This place has a beautiful coffee plantation and is managed by a local family.
Go on a birdwatching tour
I went on a birdwatching tour with the super friendly and knowledgeable guide Juan of Hotel Uxlabil. At 06:00 AM we set foot to El Cerro del La Cruz (the cross hill) to explore different birds along the way and end the tour with a stunning view of San Juan La Laguna and Lake Atilán. Along the way we spotted different exotic birds like the rufous browed peppershrike, the bronzed cowbird, and beautiful blue-tailed hummingbirds.
Participate in a painting workshop
Do you want to discover the beauty, versatility and uniqueness of colours used by the Tz’utujil indigenous artists in San Juan La Laguna? Then you should follow a painting workshop! You can walk in a random art gallery and ask for a workshop. You will learn about landscapes, indigenous life, still life painting and experiment with colours and hues.
Visit the local art galleries
Visit the local art galleries. San Juan artists are known for interpreting their ancestral traditions through painting. Visit the different art galleries and learn about the Maya calendar and historical references through art.
Visit the main church of San Juan La Laguna
The Catholic Church in San Juan La Laguna is a juxtaposition of the old and the new church. The interior of the church is absolutely stunning complete with intricate stained-glass windows, a beautiful pulpit, and statues located throughout. Take a look at the ornate wood-carved doors upon entering.
Go wander one textile shop after another
The women of Guatemala make a stunning sight in their long, woven skirts and huipile tops. Along with their outfits, everywhere you look you will be amazed by weaving products; colorful blankets, scarves, and purses abound. Hammocks, pillowcases and embroidered shoes will have you wishing you had more money and luggage room for shopping.
Buying products at the weaving workshops is not just shopping to me. It helps sustain a community and make you feel part of cultural preservation. It is knowing the people who made the products and not simply consuming goods. I am sure you will enjoy it!
Watch a weaving- or natural dye demonstration
Go wander around the textile shops and watch a weaving- or natural dye demonstration. The cotton is all locally grown, hand combed, and naturally dyed. It is a painstaking process, but results in some of the most stunning colors I have ever seen.
Kayak at lake Atitlán
Rent kayaks and enjoy some time splashing about in the water.
Learn about chocolate at the Lake Atitlán Chocolate Factory: Licor Marron
Guatemala Chocolate has a rich history in Guatemala. Lake Atitlán Chocolate Factory Tours are one of the sweetest experiences that Lake Atitlán has to offer. You can either walk in for a FREE chocolate demonstration or make your own chocolate during a 3-hour hands-on workshop (reservation needed). There is also a little shop where you can buy handmade chocolate, chocolate medicines and chocolate bathing products.
Join a fisherman on lake Atitlán
As the number and size of fish being caught in San Juan La Laguna is decreasing, it’s becoming more difficult for fishermen to make a living. Luckily tourism is on the rise and help these traditional fishermen to make an income. You can now join a fisherman in a cayuco, a traditional wooden boat shaped like a canoe, and learn about the traditional fishing process. The fishermen enjoy the company of the tourists and make an income at the same time.
Relax at a traditional Mayan sauna: a temazcal
Relax at a traditional Mayan sauna (temazcal) to sooth your body with aromatic and curative herbs (usually heated with firewood). The sauna at eco-hotel Mayachik only costs Q 50 per group (maximum 10 people) or you can use their special deal on Sunday, where you can enjoy the sauna including pizza for only Q 10! (visit eco-hotel MayAchik’s Facebook page for the current offers). The sauna at hotel Uxlabil only costs Q75 per group (maximum 6 people). At this hotel, you can also take a traditional massage.
Take a photo at the docks
San Juan La Laguna is not overwhelmed by tourists, so it is easier to take a beautiful photo here of yourself on the docks!
Learn about the nursery of medical plants
Go on a medical plant tour and learn about the benefits of plants, explained by healers and midwives, who heal the inhabitants of the village with their inherited knowledge. You can also try and purchase the plant essences, ointments, soaps, shampoo, teas, and other products that have restorative and healing properties.
Go on a cultural tour
When you have limited time to explore San Juan La Laguna, but want to see as much as possible of the culture, you can also simply reserve a cultural tour at one of the agencies. These tours usually include a walking tour across the murals, the catholic church, the cemetery, a coffee plantation, painting gallery, and weaving workshop where you can learn about the process for naturally dyeing cotton and its transformation on backstrap looms, to turn it into beautiful weavings.
Visit the local market
Nothing is more fun than strolling through a market where local vendors are offering their wares. Most of the local markets around lake Atitlán are vibrant, colourful and filled with exotic smells. Buy some fresh fruits or try some traditional snacks.
Try a choco banano (chocolate-covered frozen banana)
Freezing bananas, dipping them in melted chocolate, peanut butter or dulce de leche and topping them with better-for-you ingredients, are truly amazing snacks! They help you keep cool and satisfied with no guilt attached, and only cost the equivalent of 5 cents each! Still in the mood for choco bananos after visiting Guatemala? Try this recipe of Jessica!
Try the best cheese and meat platters you will ever taste in Central America!
Eat your weight in meat and cheese at Cafe el Artesano. The cafe is well known for their cheese and meat platters (reservations are required). The cheese plate comes with around 27, yes 27, different types of cheese, all sourced in Guatemala. These ran the gamut from blue to goat to parmiggiano to gouda. This platter was liberally sprinkled with pistachios, grapes, green olives, and almonds and came complete with a bowl of honey and another of guava chutney. The meat tray was equally impressive with 17 different varieties of meats; sausage, proscuitto, salami, ham, and mortadello.
Do you know any other great things to do in San Juan La Laguna? Let me know in a comment!
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