4 days at Lago Atitlán


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Published: April 5th 2018
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On Monday 26th of March, we left Semuc Champey and went to Lago Atitlán. We had booked a shuttle via our hostel and had to be at the reception and check out at 6:30AM. As always in Guatemala, our shuttle was late and we only left the hostel at 7AM. First, 25 people with their bagpacks had to squeeze in the back of the hostel’s truck to go down to Lanquín and it was a very uncomfortable ride. Fortunately, Laura from Canada and me had the seats at the back and had the nicest view. The ride was 30 minutes and even though we were still tired and it was uncomfortable, we enjoyed the beautiful view. Once we arrived to Lanquín, we split up into our different shuttles. Anja, Skander and me said goodbye to Tina who went to Xela and we took a shuttle to Panajachel, the biggest town at Lago Atitlán. There were a few other germans in our bus, but we stayed mostly amongst ourselves. Somewhere on the way, a Chinese guy joined us. He had flown from China to Canada and then been going South with his bicycle. This was the first time he took a bus. Crazy!

The bus ride was really really long ; fortunately I had my book to read, but at some point I finished it and I hadn’t downloaded a new book, so the ride got very long for me as well. Our shuttle went via Guatemala City and Antigua (something we hadn’t known, otherwise we would have stayed 1 night in Antigua) and, there, we had a lot of traffic. In Antigua, we had to change shuttles and there our driver told us that with all the traffic, we would probably arrive to Panajachel only at 10PM or 11PM ! °_°

That meant that we wouldn’t get the last boat to our hostel in Santa Cruz, since the last boat was at 7PM. Same for the German people in our shuttle... So I tried to find another hostel in Panajachel where we could stay the night and found one : La Iguana Perdida, and I booked it for the 3 of us. Unfortunately, Hostelworld had had a bug and the hostel wasn’t in Panajachel but also in Santa Cruz!

So I called our hostel in Santa Cruz (Free Cerveza) and explained them our situation. They told me, late check-in would be no problem and they could sent us a private boat to pick us up for 200 or 300 Q. That was pricy, but not that bad. The Germans didn’t have a SIM card from Guatemala and didn’t know what to do, so we offered them to take our reservation at La Iguana Perdida and to share the private boat with us and so they called their hostel in San Marcos to cancel it. So, in the end, we all found a place to stay and got there late, but the price for the boat was ok.



We arrived to Free Cerveza at about 10:30PM, just when a bunch of the people there took the private boat to go party in San Pedro. Our check-in was fast and easy, the staff there was really nice and helpful. Unfortunately, our tent didn’t close and so we had to keep it open at night. The staff promised us that it would be repaired the next day. Since we had had a very long day, we just ate the free brownie we had gotten at the reception (we hadn’t eaten anything all day) and went to bed.

For my part, I slept very well, I had my sleeping bag to curl into and I was cozy warm. Skander and Anja, though, had only the blankets from the hostel and were quite cold.



At Free Cerveza, there is only 1 dorm, the rest are tents (kind of dorm tents for 3 to 4 people) and I liked that very much. Anja and Skander don’t go camping often and rarely sleep in tents, so they complained a lot that the mattresses are too hard and that it’s too cold, but for me, being used to camping, it was pretty good.

The only 2 bad things in this hostel were that there was a lot of mould on the tents and that their eco-toilets stank sometimes. In general, I really liked Free Cerveza. The showers were really hot, you can jump from their private jetty into the lake, they have air mattresses that you can borrow for free, their food is really good and in the evening, there is free beer if you ordered the dinner menu (70Q for soup + main dish + dessert). There was a very nice atmosphere and always some party in the night, but at 10PM or 11PM the bar closes, so you can still have a quiet night.

It was cheap enough and I would go back there without any hesitation.



On the first morning, I had breakfast and read my new book. Anja, Skander and me had decided to spend that day relaxing and recovering after the exhausting travel the day before. At breakfast, Anja and Skander told me, they wouldn’t go to Antigua the 2 day later, as we had planned, but would stay 2 more nights in San Marcos where the hostel was much cheaper than in Antigua and, probably, much more quiet. When I asked at the reception what there was to do at Lago Atitlán, they told me I should visit San Marcos, San Juan and San Pedro and, if possible, extend my stay for 2 nights and go to San Pedro to do the « Indian nose sunrise » tour to hike up a mountain to see the sunrise over the lake. So, I decided to do just that and booked the hostel they recommended me : Hostel Fe in San Pedro.

So, after breakfast, I went to the lake, swam a bit and relaxed in the sun, reading. That was basically my first day. :-)

I was thinking about taking a paddling tour the next morning, but it was really expensive, to I decided against it.

In the evening, Skander was feeling a bit sick, so I spent the night with the other people from the hostel. There I met Matt and Cody from Florida, Cécile from France and her friend from Canada and a few other people. We played « ring of fire » during the free beer time and got pretty drunk. We had a very good time together and barely noticed when dinner was served. Afterwards, we played some other drinking game but I stopped soon because I didn’t want to drink as many shots as them and - seeing their hangover the next day - I made a wise decision. ^_^

So I spent some more time with Cody and Matt who weren’t playing either and then went to bed.



The next morning, I had a slight hangover and so, first thing in the morning, I jumped into the cold lake. After breakfast, I took a ferry to San Marcos and walked around for some time, until I found the park there. San Marcos is a nice town with lots of bars and restaurants, but it’s an absolute hippy town with massages, reiki and yoga everywhere. Otherwise, there is not much going on there. The park was very nice though. I climbed up to the viewpoints and enjoyed the sun and the view, but soon more people came and I climbed down again. On my way out, I found the famous cliff jumping place in the park and it looked like a lot of fun. There is this place where you can jump off an 8m high cliff into the lake. I didn’t have my bikini on, so I decided to come back later with Anja and Skander and do the jumping with them.

Since all the restaurants were more expensive than our hostel, I just took a ferry back to Santa Cruz. I checked out the town, but there really isn’t much to see, just a few houses and 2 hostels (ours included). So I was back at our hostel at around 1PM, had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading.

Anja and Skander were in San Pedro and came back quite late. We had decided not to eat at the hostel, but to go to a restaurant in Santa Cruz. When we arrived there, it turned out that, that night, they were full and only had a reduced menu for other guests and it didn’t look good at all. Anja and Skander wanted to eat at the other hostel, La Iguana Perdida, but they only had Chili con carne and I really had no taste for that, so I left them there and went back to our hostel. I booked a last minute dinner menu and was able to drink 2 more free beer before the happy hour was over.

That night, they had a contest, we made groups of 4 to 6 people and had to guess 60 songs and from which movie or series they are. For most of them, I had no clue, but Matt, Cody and the other girl in our group were really good and it was fun. :-)

Then it started to rain heavily and I went back to our tent, where we played a few rounds of UNO.



It rained all night and the next morning, so I missed the free yoga class I had wanted to take. Well, next time ^_^

Fortunately, it stopped raining at 8AM and we could pack our stuff and leave our hostel without being soaking wet. Anja and Skander went to their new hostel in San Marcos and me to mine in San Pedro. I couldn’t check in yet, so I left my stuff and visited San Pedro. It’s a much larger town than Santa Cruz, with many bars, restaurants, tour agencies and a big marked. It was pretty nice, but nothing special. I had lunch at a very cute place next to my hostel where I got a huge plate of delicious couscous with vegetables and I enjoyed the view over the lake, even if it was still quite cloudy.

Back at the hostel, I checked in and met my room mates : a couple from Germany and a Dutch guy. They had partied hard the night before and were still in bed, but they were really nice.

I tried out the hamacs in our hostel and relaxed a bit, until Anja and Skander came to my hostel and we had a beer at our bar. Unfortunately, they had to leave at 5PM, because that’s when the last ferry leaves to San Marcos.



That afternoon, Tina arrived to San Marcos and spent the evening with Anja and Skander and Laurenz arrived to San Juan and joined me in San Pedro. Fortunately, from San Juan to San Pedro, you can take a tuc tuc until 9 PM, so we had a few beers and shared some chicken wings and pizza in my hostel.

In our hostel bar, there was - like every night - a party going on and so, after Laurenz left, I went up to my room to read in the hamac outside. It’s really loud in San Pedro, there are parties everywhere, people drinking, vomiting all over the place and the hostel was disgusting, especially the bathroom. It really isn’t a place for someone who wants to some quiet and some cultural experience, but if you want to get drunk and if you like techno music, it’s your place !

So, I didn’t sleep very well, but hey, that’s life in hostels, you don’t always know what you’re getting into until you’re there.



The next morning, I was supposed to have breakfast with Laurenz in San Marcos and to meet Anja, Skander and Tina there, but in the end they all canceled, because they had other plans. So I went to San Juan to join Laurenz. His hostel was really beautiful and quiet and he definitely got the better hostel from the two of us. Anyway... In his hostel, there lived this really nice old woman from South Africa that supports local associations of artisans and she had promised to show him one of the oldest and most famous associations in Guatemala and I could come with them. :-)

She told us a lot about the civil war in Guatemala (1960-1996) and how bad it was for local people. The founder and oldest member of this association saw how here parents and sister were butchered in the street and many atrocities happened. This civil war was fought between the government and different leftist rebel groups and the poor rural people. There were many human rights violations and it was a genocide of the Maya population. It was highly supported by the United States and really really bad.

Now, in Guatemala, every 4 years there are new elections and all policital leaders all replaced by new one. The bad thing about this is that there is no real continuity in the country and the projects, since every government can change everything the previous had done.



On our way to this local association, she showed us the cotton tree and the cotton that grows after the flowers die. She also showed us the brown cotton that is much smaller and of much more value. Apparently, not long ago, a tree with natural green cotton has been discovered and it’s now being planted to see what comes of it.

When we got to the association, she presented us to the ladies working there and showed us around. She showed us how they make wool out of cotton, silk and bamboo, how they clean the cotton, how they spin the wool and how they colour them with natural colours. They have a small exhibition place where they show all the plants they use to colour the wool and what colour what plant gives, for example avocado nut gives a brown colour, carrot gives an orange, the leaves of the indigo plant give indigo blue and their flowers an orange, etc. Depending on how many leaves or grains you use, the colour will get stronger or lighter and to fix the colour, they use the banana plant. There are about 45 people working in this association.

It was really interesting !

She also walked around the shop with us and showed us which products are cotton, which are silk and which are bamboo. In the end, I bought a thick blue silk scarf and a light silk poncho and Laurenz bought a jacket for himself and a lot of scarves etc. as presents. :-)



We left our stuff at his hostel and had some lunch in a nice restaurant at the lake side. Then we took a ferry to San Marcos, where Anja, Skander and Tina have been waiting for us for quite some time (shopping had taken longer than planned ^_^). We were in the park there and jumped into the water and Skander and me even did the cliff jumping! :-) It was fun and we had a good time together. Fortunately, there was no sign of rain anymore and the sky was mostly clear.

At 4PM, we went for some smoothies and chocolate cake and at 5PM, Laurenz had to leave with one of the last ferries to San Pedro. There, we booked our shuttle to Antigua for 10:30AM the next day and we booked our « Indian nose sunrise tour » for the next morning. We went for dinner to a restaurant next to the lake side and enjoyed some beer and really good spaghetti carbonara. Since we would have to get up at 3:30 the next morning, Laurenz went back to his hostel early and I went to bed.

Of course, I couldn’t sleep, or better, it was impossible to sleep with all the noise people in the streets made and so I had another bad night.



The next morning, our shuttle for the « Indian nose sunrise tour » left at 4AM and we picked up Laurenz in San Juan on the way. It was 1h with the shuttle to the mountain and then a 30 minutes hike up. There, we had an amazing view over the lake and seeing the sunrise there was absolutely magical ! I loved it so much and we were really lucky with the weather, no rain nor any clouds, but full moon! :-D

At 7:30 AM we were back at our hostel and had time to have breakfast and pack our stuff before taking our shuttle at 10:30 AM to Antigua.



Checking out has never taken me more time than in this hostel ! They were really slow and the staff was not very competent or smart. In general, I can’t recommend this hostel. The staff is average, the rooms very small, the bathroom most of the time disgusting and it’s always really noisy. The only good thing is that there is good food.





When I went to the shuttle, it was overbooked and there was a huge chaos. Fortunately I got there early and got a seat for myself and I took one for Laurenz who would jump in in San Juan. One guy had to leave the shuttle again, because his ticket wasn’t valid (the company where he had booked hadn’t called the bus agency and so there was no free seat for him, even if he had paid...) and another couple just didn’t get in and I don’t know what they did then. Just lucky I was there early and Laurenz and me got a seat !


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