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Published: June 25th 2013
ARRIVAL IN SAN JUAN
I walked to San Juan from Indian Nose, the admittedly majestic shape of a facial profile on the Northwestern end of the lake. This was on the tail-end of my backpacking trip with Quetzaltrekkers. Most people arrive in Panajachel or San Pedro, however. The town seemed traditional and authentic, and could be a refuge from its far more touristy neighbor, San Pedro.
It should cost about 5 quetzales per person to take a tuk tuk or pickup truck to San Pedro, the next town. After hearing some horror stories of machete attacks, etc. on the paths between the towns, I hopped in the back of a pickup truck with a few others from the trek for a ten minute standing ride to San Pedro. Every gringo local I asked said it was unsafe to walk between the towns, except maybe in large groups. It´s also apparently unsafe to try to climb Indian Nose or San Pedro without a guide, all of which are bummers: this lake would be ideal to circumnavigate solo.
During the rainy season (I was there in late June), it typically is sunny and clear in the mornings, cloudy mid-afternoon, and then periods of rain in the
The view from the entrance to Mikaso Hotel is pretty spectacular.
late afternoon, evening and night.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN SAN PEDRO
We were exhausted and filthy when we arrived, and we had heard that ZOOLA
, an Israeli-run hostel, is a good place. There were only a few rooms left, so we mistakenly booked two nights (the minimum) without much scrutiny.
Unless you want to be at the scene of a 24-hour party, ask to have a room far away from the pool and eating area. Both are pretty nice (see photo), and the food there is excellent, but it´s quite loud, even during the day. Some smarter travelers I met came to Zoola at night to party and then crashed somewhere more comfortable.
The rooms are average. The mattresses are poor but the bathrooms are clean enough. There isn´t much privacy.
The hostel has an impressive movie area and other amenities like laundry, etc.
After two nights, we decided to move to MIKASO
, which has to be the prime choice in San Pedro, especially during low season.
The traditional Spanish-style architecture of the building is beautiful and there are patios on all sides, providing different view of the lake and the mountains. It was significantly pricier than most of the hostels in town, and it is a bit
of a walk (5 minutes or so) from the town center, but they do have dormitories with bunkbeds-- a rare find in such a nice place. Hardly anyone was there since it was low season, so a few friends and I went to explore the restaurant area on the roof at around 9PM; it was closed, so we had the whole area to ourselves in the velvet-black darkness. Such nights can´t be planned.
ACTIVITIES IN SAN PEDRO
There is a plethora of travel tiendas along the main tourist road, but I recommend the place called Tornado. They were honest and helpful. They also speak English if you need it.
Also, there is a wonderful diner directly across the street from Tornado, named Lula´s. Breakfast there is cheap and delicious. The main restaurant area of the town is a block or so away from the shore and has impressive variety: American, Mexican, Asian, vegetarian cuisine is easy to find.
There are plenty of Spanish schools in San Pedro. You could easily just show up in the off-season and arrange a homestay for the next day. Expect to spend around $150-200 per week for lodging, food, and four hours a day of one-on-one lessons. There is
View from Tuk-Tuk
While he blasted Toto´s ¨Rains Down in Africa¨
a good deal of English spoken in San Pedro, though, and plenty of distractions. Some recommend studying in Xela instead.
A friend and I rented kayaks one day and paddled over to San Marcos. It was reasonably priced and easy to arrange through our hostel at the time, Zoola. They have some slower, more stable kayaks for beginners and sleek, fast ones for more experienced people. It took about 45 minutes to cross the lake to San Marcos, the most hippie-ish of the towns around the lake.
Through Tornado tours we also went on a short day trip to a small coffee processing factory (100 quetzales per person). They also process honey and fertilizer, and all of their processes are responsible and sustainable. They use worms and the shells of the coffee beans to produce fertilizer, which actually costs less to local farmers than chemical fertilizer. They also sell worm urine as a safe, organic pesticide. The man who led the tour is working hard to make itself a tourist destination -- they´re just finishing a nice visitors center. They´re also trying to make connections in the states so they export their product to more places. The tour was interesting and informative
See its reviews on Tripadvisor.
and the coffee was perhaps the best I´ve ever tasted. www.fedepmasolola.org.gt
LEAVING VIA PANAJACHEL
Instead of taking a longer busride from San Pedro back to Antigua, we decided to take a forty-minute boat trip across most of the lake. Boats leave when they get enough people to make money off of the trip. It isn´t the most comfortable ride, but it offered some exànsive views of the lake and gave me some perspective as to its size. A cursory walk through Panajachel didn´t impress me much, but I´ve heard great things about the private nature reserve there.
There are more photos below.
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