I spent a month living and working from San Pedro la Laguna at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. The views here are spectacular and the local expat community made me feel so at home it made it difficult to leave. I’m certain that I’ll be back…
Working from more remote and off-the-beaten-path locations can sometimes be quite challenging. Power outages, low connectivity and the intrigue of exploring can be detrimental to the digital nomad. Here are some tips and tricks to make living at Lake Atitlan a bit easier.
The Best Places for Wifi
There were only 2 places that I worked from alternating between them due to limited wifi and lower speeds elsewhere. If you find another great spot, let me know in the comments!
Idea Connection is owned and operated by ‘The Italians’ and sometimes referred to as the ‘Italian Place’. They serve a great coffee, and make their own croissants, pastries, and pizza’s. The food and service are both excellent. There are plug-in’s at nearly every single table and when the power does go out (and it will), they have a generator that they run for both electricity and internet.
The speeds here aren’t great – generally around 2 Down/2 Up, but it was more than enough for me to blog and upload photos. If you have more intense demands, the lake might not be a good fit.
The Blue Parrot was my day to day ‘GO TO’ spot for work. There is a nice quiet patio, great drinks (try the fruit smoothies) and a selection of pub grub. For me, it was more about the management than the location. Dave is a gem. Always friendly and conversational. He’s lived at the lake for many years and is always open to giving some recommendations. **Dave tells me that he also has a generator that he runs during power outages.
Internet speeds are 4-5 Down and 2 Up on average. Again, not great but for the remote location it worked for me. There are plenty of plug-ins at the indoor tables and with an extension cord (you can get cheap at the hardware store), you can plug in and enjoy the patio.
**Be aware that the Tuesday night Pub Crawl stops here generally around 4-6pm
Nightly food specials are my favorite in town. Chicken Pot Pie, Shepards Pie, Chimichanga’s and many more will certainly satisfy your longing for some good comfort food. Ask for ‘Claudina’s Claudi Karma shot’ which goes great with coffee; it’s awesome and she makes the Kalua herself – you can even buy it by the bottle!!
My Top Spots and Recommendations
The best coffee to be found in San Pedro is hands-down Café Las Cristalinas. Located straight up from the Pana dock, you can sit and enjoy a coffee or pick up some beans to take home to brew. Specializing in locally grown artisanal coffee and cacao. They also have home cooked meals and deserts – I didn’t get an opportunity to eat here so I can’t comment on the food.
La Terraza is a close second for a great cup of coffee. With an added bonus of being lakeside with a great view. They also have some great handmade pasta’s. Just don’t plan to work from this location, the wifi has been a total bust. I’ve been told that they are hoping to install fiber-optic soon so check back with them!
Best Place to Meet the Local Expats
Smokin’ Joe’s Sunday BBQ is where the locals gather on Sundays (Noon-4pm). This is truly like heading to someone’s backyard Texas BBQ! The owner is from Texas and knows how to do it right. How to: Find the chalkboard that has the menu items, choose a protein, pay and give your name then head to the bar to start your tab.
When your name is called, you grab your meat and silverware and can load up on any/all of the southern style sides. Mac n Cheese (you can only get one portion of this – just hand your plate to the gals and they will load you up). Salads, corn on the cob, green beans, mashed potatoes, garlic bread, corn bread are just some of the tasty sides you can choose from.
Sunday doesn’t stop after the BBQ – most will head to an after-party at The Barrio for more drinks and live music.
Smokin’ Joe also has a butcher shop where you can buy fresh meat and cheese, open Tue-Fri 9am-6pm.
Best for Large Appetites
The Barrio’s weekend 4 course Brunch will hit the spot and fill up even those with the largest appetites! 4 courses for only Q40. Starting with fruit salad, soup, omelet/fritata, and ending with pancakes. It includes all you can drink coffee (the coffee is meh – but it’s all you can drink).
Around the Lake
There is something for everyone around the lake. In addition to the items noted, there is a variety of other adventures like hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, art classes, textile classes/demonstrations, and much more!
Santa Catarina Palopó – Best Photo Excursion
If you’re looking for that insta-perfect photo opportunity, check out Santa Catarina Polopo. An ambitious art project started in 2016 is turning this sleepy little village into a hotspot.
This hidden GEM deserves it’s own post. Find out Why you Should Visit Santa Catarina Palopó at Lake Atitlan.
San Juan la Laguna – Artesano Wine and Cheese
San Juan has it’s own unique atmosphere. It’s covered in murals depicting the local life. It’s a great place to wander around town for an afternoon. There are a couple of great coffee shops here.
Cafe Las Marias is a second floor tiny little cafe where they roast an sell their own coffees. When I say tiny…there are literally only 2 tables with a great view of the lake. It’s only about 15 min via tuk tuk from San Pedro.
For a great upscale date, check out El Artesano. Serving up locally cured meats and cheeses, paired with wine. Be aware, they require reservations. I didn’t get an opportunity to eat here but I did check out the ‘sister’ restaurant across the street (can’t remember the name). They serve great italian sandwiches using locally sourced cheeses. I’m told that they plan to start selling cheese in the near future. If you’re a cheese lover like me…this is a gem!
You can hail any tuk-tuk from San Pedro. It’s about 15 min ride. I had my own scooter so I don’t know what the cost is.
Santiago – Market and the Drunken, Devilish Mayan Deity
Santiago is the largest town on the lake. Well known for it’s market, church and the drunken, devilish Mayan deity Maximón. Santiago is great for a day-trip.
Check out A shrine to Maximón. This weird deity is worshiped by the local Mayan’s. The history of the movement of this shrine is quite interesting. He’s looked after and housed by a local Shaman’s family year after year. I won’t go into details here…go and check it out for yourself.
Cemeterio General is a nice colorful example of the local burial techniques. It’s worth a stop if you enjoy walking among the dead.
Iglesia Saint James the Apostle built in 1547, it’s reported to be the oldest in all of Guatemala. It’s also the center of local activity. The park next to the church is a great place to take a break and people-watch.
After arrival, I got a tuk-tuk to spin me around to visit these sites. It was Q50 for 2 persons, and well worth it. We were dropped off at the Iglesia, and wandered our way back to the docks.
Getting to Santiago from San Pedro is simple. Head to the Santiago dock…anyone can tell you where it is, just know that it isn’t the main dock in town. It’s Q25 each way and takes about 20 minutes. Always ask when the last launcha (boat) back to San Pedro is. It’s generally around 5pm. If you miss the launcha, it’s a long tuk-tuk ride back.
San Marcos – Spiritual Haven
San Marcos is full of yoga and meditation centers. There are many sorts of massage, reiki, and alternative therapies here as well.
I didn’t stay in San Marcos long. A short day trip from San Pedro, there is a nice ‘tourist alley’ that has a multitude of restaurants and shops selling indigenous crafts. I’m also told that there are some hot springs which I didn’t explore.
Getting to San Marcos from San Pedro is simple. Departing frequently from the main Pana dock. It’s Q25 each way and takes about 20 minutes. Always ask when the last launcha (boat) back to San Pedro is. It’s generally around 5pm. If you miss the launcha, it’s a long tuk-tuk ride back.
Hostel Fe Bar and Restaurant
This location is under recent new ownership. I was here back in 2012 and loved this place. Great food, great service, friendly staff, and amazing food. Today, the staff are inattentive and I’ve not yet been able to try the food. I attempted twice to go here for dinner without success. The first time the staff totally ignored me and the second, I went for the ‘family dinner’ that’s advertised on the roadside board only to find out that you have to register for this before 4pm. (This information is not shared anywhere that I could find).
Know Before You Go
- Tap water is NOT safe to drink. Use bottled water for any drinking/cooking/etc.
- The lake is polluted and I wouldn’t recommend swimming due to health and safety concerns. “Seven years after experts confirmed that Lake Atitlán in southwestern Guatemala was contaminated with cyanobacteria, which is harmful to people and animals, little has been done to clean up the picturesque tourist destination where many Guatemalans also earn a livelihood.”
- You can generally eat the fish from the restaurants. It’s sourced outside of the lake and safe for consumption. If in doubt, ask. No one will be offended by you asking – they all understand your caution.
- Ask about safety if venturing anywhere outside of the main tourist area. There are still banditos in the area that will take advantage of travelers venturing to out of the way spots.
- Launcha’s (boats) are the best way to explore the villages around the lake. It’s not recommended to walk from town to town. Always ask about safety before attempting.
- There are nightly food and drink specials somewhere almost every night of the week. Get the free Monthly Lake Atitlan magazine (ask any restaurant for one) to find out what’s happening.
- Most places use FB for announcing events/nightly specials/activities. You can also find these by just walking around and reading the signboards outside of the restaurants. Instagram is also a good source for information.
- San Pedro La Laguna is the first community on Lake Atitlán, and the third municipality in Guatemala, to eliminate the use of plastic bags. The new provision is stringent and also outlaws plastic straws, Styrofoam containers and all packaging material made of polystyrene. (Sounds to me like a great business opportunity to create/produce/sell more sustainable biodegradable products.) It’s hopeful that all of the villages will adopt similar provisions in efforts to reduce pollution to the lake.
- Burning season starts around March until about May, there is a constant haze in the sky and if you have respiratory issues, this may be a time to avoid.
- AirBnB prices are highly inflated. If you are staying for a longer period, I recommend that you book a couple nights and ask around for a long-term rental.
- Due to frequent power outages, if you have a portable external (solar) charger it could be quite handy.
- FB groups to note: San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (Events, Parties, News, Volunteering, etc) and La Laguna News, and Lake Atitlan Buy Sell Trade