San Pedro La Laguna
On the lake’s southwest corner and accessible by frequent boats or road, San Pedro is second in popularity only to Panajachel and has a hip international atmosphere. The place has grown by leaps and bounds, from a once-scruffy village to a rather pleasant lakeside town with a solid international presence.
You’ll see signs in English, Spanish, French, and even Hebrew as you walk along the paths winding through town. The atmosphere in San Pedro embraces a simpler state of being and you’ll have no trouble slowing down to the local pace of life amidst the serene tropical foliage.
The town flanks the northern slopes of San Pedro Volcano, a popular climb for which the town is ideally suited as a base. It has increasingly become home to a number of language schools, some of dubious quality, collectively offering some of Guatemala’s least expensive tuition rates. While it was originally a backpacker Shangri-La, there have been recent additions to the hotel infrastructure, making for suitable accommodations to house the nonbackpacker crowd.
The bulk of the tourist hotels and services are between two docks, on the southeast and northwest sides of town, and in the areas adjacent to them. The first one serves boats to/from Panajachel and the rest of the lake towns; the other is for boats to Santiago Atitlán. They are about one kilometer apart.
The area between them is known as El Otro Lado (The Other Side). Street numbers and names are not generally in use here. From the Santiago dock, go up about 50 meters and turn right on teh footpath known as 7th Avenue to get to El Otro Lado and continue to the Panajachel boat dock. From the latter dock, go up one block and turn left to get to the other side of town. Numerous hand-painted signs will direct you almost anywhere you want to go.
In recent years there’s been some tension in San Pedro due to the proliferation of evangelical churches and their congregants who sometimes look upon San Pedro’s foreign presence as an unwelcome, “sinful” hindrance. On at least one occasion, congregants have surrounded a well-known bar and forced it to shut down for the night.
The palapa lounge at the Israeli-owned Zoola restaurant and hotel has been burned down twice, leading some to wonder if the attacks were perpetrated in the name of anti-Semitism. The lounge has since been replaced with a less flammable canvas substitute.
Getting to San Pedro
There are boats every half hour to Santiago (30 minutes, $2) from the dock at the northwest part of town. Lanchas also leave from the dock on the southeast side of town for the lakeshore villages of San Marcos ($1.50), Jaibalito ($2), Santa Cruz ($2.50), and Panajachel ($3). The last boat going in either direction usually leaves around 5 p.m.
There are buses to Quetzaltenango ($3, 2.5 hours) leaving from in front of the church at 4:30, 5, 5:30, 6, 7, 8, 10:30, and 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sundays these buses leave at 5, 5:30, 6, 8, and 11 a.m.
There are buses to Guatemala City from San Pedro departing Monday through Saturday at 3:30, 4, 5, 5:30, 6, 8, and 10 a.m. Afternoon buses depart at noon and 2 p.m. on the same days. Sunday departures for Guatemala City are at 6 and 7 a.m. and noon, 1, and 2 p.m.
There are frequent pickups to the villages as far as the road goes to San Marcos and in the other direction to Santiago. Shuttle vans ($25) leave from San Pedro (Casa Verde) at 9 a.m. daily for Antigua and Quetzaltenango.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com