Traveler's assistant photo editor Krista Rossow and I headed to San Marcos La Laguna, a serene village in Guatemala's Highlands populated by indigenous Mayans and New Age hippies. For just $5 apiece, we were whisked out of Antigua, a European-esque town about a half-hour drive from Guatemala City, and dropped off in the dark four hours later. "Oh, just follow that path to your hotel," said our driver, pointing us down a winding dirt road. So Krista with her rolling suitcase and I with my backpack started off down the path with no flashlight and a lot of wild dogs. We arrived at our hotel white-knuckled and ready for an evening of sleep.
Waking up in our gorgeous, treehouse-like Hotel Aaculaax the next day, we felt rewarded for our efforts. The hotel is just a short stroll to Lake Atitlán's shores and is built into the living rock of the hillside using adobe, recycled glass and plastic. Off our room was a flower-lined terrace, perfect for watching the sun rise over one of Atitlán's three volcanoes.
After getting breakfast at the hotel's restaurant (and savoring their cafe con leche and tasty traditional Guatemalan dishes), Krista and I decided to do...nothing. Sure, we did a little yoga at Las Piramides, the village's meditation center, and got cheap (and wonderfully soothing) shiatsu massages at Beatrice's Massages, but the beauty of San Marcos lies in its tranquility. Besides waking up bright and early to the sound of a rooster and again in the afternoon to the sound of children's laughter, it's virtually silent. At one point, I thought the bumblebees sounded a little loud on the terrace, and I was in the bedroom.
Interested in making the trek yourself? Here are my suggestions:
- Looking to relax? Stay in San Marcos. Though there are several other villages, San Marcos is the most serene and extremely cheap. More of a partygoer? Try San Pedro, the next village, which is a hotspot for the younger crew and filled with bars and restaurants.
- Bring a book. Take a break from the hustle and bustle and settle for an afternoon in the Guatemalan sun. Krista and I found a great swim spot that was fairly secluded (except for a few fishermen and the boat of 30 German tourists that docked there one afternoon) and stopped by every day.
- Make friends. The Mayan people living in San Marcos are wonderful and many are eager to share their stories and hear your own. Krista, who is fluent in Spanish, was able to speak with several of the locals who'd picked up Spanish as a second language.
- Eat. We fell in love with one of San Marcos' newest restaurants, Xaman'ek, situated on the top of San Marcos' sacred hill. Try one of their inventive crepes and a papaya smoothie. Also worth trying is Il Forno, a two-story restaurant with several different pizzas, wine, and a nightly movie.
- Get a massage. There are at least five different places to get massages in San Marcos, and most are extremely cheap. I had an hour-long massage for around $15.
- Take a day trip to Chichicastenango, home of one of Guatemala's largest outdoor markets. I picked up wooden masks, a handmade bag, jewelry, and a small statue for under $50.