A stationary month in Antigua had us itching to move on to San Pedro Laguna, our next destination in Guatemala. The last time we were stationary for so long I was in the hospital having surgery in Thailand.
The journey from Antigua to San Pedro Laguna takes just 3 hours by bus ride but San Pedro and Lake Atitlan are a world away from Antigua, Guatemala. We were looking forward to enjoying restaurants we could afford, other backpackers, to talk to and exploring again in a less developed town.
Antigua to San Pedro Laguna
Minibus shuttles are the main form of tourist transport here in Guatemala. Some of the longer destinations have big luxury coaches but most journeys use minivans. It was our first time in a minivan since our first RTW way back in 2001, in all destinations in Asia, public transport had done us just fine but family travel in Central America is different.
We shopped around and found that the kids would have to pay full price here. At $45 each, it wasn’t a cheap 3 hours but we weren’t ready to jump on a chicken bus with the kids just yet.
A Sunday departure couldn’t be helped, the traffic was chaos because of the pre-Easter celebrations. Our bus into town just couldn’t make it the whole way through the crowds. We jumped off and walked 5 blocks to meet the minibus. We scrambled aboard and we were off.
Just out of Antigua I tried to listen to music only to discover that my phone was missing. I swore a lot and looked everywhere in the confined space, to no avail. My wife suggested it was pickpockets and I felt inclined to agree, we know of other travellers who’ve been hit by thieves in Antigua.
I was furious, not at the loss, but because I really resented my pocket being picked, it’s just not on! I felt a bit stupid too. I sat stewing and furious, not great company at all. At the rest stop, I got under the seats, a final check in the face of despair and there it was, on the floor on the other side of the bus. It must have fallen out when I climbed in and then been kicked across the floor. A great result and I was happy again, highly embarrassed for my previous outburst. My bad, sorry Guatemala!
San Pedro Laguna, Paradise Found
Arriving at dusk we opted to walk the little way up the hill to our pre-booked hostel. I normally don’t book the accommodation, it’s my wife’s department but she’d been insanely busy with work lately. This hostel was my call and she hadn’t even asked the name.
It was well ranked on numerous review sites so it should suffice for the 3 nights I’d booked.
Behind a big gated wall with razor wire, we had booked out a whole dorm with, what I thought, was its own bathroom. Alas, the facilities weren’t attached but outside and shared among the other rooms. The room wasn’t great, think jail cell, including a big steel door and tiny window, two bunk beds and a metal shelf more at home in a garage. This is why my wife picks our accommodation.
But given time we grew to love this place. The family owners were delightful, as was the rooftop seating and dining area. The cook was an ex-London professional chef, a kindred spirit escaping the chaos and long hours of the kitchens for the relaxed pace of Guatemala. She cooked up a mean breakfast.
Heading out for a late dinner we found a lovely, affordable and relaxed places to dine. Good food and beer always sort out any issues. In Antigua we wouldn’t have much change from $50 for dinner for four, here it was just $18. Not Asia-cheap but we didn’t have to eat beans and eggs for the next week.
Exploring San Pedro Laguna
San Pedro is tucked into the side of Lake Atitlan, a crater lake overlooked by a volcano of the same name. Our guest house sat in the shadow of the volcano and it was here we had our first taste of African noodles. Not what you would expect in the middle of Central America but our hosts wanted to share their African culture (they were an English/Nigerian couple) and it was wonderful. No more beans and eggs, we had found a great breakfast.
Villages dot the side of the lake and it was off to San Marcos that we decided to head the next afternoon. Launches leave from the dock every 15 minutes or so and cost about a dollar fifty each way.
The tiny town surprised us, great cafes and a few upmarket shops selling local handicrafts. Coffee and cake were to-die-for in one spot. The kids found a great playground to play in, an old-fashioned type, all-metal over concrete like they were before everyone became so worried about health and safety.
There are numerous excursions around San Pedro, horse riding, hiking up the volcano or up Indians Peak, the twice-weekly Chi Chi markets, Guatemala’s biggest market, a 2-hour drive up into the hills above the lake. We mostly just enjoyed hanging out, soaking up the town. We did visit Chi Chi markets, they were spectacular.
We doubled the length of our stay in San Pedro, which has changed our perception of Central America. It is more expensive than Asia but it offers a totally different experience. The biggest thing that struck me about the Lake Atitlan area was just how nice the people are, as we switched from Antigua to San Pedro Laguna it was instantly apparent. Everyone would talk and smile to each other and to tourists, our favourite pastime of people watching while having a cold Cerveza above the dock was brilliant and social.
We are heading north to Flores and Tikal, time is short, but we’ll miss San Pedro Laguna.