Colorful street in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

San Juan La Laguna – Complete Travel Guide

Home » Guatemala » San Juan La Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s most colorful town

San Juan La Laguna is a magical town on Lake Atitlan’s shores full of art, textiles and Mayan culture. On the streets, you will see all local women in traditional dresses which makes San Juan even more colorful and special.

We spent two weeks in the picturesque town of San Juan and loved our time there. It was the perfect place to root in a traditional Mayan town and explore the rest of Lake Atitlan. Even if you do not stay the night make sure you come visiting!

Despite being a small town there are plenty of unique things to do. So keep reading to find out the best things to do in San Juan La Laguna at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala! 🤠

Where is San Juan La Laguna on the map?

San Juan La Laguna is located on Lake Atitlan, between San Marcos and San Pedro, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan is the largest lake in Guatemala which is actually an extinct volcanic crater filled with water. The water is super blue and the landscapes around the lake are spectacular.

The lake is 1500 meters above sea level and near the equator. This means the weather never gets too hot or cold year-round, another reason for tourists to come.

Read here: How to get to Lake Atitlan cheap 🚐

San Juan La Laguna map at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
San Juan La Laguna map

What is San Juan Guatemala known for?

San Juan La Laguna is known for its art, crafts and weaving workshops. It’s a great place to experience Mayan culture and the beautiful landscapes around Lake Atitlan.

Everywhere you go you will see local women dressed in traditional clothing selling tortillas and welcoming you with their warm hospitality. It feels like stepping back in time!

Colorful mural in San Juan La Laguna showing a local women in a traditional dress and a sea turtle

15 Best San Juan La Laguna Things to Do

San Juan isn’t big but there are plenty of things to do. The town is easy to explore on foot or by tuk-tuk if you are short on time. I recommend staying the night to see the town lit up but if you are short on time it’s also a great place for a day visit.

1. Wander the Colorful Streets

One of the best things about San Juan La Laguna is that it is like a giant art gallery. The streets are full of colorful murals and crafts that make the town feel so alive.

From the moment you get off the boat, you will be immersed in San Juan’s artwork as the boat jetty leads up the colorful umbrella street into town. This street is a bit touristy with souvenir shops and hanging umbrellas like you find in other towns around the world.

A colorful street with paintings on the ground and umbrellas hanging in the air at the entrance to San Juan La Laguna

But watching the red little tuk-tuks come by and the traditional Mayan clothes on display (that are still worn in town today!) let you know immediately that San Juan is special.

Once you get into town there is a lot of interesting artwork and more colorful less-touristy streets to discover. My favorite street to walk down is La Calle de los Sombreros.

A colorful street with paintings on the ground and on the walls with hats hanging in the air
Colorful street art next to a basketball court in San Juan La Laguna

This street is called this because of the colorful hats that are hung over the street. There is also a colorful basketball court for local children to play on with some beautiful artwork.

If you head to this street on the weekend you may also see local guys playing music on a wooden instrument called a Marimba.

A painting of men playing the Marimba which is a traditional instrument in Guatemala

Marimba is like a wooden xylophone and a very traditional type of music in Guatemala. This instrument originated in Africa and was introduced to Guatemala by African slaves.

When you see them playing the instrument the music sounds like they just play for tourists. But our homestay host would listen to it all day! His name was Diego so whenever we heard Marimba music around Guatemala we called it “Diego Music”.

Some colorful street art in San Juan La Laguna of a man wearing a colorful shirt and playing an instrument

2. Walk Up the Mirador

The next best thing to do in San Juan is to head up to Mirador Kaqasiiwaan. This wooden mirador is on a hill just outside of San Juan and has spectacular views over Lake Atitlan.

Like the rest of town, the Mirador is also covered in colorful murals. So you can check out artwork with an awesome view of Lake Atitlan and San Pedro Volcano at the same time.

You can reach the Mirador by walking 15 minutes from San Juan’s town center. If you are short on time you can catch a tuk-tuk there and back but make sure to haggle! 🛺

The entrance to the Mirador is 30 Quetzales (4 USD) and it takes about 15 minutes to walk up to the top from the entrance. Enjoy the view!

See here: Best Route to San Juan’s Mirador

A woman looking out at the view from a mirador over Lake Atitlan with a couple of volcanoes in the background

3. Go on the Indian Nose Hike

The Indian Nose is the name given to the mountain rising up behind San Juan La Laguna and is an awesome day hike while you are at Lake Atitlan.

It is called the Indian Nose hike because the mountain looks like the face of a man lying on his back. The hike will take you to the top of his nose for an amazing view over the Lake.

The hike starts at the Mirador Kaqasiiwaan (which is the second-best thing to do in San Juan on this list) and winds its way up the hill. The best time to go on this hike is at sunrise!

🎒 You can go by yourself following the description on AllTrails or join this highly-rated sunrise tour which includes a private pick-up and a professional guide.

The Indian Nose mountain rising up behind San Juan La Laguna
Can you see the nose of the man’s face sticking up?

4. Visit a Textile Store (San Juan La Laguna Weaving)

San Juan La Laguna is well known around Lake Atitlan for its weaving workshops. Local women weave traditional colorful clothing and sell it at shops around town.

Even if you are not going to buy anything the workshops are still very interesting to visit. The clothing is high quality and only uses natural dyes and materials.

There are quite a few great textile stores in San Juan La Laguna but our favorite was Casa Flor Ixcaco Weaving Co-operative. All of the products in the store come with a tag that shows who made the item, the materials used, and how long it took to make. Impressive!

Read also: 16 Cheap Things to do in Antigua 🤠

The interior of a store selling Mayan weaving textiles in San Juan La Laguna

5. Check out some Art Galleries

While strolling through San Juan La Laguna you will already feel like being in a big outdoor art gallery. But also make sure to pop into a few of the little art galleries around town.

Local artists have done a great job capturing Guatemalan culture in bright colors on canvas and wooden souvenirs. Taking to them is a great way to get to know local life even better. You can also ask to join a painting workshop as many offer them.

Our favorite galleries are:

Read also: 11 Best Ruins in Antigua

Bright colorful paintings on a wall showing local life in San Juan La Laguna

6. Try Mayan Stingless Bee Honey

One of the most unique attractions in San Juan La Laguna are the Mayan Stingless Bees. These bees have been cultivated by the Mayan people for over 3,000 years.

They are unique because they have no stinger although they will bite to defend their hive. They also do not create a honeycomb but a nest in old logs.

The honey of the Mayan Stingless Bees has a unique flavor and is much different from European bees. To try some samples for free, just turn up at one of the two honey farms in San Juan where employees will give you a quick 10-minute tour:

🐝 Mundo de Abejas Mayas
🐝 Xunah Kaab

During the free tour, you will see the bees and nests and can sample interesting types of honey. There are also tons of honey-based products from the shop to buy if you like.

Read also: Best destinations for foodies 🌮

The entrance to the Mayan stingless bee tour in San Juan La Laguna
Entrance to Mundo de Abejas Mayas, no photos were allowed inside

7. Visit a Chocolate Factory

Chocolate has a long and important history for the Mayan people. The Cocoa tree was considered a sacred plant and a gift from the gods. Cocoa was drunk during many important rituals and at one point Cocoa beans were even used as currency.

Because cocoa is a big part of Mayan culture, San Juan is a great place to learn about the process of making chocolate. Chocolate is something that we all eat around the world but never really think about where it comes from.

The process of making chocolate is very interesting and will give you a new appreciation for the chocolate you consume. Read all about how chocolate is made here 🤤

If you visit San Juan’s Licor Marron Chocolate Factory you get a free 10-minute demo of how chocolate was prepared the Mayan way. They also have tons of interesting chocolate flavors to try and workshops to choose from.

🍫 Tip: Get a Chocobanana or a hot chocolate and enjoy the view over Lake Atitlan from their fairly hidden rooftop terrace. Delicious!

The exterior of a chocolate factory in San Juan La Laguna

8. Book a Spanish Lesson

Lake Atitlan is a very popular for taking Spanish lessons. San Juan is a great place to learn Spanish because almost none of the locals speak English so you will have to practice.

Learning even some basic Spanish makes life in Latin America so much easier. So I highly recommend taking some lessons if you have the time.

Eco Spanish School is located in San Juan La Laguna and has excellent reviews. You can do 15 hours of lessons for 85 USD per week, which is very reasonable.

There is also the option to do a homestay with Eco Spanish School which will make your stay even more special. You can find more information on their website.

Book: SafetyWing – cheap & flexible travel insurance for travelers and nomads. Read about our experience plus other options here ✈️

Nomad Insurance by SafetyWing is one of the best travel insurances for Guatemala
A sign advertising Eco Spanish School in San Juan La Laguna

9. Go on a Coffee Farm Tour

Guatemala is not super well known internationally for coffee compared to countries like Colombia. But Guatemala has a great climate, altitude, and soil for growing good coffee.

If you take a walk around San Juan La Laguna you can see coffee grown in multiple places. Cafe San Juan close to the boot jetty even has coffee growing right next to the tables!

Their menu is a bit overpriced for Guatemalan standards but it was one of the best cafes to work at as a digital nomad. Plus you get a coffee farm view!

Read here: 14 Best Cafes in Antigua ☕️

A woman working on her laptop at Cafe San Juan at Lake Atitlan with coffee plants outside the windows

The best place to do a coffee tour in San Juan is La Voz Co-Operativa. La Voz is a local cooperative that was created in 1978.

The idea was to give small local producers the ability to profit from the coffee harvest with a focus on organically growing coffee in harmony with nature.

A tour at La Voz costs 100 Quetzales (12 USD) per person. On the tour, you will learn all about how coffee is grown and the history of coffee in Guatemala.

If you love coffee going on a tour is a must as you learn so much about coffee and gain a greater appreciation for it.

🧑‍🌾 Book a Coffee Farm Tour in San Juan here
☕️
Read all about how coffee is made here
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Do you like our tips? Say thanks with a coffee!

10. Stay with a Local Mayan Family

Around Lake Atitlan, it is very popular to stay with a local family while learning Spanish. It is an awesome way to practice your Spanish and get to know the local culture.

Even if you do not attend a Spanish School you can do a Homestay. We booked a room on Airbnb that was with a local Mayan family.

It was a cool experience because we became part of their family and daily routines for two weeks. They even invited us to their daughter’s 6th birthday party! 🎂

Check out these homestays on Airbnb:
🏠 Hogar Tzutujil, Chikuwa (our family)
🏠 Private room with local Mayan family
🏠 Posada doña Elena la Comadrona
🏠 Posada Vicentas Mayan family

A Mayan family celebrating the birthday of their daughter by hitting a pinata in San Juan La Laguna
Our homestay family celebrating their daughters’ birthday

11. Hang out at San Juan La Laguna’s Main Square

The main square of San Juan is nothing spectacular compared to other squares in Latin America. But it is still a very nice place to soak up some local life, especially at sunset.

If you visit in the evening there is a nice atmosphere. Most tourists come to San Juan during the day so you will most likely only see locals hanging out and their kids running around. Plus, the church is brightly lit up at night!

San Juan’s main square is also a good place to get a good view of the mountain behind town where you can do the popular Indian Nose hike which is one of the top things to do in San Juan La Laguna 🥾

A grey concrete church at the main square of San Juan La Laguna
The main square of San Juan La Laguna

12. Brush up your herbal knowledge

Between our favorite San Juan La Laguna weaving textile shop and chocolate factory (both mentioned on this list of the best things to do in San Juan La Laguna) is a little herbal garden we stumbled upon.

All herbs and trees have signposts and it smells really good. Behind the garden is a little shop that sells all kinds of organic herbal teas and products. All the women working in the shop were super friendly and happy to see someone come in.

So if you are interested in herbal products and already in that street for the other attractions it’s worth sticking your head in at Plantas Medicinales Mayab. We bought a digestive tea mix for 50Q (6 USD).

Book: SafetyWing – best health insurance for travelers & nomads. Read about our experience plus other options here 🚑

13. Hike San Pedro Volcano

If you are into hiking then another great hike close to San Juan is San Pedro volcano which rises behind the neighboring town of San Pedro.

To get to the start of the hike you have to catch a tuk-tuk from San Juan to San Pedro. We paid 25Q (3 USD) per person for the ride. I recommend downloading Maps.me and All Trails for a detailed hiking description.

From the top of the hike, there are spectacular views of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding countryside. The hike takes around 5 hours to complete and is fairly challenging because of the altitude but it is well worth it!

Read here: Epic Tail around Lake Atitlan 🥾

A group of boats sitting at the docks of Panajachel at Lake Atitlan with a clear view of San Pedro Volcano
San Pedro Volcano rises out of the lake behind the town of San Pedro

14. Visit other Towns around the Lake

One of the best things to do on Lake Atitlan is to do day trips to all the different towns around the lake as they all have very different characters.

🚤 Panajachel is the biggest town at the Lake and most likely where you will arrive. There you will find all sorts of transport, accommodation, restaurants, and other travelers.

🎒 San Pedro is a traveler hub where you will find an interesting mix of backpackers partying and old hippies. It’s also popular with digital nomads.

🧘 San Marcos is hippy central where you will find lots of yoga retreats, spirituality, and high accommodation prices. If you go you have to visit the beautiful Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve which is by far the best swimming spot at Lake Atitlan!

⛪️ Tzununa and Jaibalito are sleepy little towns with a few foreigners who have set up businesses. You can reach both of them by boat from San Juan (half way to Panajachel) or by hiking following this AllTrails description.

⛪️ Santa Catarina Palopó is close to Panajachel and best to reach by tuk-tuk from Pana. There is a little free museum you should visit to learn more about Lake Atitlan.

A map of Lake Atitlan showing the best towns to visit from San Juan La Laguna

Whatever you are looking for you will find it in one of the towns around Lake Atitlan. Simply head down to the dock and say where you want to go.

Tip: Depending on the town, be aware that the first public boats depart around 7.30 am and the last one around 4 pm. The prices depend on the distance. San Juan to San Marco is 25Q and San Juan to Pana is 50Q per person one-way.

A woman hiking along the coast of Lake Atitlan
Hiking along the coast of Lake Atitlan, details here

15. Go to the Cementary for Dias de los Muertos

If you are in San Juan La Laguna for Dias de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) which is at the same time as Halloween you should head to the cemetery in San Juan.

We were in San Juan La Laguna at this time and got lucky that our guest family took us there in the evening. The street leading up to the cemetery was filled with locals selling street food and bringing flowers to the graves.

The cemetery itself was not spooky at all but covered in warm light from hundreds of candles, orange flowers and green leaves. Contrary to other parts of the world death is celebrated in Latin America and comes with colorful traditions.

Where to Eat in San Juan La Laguna

Most of the San Juan La Laguna restaurants sell simple Guatemalan food. It’s a great place to try some local dishes but don’t expect something fancy or great international cuisine.

🍽️ Comedor Elenita – if you ask any local about the best place to eat in San Juan they will most likely send you here. Go up to their indoor terrace and ask for their Pepian. It is Guatemala’s national dish but they do not serve it every day.

🍽️ Ki Sabor – is another restaurant that serves typical Guatemalan food. It is nothing fancy but has solid meals for a decent price and a nicely decorated seating area.

🍽️ La Farfalla – is a little restaurant that does not look like much but they make great healthy meals. They bake their bread and muffins and a Menu del Dia costs only 35 Q.

🫔 Street food – In the mornings and evenings you will see local women with pop-up stands selling shrimp cocktails, tostadas, sandwiches, tamales, arroz con leche (rice pudding), gorditas and tortillas. It’s fun and cheap to try and share a couple of things.

Read also: 9 Best Cheap Eats in Antigua 🤑

A plate of typical Guatemalan food at a restaurant in Lake Atitlan
Pepian is the traditional dish of Guatemala

Where to Stay in San Juan La Laguna

San Juan is a sleepy little town so there is not a huge selection of hotels or hostels. But there are a few affordable options to choose from. We did a Homestay with a Mayan family and can highly recommend it.

San Juan La Laguna Hotels

😴 Eco-Hotel Mayachik – is a hotel for nature lovers located in the hills above San Juan. The hotel is quiet because it is away from the town and has a temazcal/sauna and an amazing view over the lake. Rooms start from 35 USD.

😴 Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan – this hotel is a 15-minute walk from downtown. There is free breakfast included and also free use of kayaks at the property. Rooms start from 60 USD.

San Juan La Laguna Hostels

There are not many hostels in San Juan La Laguna. San Pedro is the backpacker hotspot at Lake Atitlan so if you want a greater variety of hostels you should stay there.

🛌 The Hub Centro Sakbe – is a rustic hostel 20 minutes from the center of San Juan. Dorm beds cost about 10 USD per night.

Guatemala Housesitting

Another cool way to find unique accommodation is by looking after someone’s home and pets while they are on holiday. We have done that multiple times around the world, many of them in Mexico.

It will be hard to find a housesit in San Juan La Laguna, but there are some in Antigua and Guatemala City. You just have to create a profile on TrustedHouseSitters and keep looking!

Sign up to TrustedHouseSitters for free + use code HAPPYHEALTHYNOMADS for a 25% discount on your membership! 🐈 Read about our experiences here.

TrustedHousesitters - Explore the world with pet sitting

How to Get to San Juan La Laguna

You can reach San Juan by boat, bus, shuttle, tuk-tuk or car. But the best, safest and easiest way is to take the public boat from Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna.

Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna

Most travelers including us will arrive in the biggest town at Lake Atitlan called Panajachel or short Pana. You can easily reach Pana from other tourist hotspots like Guatemala City, Antigua or Xela by public bus or shared shuttles.

How to get to San Juan La Laguna from Panajachel? Make your way to the boat jetty in Pana and buy at the dock a one-way ticket (50 Q) or return (90Q) to San Juan. The public boats depart every 30 minutes and the ride takes around 50 minutes.

A blue boat with passengers departing from Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna
Boats like this will bring you from Panajachel to San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna to San Pedro La Laguna

It is super popular to visit San Juan from San Pedro or vice versa because both towns are very close to each other.

🛺 You can take a tuk-tuk (25 Q per person one-way) which is a 15-minute ride along the Lakeshore and quite fun to do. We found it to be the fastest and best way to go.

🚤 The public boat departs every 15-30 minutes at the dock of San Juan and only takes 5 minutes. We got charged 15 Q per person one-way.

🚶 If you feel like going for a walk you can do that too. It’s a 40-minute walk between San Juan and San Pedro by just following the main road next to the Lake the tuk-tuks take.

Looking out of a tuk tuk from San Juan to San Pedro at Lake Atitlan
Fun tuk-tuk ride from San Juan La Laguna to San Pedro La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna to San Marcos La Laguna

Another popular trip is to visit San Juan from San Marcos or vice versa. San Marcos is quite different from San Juan and worth a visit. While San Juan feels very traditional and arty, San Marcos is a gathering place for spirituality and yogis.

The best way to get from San Juan to San Marcos is by public boat. Just head to the dock in San Juan and ask for San Marcos. Boats leave every 30 minutes and the ride takes 15 minutes. We got charged 25Q per person one-way.

It is possible to take a tuk-tuk from San Juan to San Marcos but our Airbnb hosts advised us to take the boat due to safety issues on the road.

Read here: Scenic Hike to San Marcos 🥾

The boat dock of San Marcos La Laguna with volcanos in the background
Tranquil boat dock in San Marcos

Can you swim in San Juan La Laguna?

A popular question is if San Juan La Laguna has some good beaches to swim at. While there are a few spots in town that allow you to access the water we can’t recommend it.

The water around San Marcos is much clearer and you will enjoy a swim so much more at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve which is by far the best swimming spot at Lake Atitlan!

Book: Flexible travel insurance with SafetyWing. Read about our experience plus other options here 🎒 We are already 2+ years insured with SafetyWing!

Two people sitting on rocks beside clear water at San Marcos La Laguna Guatemala
The San Marcos nature reserve is better than any San Juan La Laguna beach

Enjoy exploring San Juan La Laguna!

San Juan La Laguna is a special little town and we loved our time there. It is the perfect place if you want to experience an authentic Mayan town that is full of color and life.

Lake Atitlan is a must-visit while you are in Guatemala. You will have a great time at the Lake no matter where you stay but you should at least visit San Juan on a day trip!

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Hi, I am Allan, a travel, health and fitness fanatic from New Zealand. I'm a former lawyer who turned into a full-time nomad in 2020. For the last 4+ years I've been traveling the world. I'm always on a hunt for good food, activities on a budget and workouts on the go. I hope you find my tips helpful and get inspired to travel more!

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