San Juan La Laguna – Complete Guide

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San Juan La Laguna is a beautiful town on the shores of Lake Atitlan that is full of art and Mayan culture. The streets are full of local women dressed in beautiful traditional dresses as it is a very traditional town.

If you want to party or stay at a spiritual retreat then San Juan La Laguna is not for you. But for a super beautiful town full of art, textiles, and, culture head to San Juan. We spent just under two weeks in San Juan and loved our time there. Even if you do not stay the night you are missing out if you do not visit.

It is a small town so in our two weeks we found all the best things to do for an awesome time in San Juan.

Where Is San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna is located on Lake Atitlan which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala.

Lake Atitlan is the largest lake in Guatemala and is located inside of an extinct volcanic crater. It is a popular tourist destination because of its near-perfect year-round weather and the spectacular landscape surrounding the lake.

The lake is located at 1500 meters above sea level and near the equator. So this means that the weather is not too hot but not too cold all year long.

San Juan La Laguna map showing its location on the eastern shores of lake atitlan

Things To Do In San Juan La Laguna

1. Check Out 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 street art and ot makes the town feel so alive and full of life.

From the moment you get off the boat, you will walk up the colorful umbrella street. This is a bit touristy as hanging colorful umbrellas is done in towns all around the world.

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

But once you get into town there is a lot of interesting artwork around. My favorite street to walk down La Calle de los Sombreros.

Colorful street art next to a basketball court in San Juan La Laguna

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

If you head to this street on the weekends 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
Painting of men playing the Marimba

This instrument is like a wooden xylophone and is 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 instruments the music sounds like something they just play for tourists. But our homestay host would listen to it all day while he was working! 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 playing an instrument while wearing a colorful shirt

2. Walk Up To The Mirador

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

The Mirador itself is also covered in colorful artwork. So you can check out the artwork with an awesome view of Lake Atitlan and San Pedro Volcano.

You can reach the Mirador by walking from town. The walk from town is only 10-15 minutes but you can also take a tuk-tuk if you do not feel like walking.

The entrance to the Mirador is 30 Quetzales or just under 4 USD and it takes about 10 minutes to walk up to the Mirador from the entrance.

A woman looking out at the view from a mirador over lake atitlan with a couple of volcanoes in the backgroun

3. Go On The Indian Nose Hike

The Indian Nose is an awesome hike to do while you are in San Juan. The ‘Indian Nose’ is the name given to the mountain rising up behind San Juan.

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 the nose for an amazing view over Lake Atitlan.

The hike starts at the Mirador Kaqasiiwaan and winds its way up the hill. The best time to go on this hike is at sunrise

The ‘Indian Nose” mountain rising up behind San Juan La Laguna

4. Visit Some Textile Stores

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 quality of the clothing is so high and it is made using natural dyes and materials.

There are quite a few textile stores in San Juan La Laguna but our favorite was Casa Flor Ixcaco Weaving Co-operative.

All of the products in their store come with a tag that tells you who made the item, the materials used, and how long it took to make.

It is very interesting to walk around the store and see how long each piece took to make.

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

5. Mayan Stingless Bee Tour

One of the most unique attractions in San Juan La Laguna is the Mayan Stingless Bees Tour.

The Mayan stingless bees are a variety of bees that 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-like European bee but create a nest in old logs.

The honey these bees create has a very unique flavor and is much different from European bees.

You do not need to book a tour simply turn up at Mayan Stingless Bees and one of the employees will give you a quick 10-minute tour. During the tour, you can sample interesting types of honey and then buy products from the shop if you would like.

The entrance to the mayan bee tour in San Juan La Laguna
Entrance to the Mayan Bees Tour. No photos were allowed inside!

6. Visit A Chocolate Factory

Chocolate has a long and important history for the Mayan people. Throughout their history, the Cocoa tree was considered a sacred plant and a gift from the gods.

The Cocoa beans were used as currency and Cocoa was drunk during many important rituals.

Because it has such a long and important history for the Mayan people San Juan is a great place to learn about the process of making chocolate.

Chocolate is something that is something that we eat all 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,

If you go to Licor Marron Chocolate Factory you can get a free 10-minute demonstration of how chocolate was prepared the Mayan way. They also have a tonne of interesting flavors of chocolate to try.

TIP : Head up to the rooftop terrace and get a Chocobanana or a Hot Chocolate and enjoy the view. We love Chocobananas and the chocobananas here are so good.

The exterior of a chocolate factory in San Juan La Laguna

7. Take Some Spanish Lessons

Lake Atitlan is a very popular place to take Spanish Lessons. San Juan is a great place to learn Spanish because there are 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 plan on traveling to other Spanish speaking countries.

Eco Spanish School is located in San Juan La Laguna and has excellent reviews. You can do lessons here for 85 USD per week. For 85 USD you will get 15 hours of lessons a week.

There is also the option to do a homestay with Eco Spanish School and you can find more information on their website here.

8. Coffee Farm Tour

Guatemala is not super well known around the world 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 being grown in multiple locations. If you visit Cafe San Juan they even have coffee growing right next to the tables at the cafe.

A woman working on her laptop at cafe san juan at lake atitlan
Working at Cafe San Juan which has coffee growing right outside. They also offer tours of their farm

The best place to do a coffee tour is La Voz Co-Operativa. The 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.

At La Voz, there is a focus on organically growing the coffee in harmony with nature.

A tour at La Voz costs 100 quetzales or 12 USD. 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.

9. Do A Homestay 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 culture of the locals.

If you do a homestay while at a Spanish school, you can have all your meals prepared by the family. It is a good way to be forced to speak Spanish daily. Although if you are a complete beginner it may be a bit too much to begin with.

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

It was a cool experience because we got to talk to the family and they invited us to their daughter’s birthday party.

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

10. Check Out The San Juan La Laguna 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 stroll through around sunset or sunrise.

Particularly if you walk through in the evening there is a nice atmosphere. Most of the tourists only come to San Juan during the day and then leave.

So if you walk through the main square in the evening there are only locals relaxing and some kids running around.

A grey concrete church at the main square of san juan la laguna
The main square of San Juan La Laguna

11. Hike San Pedro Volcano

If you are really into hiking then another great hike close to San Juan is the San Pedro volcano. As the name suggests it is behind the town of San Pedro and not next to San Juan.

But it is just a short tuk-tuk ride from San Juan over to the start of the hike. To find the start of the hike I recommend using All Trails and also downloading maps.me before you start the hike.

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.

A group fo boats sitting at the docks of panajachel at lake atitlan
Volcan San Pedro rises out of the lake behind the town of San Pedro

12. 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.

The cool thing about visiting all the towns around the lake is that they all have very different characters.

San Pedro is the backpacker hub where you will find an interesting mix of backpackers partying and old hippies. San Marcos is the hippy hub where you will find lots of yoga retreats and high accommodation prices!

A woman hiking along the coast of lake atitlan
Hiking along the coast of Lake Atitlan between Tzununa and Jaibalito

But if you go to Tzununa or Jaibalito you will find sleepy little towns with a few interesting foreigners who have set up businesses.

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 and you will pointed to the right boat.

TIP : You have to visit the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve if you visit San Marcos. It is a beautiful nature reserve that has by far the best swimming spots in Lake Atitlan.

San Juan La Laguna Restaurantes

San Juan La Laguna is not a place with tonnes of nice restaurants. Most of the restaurants sell simple local food but there are a couple of decent places to grab something to eat.

Comedor Elenita – if you ask any local about the best place to eat they will most likely send you to Comedor Elenita. It is a fairly basic restaurant that sells typical Guatemalan food. If you want to try a very traditional dish then ask if they have Pepian. It is Guatemala’s national dish but they do not serve it every day.

A plate of typical guatemalan food at a restaurant in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Some typical Guatemalan food from Comedor Elenita

Ki Sabor – is another restaurant that serves typical Guatemalan food. It is nothing fancy but has solid meals for a decent price.

La Farfalla – is a little restaurant that does not look like much but they make great healthy meals. They make their bread and muffins and a menu del dia costs only 30 – 35 Quetzales or 5 USD.

San Juan La Laguna Accommodation

Hotels

San Juan is a sleepy little town so there is not a huge selection of hotels. However below are a couple of affordable options that look quite decent.

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 – If you want a hotel closer to town then this hotel is a 15-minute walk from downtown. There is a free breakfast included and also free use of kayaks at the property. Rooms start from 60 USD.

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.

Now You Know All About San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna is a special little town and we loved our time there. It is the perfect town if you want to experience an authentic Mayan town and feel like you are stepping back in time.

Lake Atitlan is a special place and must visit it 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 La Laguna while you are there.

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Travel, health and fitness fanatic from New Zealand. Co-founder of Happy Healthy Nomads and always on a hunt for good food.

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