Best Things To Do In San Marcos La Laguna

View of Lago Atitlan

Know Before You Go To San Marcos

San Marcos La Laguna is one of 11 towns and villages that dot Lago Atitlán. This is Central America’s deepest lake and is located 5000 ft/1500 meters above sea level. The lake is actually a caldera, which occurs when a mega volcano blows off its top. This eruption, which occurred 84,000 years ago, was so large that it dispersed ash as far away as Florida and Ecuador. Currently the lake is surrounded by 3 volcanoes: San Pedro, Tolíman and Atitlán. The latter is the only ‘active’ volcano but last erupted in 1853.

The local people of Lago Atitlán are predominantly Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel Mayans. The area was once a site of guerrilla territory during Guatemala’s 30 year civil war. Nowadays, the area is fairly safe and learning about Mayan culture is a big draw for visitors.

Out of all the towns and villages, San Marcos La Laguna is one of the prettiest. It’s a tiny town full of footpaths that snake through avocado, coffee and banana trees. The town also has a spiritual energy that attracts visitors who are interested in meditation, holistic health, massages and vegetarian cuisine.

Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil, San Marcos La Laguna
Sacred Site at the Reserva Natural

Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil

As you walk along the footpaths, you’ll notice signs that will direct you to the nature reserve. As there are only two main footpaths in San Marcos, you can’t miss it! The nature reserve is on a sacred hill and has hiking trails, the best swimming spots and La Trampolina, a 23 foot/7 meter high jumping platform. The entrance fee is 15Q.

La Trampolina is the definitely the most popular attraction but my friends and I wanted a more relaxing experience. By the entrance, we turned right instead of left, to hike the trails. While the trails near the entrance are paved, they are not as well maintained the further you hike.  I recommend wearing good shoes.

The area is a sacred site to the Maya, so at the top of the hill, you’ll notice a small altar with some fantastic views of the lake. We then took the paths down the hill to the lake and found a quiet spot to sit, paint and swim. Most of Lago Atitlán is quite polluted, so if you’re interested in getting in the water, this is the only place I recommend doing it.

Enjoying my latte at Circles

Circles Cafe and Hostel

I went to Circles Cafe and Hostel literally everyday. As a digital nomad, I was super happy about the strong internet. Their menu is also great for vegetarians and vegans. While I’m not a strict vegetarian, I do try to limit my consumption of meat and dairy for environmental reasons. I recommend trying the Hawaiian latte (espresso with coconut milk), Vegan Stack (hash browns, avocado, onions and tomatoes) and the Plato Tipico (refried black beans, eggs, plantains, avocados and tortillas). In addition, Circles makes an effort to reduce their waste. For example, their iced drinks come with a reusable straw. All of this and the place is full of beautiful green plants. No surprise that this was my favorite place to hang out in San Marcos.

Cacao – A Gift of the Mayan Gods

Cacao at Nectar

Drinking cacao is a unique cultural experience to Guatemala. The ancient Mayans thought it was a gift of the Gods and reserved only for the rich and the royals. Nowadays, we use cacao to make chocolate, which is sweet and stripped of most of its health benefits. Cacao, however, it more of a spicy concoction.

Traditionally, cacao is made with water, cacao powder, cacao paste, honey and cayenne powder. A 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that a cup of hot cacao had close to double the amount of antioxidants than a glass of red wine, more than double the amount of green tea, and four to five times more than black tea! The amount of oxygen going to your brain can increase up to 40%, your blood vessels dilate, and your skin becomes more sensitive. For this reason, people say that they feel an intense emotional release, giving cacao its aphrodisiac reputation. Its effects can last up to 5 hours.

I drank cacao at Nectar, a cultural hub, cafe and gift shop that sells local and authentic products. The recipe served there comes from Gg maker, a spiritual guide who visited some of the local abuelas of Lago Atitlan, tried their recipes and developed Jun Ajpu Cacao which she felt was the most authentic and healing version. If you’re interested in trying this special cacao, you can purchase it on Amazon.