San Marcos on Lago de Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands is a meeting point for what the Lonely Planet calls 'global seekers'. The town certainly has it's fair share of hippies and crystal healers, reki whatevers and dread-locked travellers attempting to find their spiritual something or other while wearing a uniform of raggy woven hippy pants and oversized sharp looking wooden earrings. Oh and if you're seeking kindred souls who like to chant and beat drums down on the dock at sunrise. And sunset. And any time their spirit animal encourages them to do so- you'll find that crowd here, too. I've personally had the pleasure of overhearing such characters claim to have memories from “before the dinosaurs” and discuss retreats that they were going on where they would survive soley for weeks drinking some sort of magical potion, rubbing healing stones and meditating. Pretty much any new-age, hippy, healer thing you're into- your kin are in San Marcos.
The whole scene we found pretty entertaining, right up until the point that it became super annoying. However, it was slow(ish) to wear on us and by that time, we had fallen in love with San Marcos La Laguna, holistic obsession and all.
We had taken a shuttle from Antigua to San Marcos. Somehow it had been cheaper to get a shuttle all the way to San Marcos than just to the main Lake Atitlan town of Panajachel (Pana). We paid Q70 (about $9 USD) for the shuttle, and I'm sure we could have gotten it cheaper if we had shopped around as opposed to choosing the convenience of just booking it through our hostel. It took about 3.5 hours to get from Antigua to San Marcos, the last part of the ride being a pretty steep and narrow road that winded its way down the mountain.
San Marcos is quite unlike anywhere else we've ever been. It is connected by road to the outside world, which isn't the case for all of the lakeside villages. North of the road and climbing the mountain is where the local Mayan people mostly live, in boxy concrete houses clinging to the steep landscape. South of the road, is Bohemia-ville. There is one main, narrow stone pathway with the majority of restaurants and shops. Snaking off from the main path are other small pathways of packed dirt or stone that wind their way through fincas with large coffee plants, avocado trees, large estates, hotels and holistic centres. The pathways are lined on each side with either tall bamboo fences, thick jungle or stone walls. No matter where you're headed, its a pretty atmospheric wander.
The views from San Marcos are spectacular. The sun, the clouds, fisherman and wildlife provide a constantly changing foreground from which to frame the town's lakefront volcano vistas. I could have sat on the dock from sunrise to sunset (which I sometimes tried) just trying to capture all the lake's costume changes.
As you can maybe imagine, early morning and late afternoon are when Lago de Atitlan can really take your breath away. I thought that we had seen a few good examples of just how majestic the lake could be between the soft yellow sunrise, bright blue sunny afternoons and fireball orange sunsets. And then the Volcano Fuego started burping and we were blown away again. We were sitting on the dock watching the sunset over the lake when we noticed red coloured clouds in the far east. We originally thought that it was the setting sun throwing its glow across the sky. But then, as the colour drained from the sky and dark settled in, we could still see red clearly against the blackened eastern sky. We saw the outline of a perfect cone, and bright red intermittently shooting up from the cone that looked suspiciously like lava, but still, although all evidence pointed to an erupting volcano, we couldn't believe our eyes- because who gets to see an erupting volcano? We asked some locals to clarify. 'Si, Fuego!' They confirmed, barely giving it a second glance. What!!?!!? And then we couldn't tear our eyes away. Volcano Fuego is one of the 3 volcanos closest to Antigua and not all that close to Lago de Atitlan, but the distance didn't at all take away from its impressive spew of red hot lava into the night sky. The next morning there was a warning from the US government in regards to Fuego's activity, warning its citizens that the volcano was throwing rocks, lava and ash an impressive 5000ft into the air! No wonder we could see it from all the way in San Marcos!
At the far west of San Marcos is the small but worthwhile nature reserve Cerro Tzankukil (Q15). It is easy to while away half a day on its pebbly trails that lead to various viewpoints, contemplating life on a shady bench overlooking the vista or jumping off it's new wooden platform into the crystal clear lake. The gardens were well kept and full of flowers, birds and butterflies. I was much more impressed than I expected to be and found the reserve to be worth the admission price (which is rare).
If the eccentric hippies, spectacular views, narrow pathways and erupting volcano hasn't sold you on San Marcos than I have one last secret that most definitely will: chocolate chip cookies. Now, we certainly are not the type of travellers who search out Western food when we are abroad. We would, in fact, almost always choose local food over what we could get at home. We were just innocently walking past the Restaurant Fe when we saw their cookie display from the street. And then we just went in for a quick look, and then just a taste- and then we had to leave San Marcos just to put a healthy amount of space between us and the chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were perfect in every way. Huge, thick, soft and heavy on the chocolate chips. Most of the time (especially outside of North America and Europe) I find that baked goods are very rarely as good as they look behind the glass. As a self-proclaimed cookie expert (J: cookie monster) I am happy to announce that this is absolutely not the case with Restaurant Fe's chocolate chip cookies. Maybe, just maybe, although I'd have to taste a few more just to be sure, these cookies just might taste even better than they look.
Where we ate:
Comedor Susy- a small restaurant on the main square serving up big portions of local food at reasonable prices, always with a smile. She was closed weekends when we were there.
Cafe Horus- just steps out of town in the direction of San Juan (2mins up the hill from Moonfish Restaurant) is a tiny little spot with 4 tables and a nice view. The portions are big, the family is friendly and the food is just slightly cheaper than in town.
Restaurant Fe- We just stopped in for the cookies- about twice a day.... although their wood fired pizza looked scrumptious.
Where we stayed:
Aaculaax (aka Lush). This amazing place is going to have it's own post with as many pictures as we can fit in.