San Juan La Laguna is meant to be the village on Lago de Atitlan that all other villages aspire to be.
Getting off the boat at the town dock, however, we were met with a barrage of touts, taxi drivers and tour guides all jostling for our attention. It was the same on our way out of the village when a taxi driver came up to us without provocation and blatantly lied about the boat schedule, trying to convince us that we would be stuck in San Juan for hours if we didn't take either his private boat or taxi. At least it was entertaining for us, knowing that he was a liar and watching the public boat pull up behind him as he insisted that our situation was hopeless. Very un-mellow like, opposite from the Lonely Planet's description. It was not a good first or last impression.
Thankfully, the further we got from the dock the more we liked San Juan. The main road up to town was lined with stalls selling colourful, beautifully woven fabrics and handicrafts. It was like the appetizer for the town itself. San Juan has smartly created its own tourist infrastructure that highlights and presents the townspeople's traditional crafts to visitors. You can go on a tour and see women weaving and coffee production for around $10USD. We just wandered up into town and made our own tour. All the shops that sell the handicrafts will proudly explain (in Spanish, but with props that make everything very easy to understand) that the textiles they sell are made by hand, according to tradition and that all the material is dyed with natural products like plants or tree bark. There are associations of women who weave at home and then deliver their work to the shop they're associated with. At some shops the scarfs have tags with the name of the woman who made it, a unique product number and a price. Unlike almost anywhere else, prices are non-negotiable. The quality of the products are exceptional and reflect the enormous amount of time and skill that goes into making each item. In many stores there is a woman weaving away, showing you just how much time and work goes into the craft. Its very impressive. Another aspect of the San Juan shops that is unlike elsewhere is the complete lack of pushy sales tactics. Its the opposite from the goings on just down the road on their dock. Its a relaxing, un-rushed, no-pressure shopping experience. The women know the quality and worth of their work and don't push the sale. Their attitude only makes you want to support them more. Genius.
San Juan, in addition to the alluring crafts, is a nice town for a stroll. The streets are clean, the buildings all look bright and freshly painted and the town walls act as a canvas for talented local painters. San Juan really is unique on the Lake Atitlan village circuit and worth a few hours of your time. Just do yourself a favour and don't linger near the water! That being said, while you're busy ignoring the taxi liars, you can marvel at the buildings half covered in water along the lakeshore! The lake's rising depth is by far the most noticeable from San Juan's dock. One house that is still inhabited right on the water's edge has a new water feature- the lake- creeping into the front yard!