On the weekend, the local market becomes something of a local hub. It is worth a visit if only to see all the produce on offer: everything from local snails to dried prawns. The fruit and veg can be had at a good price and provided me with several lunches.
The San Pedro Spanish School is a long established school (14 years at time of writing) and is well organised with teachers using whiteboards and pages of exercises. Learning happens at individual tables scattered around the grounds of the school with some down on the lake shore.
I also appreciated being able to talk to a local (Mayan) about some of the history of the area. We had some interesting discussions.
The school also arranges (voluntary) activities in the evenings and the couple that I attended were quite fun.
planning on a trip to Guatemala?
Don't miss the unique atmosphere of San Pedro,
hang around with the coolest travellers
or settled gringos, kayak or hike, meet
people you were dying to talk to when on the way!
I would especially recommend Clover as a spot to eat,
Klara as a massage girl and Dnoz for book exchange.
Zoola is the place you wanna hang out at on a lazy afternoon
and Pinochio hostel has the right youth air about it ..
Meet ya there, its the place people come back to!
San Pedro is, in reality, divided into 2 very seperate towns. Lower, by the beach & between the 2 embarcaderos, is the international zone. This is jammed with a huge variety of hotels, hostels, rooms for rent, etc. There is even a guy, Fransisco, from Ecuador, who owns a laundry near the lakeside who has 4 large, brightly painted canvas teepees that he rents for 20Q per person/per night.
Up the hill lies the local zone, which includes the mercado, municipal buildings, zocalo, & many little tiendas & shops where you can get most any day to day need. Many Pedranos are Evangelicals, so drunken, boisterous foreigners should probably stay closer to the beach to avoid scandal &/or arrest.
In the main market you can buy exquisite textiles & awesome fresh fruits & vegetables. Everything is very inexpensive, & you can bargain with the vendors. This is thje part of town for filling inexpensive street food.
Back in the international zone you will find cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs (big reggae scene), & you can find those awesome brownies & cookies that you can't get in the States. Rarely will you see uniformed police close to the water, & the zone is herb friendly to an extent rarely encountered in my travels.
If you really want the down-home experience & have even rudimentary Espanol, there is a lady named Mari who serves breakfast & lunch in her home. Everything is done on a wood stove, her kids & their friends will be hanging out, you can sit & look out over the lake & volcanoes while the big red rooster checks you out & speaks to you, & the coffee is fantastic. You can choose: Be a tourist & have fun, or be a visitor & meet some very solid people in one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in Centro America.
San Pedro is more exciting at night when a lot of people venture out to the bars and restaurants. During the day, it has a very laid back feeling. The locals are very friendly and are used to travelers. There is a Spanish school here that constantly keeps the town stocked with a fresh crop of travelers eager to practice their Spanish. There are a few interesting churches in the town and a main market to occupy your time. You can also rent a canoe or just go swimming in the lake.
The Main Catholic Church is the center of town and is located up the hill from the main dock. It was the site of a tragic murder in the early '80s that had to do with Death Squads that terrorized Guatemala during that time, but I don't know all the details. My Rough Guide (that was stolen in Antigua) had some general info about it, but again, I can't remember all the details. Anyways, the church has an interesting statue of a strange looking guy with a rooster that you can see in this picture.
The San Pedro Volcano is a beautiful sight as you cross the lake. Ryan and I had already had our fill of hiking volcanoes when we did Volcan Pacaya, but if you're interested, you can rent some horses at the dock for Santiago Atitlan. The horses will only take you part way up and the entire hike to the top will take about four hours. Based on our Guatemalan volcano hiking experience, I have to tell you, it's not easy. Bring lots of water and take your time.
Also, there is a danger of being robbed by banditos while hiking, so you it's best to not hike unaccompanied. You can arrange for a guide at most hotels in Panajachel and some of them in San Pedro. You'll probably pay around 70-80 Q for the service (under $10 US).
No matter what town on Lake Atitlan you end up visiting, I would recommend renting a kayak. They are the big heavy sturdy kind and life vests are optional, so no worries of tippage. We paid $1 per hour.
It's such a great way to see the surrounding beaches, homes and volcanic vistas! Amazing to think that there is only a thin peice of fiberglass between you and, at some points, 1000 feet of dark waters. I can now say that I have swum in a volcanic crater!