We were staying in San Pedro La Laguna, a small community perched on the water’s edge and packed with precariously stacked buildings and streets so narrow they limit traffic to pedestrians and tuk tuks. The roads widen as you approach the harbour, which is overlooked by the mighty San Pedro Volcano. Here lies the main strip, buzzing with shops, tour agencies and restaurants. Many expats have made their home here, as have former Guatemala City dwellers looking to escape the crowded capital. Consequently the food is impressively varied, ranging from typical Guatemalan fish and rice dishes, to American breakfasts, Mexican tortillas and Indian curries.
But the joy of staying around Lago de Atitlan is not its international cuisine, but the diverse destinations around the lake; each different community offers something new. We took a taxi-boat across the water to Santiago Atitlan: the largest of the lake side dwellings and probably the most traditional, with a visible indigenous influence. Colourful embroidered clothing, locally grown produce and religious iconography are all on display. At the dock we engaged a guide, Carlos – an ancient, leathery-skinned local – and went to meet the town’s revered local god, Maximon. A Mayan folk deity who assimilated elements of the Spanish saints during the conquest, Maximon is a mischievous troublemaker that worshippers constantly try to appease. He’s depicted as a stuffed mannequin, who spends each year in a different household, waiting for the annual April procession to a new home. But while he’s relaxing at his current address, people are welcome to visit, providing they bring offerings. (He likes whisky and cigarettes!)
Our next excursion, an early morning hike around the lake, took us to the village of San Marcos La Laguna, where the atmosphere could not have been more different. Favoured by backpackers, it’s said to have a strong ‘mystic puli’. Hipsters and hippies have made it their hangout, and the place is packed with yoga studios, meditation forums and vegetarian restaurants. After a delicious lunch of homemade pasta with locally grown vegetables in one of San Marcos’ stellar sustainable restaurants, we made our way back to peaceful San Pedro. After strolling along the winding paths to our hostel, we relaxed at the bar with a cool beverage as the sun sank into a lake turned pink and orange by its beams, and reflected that, in this spot, we had the best of both worlds.