Exploring the Artsy Maya Town of San Juan La Laguna

by | Last updated May 10, 2021 | Guatemala | 0 comments

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San Juan La Laguna is a predominantly Tz’utujil Maya municipality with lots of hidden gems like weaving cooperatives specializing in naturally dyed textiles, awesome hikes with panoramic vistas, painting galleries, and quaint cafés and restaurants.

Set on the southwest shores of Lake Atitlán, right next to the bustling backpacker town of San Pedro La Laguna, San Juan is the unofficial gateway to the Indian Nose hike (the long version) and pueblo full of artists.

Sure, it is one of the smaller towns around Lake Atitlán, but it is no less special! San Juan La Laguna is actually one of my favorite towns to explore and spend a day in (the other is the painted village of Santa Catarina Palopó).

If you are wanting to discover a Tz’utujil Maya town brimming with underrated cafes, colorful murals, and nature activities, then you’ve come to the right place!

Here’s my guide for things to do in San Juan La Laguna – including where to eat, sleep, and play!

The Complete Guide to San Juan La Laguna (Lake Atitlán)

a red tuktuk and colorful walls in san juan la laguna, lake atitlan

How to Get to San Juan La Laguna

San Juan La Laguna is located right beside Lake Atitlán’s most popular town of San Pedro La Laguna. The cost, time, and how you’ll get to San Juan La Laguna depend on your departure point around the lake.

If you’re coming from Panajachel, for example, public boats will drop you off at San Juan la Laguna for Q20-25. The ride will take around 30 minutes in good weather, seeing as the boat makes pitstops at the towns of Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, Tzununa, and San Marcos (in that order), before arriving at San Juan La Laguna (and then San Pedro).

Prices for the boats vary depending on which town you’re initially departing from. So while it may cost Q20-25 to go to San Juan from Panajachel, you’ll pay Q10 from San Pedro (sometimes you can get it for Q5 but foreigners are normally charged a little more than the locals who ride the boats every day).

You can also hop in a tuk-tuk from San Pedro to San Juan for Q5-10.

Where to Stay in San Juan La Laguna

Although most people tend to stay in the hotels in San Pedro, there are a few sweet accommodation options for San Juan.

The distance between the two towns isn’t a lot – it only takes 10-minutes by tuk-tuk or 5 by boat – but staying overnight in San Juan might be ideal if you want a quieter town to rest and relax in while being nearby plenty of restaurants and things to do.

In San Juan La Laguna, there are notably two great places to stay (not to mention they’re eco-hotels):

Eco Hotel Uxalib Atitlán – an eco-boutique hotel perched lakeside featuring a pool, free private kayaks, and breakfast with organic coffee.

Eco Hotel Mayachik – minimalistic and rustic bungalows surrounded by nature with views of the mountains (a budget-friendly option).

Things to Do in San Juan La Laguna

1. Get Panoramic Views at Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

drone aerial view of mirador cerro de la cruz in san juan la laguna guatemala

cerro mirador de la cruz and indian nose summit in san juan la laguna guatemala

One of the most popular things to do in San Juan La Laguna that you can’t miss out on is climbing up to the Cerro Kiaq’Aiswaan, also known simply as the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz (because there’s a cross at the top of the hill).

The Mirador de la Cruz offers one of the best viewpoints of San Juan, San Pedro, and the three volcanoes which you can easily see on a clear day.

To get to the Cerro de la Cruz in San Juan La Laguna is easy. Hop in a tuk-tuk for Q5 from the dock (or walk the 10-15 minutes via the colorful streets) to get to the entrance of the Parque Kiaq’Aiswaan. The entrance fee is Q10 per person.

Once you get your ticket, you’ll begin your gentle ascent up the stairs, which were recently renovated and painted to depict the colorful motifs and textiles of the Tz’utujil Maya of San Juan.

On your way up, you’ll have awesome views of the Indian Nose mountain summit. To reach the lookout deck over San Juan takes around 15-20 minutes hiking. You’ll no doubt work up a sweat as we did so remember to bring water! Sunscreen and a hat are also wise on sunny, hot days and a light jacket on cooler, cloudy (or windy) days.

Once at the top, you’ll have epic panoramic views overlooking San Juan La Laguna, San Pedro La Laguna, and the volcanoes of San Pedro, Tolimán (and its little cone of Cerro del Oro). You’ll also glimpse the peak of Volcán Atitlán.

The wooden deck surrounds the original cross adorning the hill. Below, on the lower deck, are colorful paintings like those you’d see in the art galleries around town.

2. Shop for Naturally Dyed Textiles at Casa Flor Ixcaco

demonstration of weaving and natural dyes of maya textiles at casa flor ixcaco in san juan la laguna

Weaving cooperatives are speckled all around the lake in various towns. Each town has somewhat of a specialty, though, and the attraction to San Juan La Laguna’s textiles lies in its natural dyes. While I’m sure many of the weaving associations in other towns also specialize in natural dyes, I’ve found that the best free demonstration and shop can be found at Casa Flor Ixcaco in San Juan La Laguna.

Founded in 1996 by Doña Teresa, Casa Flor Ixcaco grows its own organic cotton, spins it, dyes it with natural ingredients, then weaves it into a beautiful piece of clothing (or other product) by using the backstrap loom.

board showing different natural dyes and plants used to dye maya textiles at casa flor ixcaco

Here, you can observe how the women naturally dye the threads to make kimonos, scarves, traditional huipiles, blouses, and all sorts of handmade products.

I love how they tag all their products with a little ticket that displays a photo and name of the woman who made the item as well as the natural plants and ingredients they used to dye it.

There are several other textiles shops in town offering demonstrations and a wide range of handmade products you should also check out: Casa del Tejido y Tours, Batz’ Textiles, TinteMaya, and Lema Association.

3. Hike Up to Indian Nose Summit

woman looking at san pedro volcano from atop indian nose mountain summit

Hiking up to Indian’s Nose from San Juan La Laguna is a fun and rewarding thing to do. That is if you’re up to the challenge!

The hike up to the Indian Nose summit starts off the same as the mini-hike up to Mirador de la Cruz. You’ll first pay the Q10 to enter the park and climb up the colorful stairs toward the cross.

But to continue up the mountain to reach the nose, you’ll swing a left at the top of the stairs where it forks. From this point, it takes around 2 hours to reach the top.

indian nose hike from san juan la laguna

You will also need to pay the local landowner once you reach the nose (Q10-20). We did this hike with a geologist who gave us an epic geology spiel about how Lake Atitlán formed once we reached the tip of the nose.

Pro Tip: I would highly recommend going with a guide for this hike since you don’t come down necessarily the same way you came up (because it’s steep). For more info, check out my guide to the Indian Nose Hike.

4. Enjoy Artisanal Coffee at Las Marias

woman making coffee at las marias cafe in san juan la laguna

Perhaps the best-hidden gem of San Juan La Laguna is none other than the little cafe and coffee roastery called Cafe Las Marias. In this little unassuming two-story house, you can have a hearty breakfast and artisanal coffee with a panoramic view of Lake Atitlán.

The catch? The seating area up a winding staircase is hardly bigger than Harry Potter’s cupboard, so you can only fit two small tables and no more than 4-5 people.

las marias cafe and roastery san juan la laguna

If you’re one of the lucky ones to grab a table, you’ll be rewarded with quite the view because the walls are glass-paned windows. (That said, it does get quite hot up there on a sunny day so keep that in mind – there’s AC just in case).

Everything from the antique decor and the peaceful atmosphere to the yummy breakfast and homemade coffee makes Las Marias a must-visit while in San Juan La Laguna.

The Café San Juan down by the dock is also a highly-recommend place to get coffee! There is plenty of room here to work on your laptop as well if you’re a digital nomad.

bagged organic coffee grown in san juan la laguna guatemala

coffee shop san juan la laguna

5. Visit an Art Studio & Gallery

Naturally dyed and weaved textiles aren’t the only ways the locals of San Juan La Laguna express their art and culture. There are several artisanal art galleries around town that show off the talent and skill of the Tz’utujil Maya.

One artist by the name of Antonio Vásquez Yojcóm, born and raised in San Juan, has opened up his own art studio by the docks where he now paints vibrant scenes of the indigenous culture and local life in San Juan la Laguna.

Whether you want to shop, take a painting class, or simply browse, stepping foot into an art gallery is a fun thing to do in San Juan La Laguna.

6. Visit the Iglesia Católica & Plaza Principal

stone catholic church Iglesia de San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Just up the hill from the main dock sits an understated main plaza and a stone Catholic church that’s preserved its ancient facade as well as its new modern building.

Behind it towers the Indian Nose mountain, making the whole scene extremely picturesque. Although the town has modernized a bit in recent years, you can imagine it easily in its olden days.

Since it’s not too far from the San Juan dock, there’s no reason why you should miss out on this local little gem. It is one of the more traditional style Catholic churches I’ve seen here.

7. Sip Fine Wine at El Gato Perdido

entrance of the el gato perdido restaurant in san juan la laguna

For a retreat of the tastebuds, head to the El Gato Perdido restaurant in San Juan La Laguna. Here you can enjoy a glass of homemade wine paired with a cheeseboard or a wood-fire pizza.

It’s a great place to go and chill with a beer or coffee as it’s set inside a cozy inner garden just off the street. They also have live music!

This restaurant is well-known beyond San Juan (it used to have a former location in San Pedro) and receives visitors from all over the world. Be sure to go on a day it’s open, though (12-8 PM, Thurs-Sat)!

8. Stroll the Colorful Calles

colorful street avenida 5ta in san juan la laguna

colorful street art of a maya man in san juan la laguna

The calles (streets) of San Juan La Laguna are colorfully painted and some of them are adorned in amazing art murals. You’ll find the most colorful pedestrian-friendly street on Avenida 5ta. Find it by heading to the store called Lema Association. You will no doubt see a street covered in color (it’s hard to miss).

This street came alive during Semana Santa in April and although we didn’t get to see the procession, the decorations of straw hats and fairy lights were still dangling above the street.

9. Go on a Romantic Date at Caffe La Cabaña

If you arrive in San Juan La Laguna by boat, it’s hard to miss the interesting bamboo-covered structures jutting out of the shore just left of the dock. At first glance, it’s hard to tell what it is. But after a closer look, it’s a sweet little cafe and restaurant adorned with swings, loungers, and a neat bamboo nest that together make up the Caffe La Cabaña.

It very much echoes the earthy chic vibes you’d find down the hotel zone in Tulum or somewhere. Considering its view of the bay and its cozy decor, this place oozes romance. As such, you’ll notice on their Instagram how proposals are frequent here.

So whether you’re visiting San Juan La Laguna with your significant other or just want to go take some nice pictures, check out Caffe La Cabaña.

10. Visit Neighboring Maya Towns

woman on the plaza principal in santa catarina palopó guatemala

maya woman backstrap weaving guatemala

San Juan’s proximity to other Maya towns requires that you at least spend a day exploring either San Pedro La Laguna or San Marcos La Laguna (or both).

If you want to travel off the beaten path to other towns surrounding Lake Atitlán, then it’s worth the effort to visit Santa Catarina Palopó and San Antonio Palopó on the other side nearby Panajachel. You won’t regret it!

You could also consider going on a few epic hikes around Lake Atitlán that traverse several towns or up the steep slopes of a volcano!

I hope this guide to San Juan La Laguna helps inspire your trip! Please remember to visit this endearing Tz’utujil Maya town responsibility; pick up trash on hikes, shop ethically, and Leave No Trace!

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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