If you’re looking for a quieter, less touristy village to visit around Lake Atitlan, San Juan La Laguna is worth a look. It’s home to a thriving Mayan Tz’utujil community that takes pride in their culture and heritage, and has developed a unique tourism infrastructure.
Among other things, you can see women of the Tz’utujil ethnic group weaving textiles and clothing using naturally dyed threads from herbs, fruits and vegetables. There are also several artisanal art galleries that show off their talent and skills.
Artisanal Art Galleries
There are numerous art galleries in San Juan La Laguna where you can see the artistic works of local artists. These galleries are a great way to find a unique piece of artwork and purchase something special for your home.
There is also a great art museum in San Juan La Laguna called the Museo de las Americas where you can see the works of different artists from North, Central and South America. The gallery has permanent and seasonal exhibitions that explore various topics.
One of the best things to do in San Juan is to hike up to Mirador Cerro Kaqasiiwaan (also known as Indian’s Nose). This ridge high above town looks like a nose in profile and offers fantastic views of Lake Atitlan. The trek is a short hike but the view at the top is worth it! There is also a cute little restaurant at the halfway point. It is a very nice place to relax and take in the stunning scenery.
San Juan La Laguna is a charming town with a population of over 6,000 Tz’utujil Maya on the southwest edge of Lake Atitlan. This community has a strong sense of pride and is dotted with public murals that honor their heritage.
Elena’s mother and six of her sisters are part of a co-op that has formally organized to cut out the middleman. Their woven scarves and purses are sold through the group, which keeps up to 90 percent of their earnings and gives back up to 75 percent to the weavers who made them.
They also dye their cotton thread using a variety of plants that produce different colors. The process begins with boiling parts of the plant to release their color properties and then the thread is dyed. It’s a labor-intensive process that takes a lot of patience and skill. But it’s worth the effort! If you’re looking for a colorful hat, scarf, or bag, they make some beautiful ones.
Hiking to Indian’s Nose
Hiking to Indian’s Nose is one of the best ways to experience the stunning landscape around Lake Atitlan. This 2,863-meter mountain is also known as Rupalaj K’istalin and presents spectacular views of Lake Atitlan, the volcanoes, and surrounding towns on the northwest shore.
To get to Indian’s Nose, you can book a tour. These mainly consist of sunrise tours where you’ll be picked up early, drive to Santa Clara La Laguna and then hike up to the viewpoint for sunrise.
During this hike, you can see orange and purple hues splay over the calm water of Lake Atitlan and adorn the surrounding mountains with their fiery glows. This is a truly unforgettable moment and a must-see for anyone visiting the region!
In addition to the fantastic sunrise, hiking to Indian’s Nose is also a great way to explore Guatemala’s geology. Matt, the owner of Geo Travel Guatemala, will be your guide and will excite you with his knowledge about the volcanic history of Lake Atitlan and Volcanoes San Pedro, Atitlan, Toliman, and Fuego and Acatenango.
San Juan La Laguna has a wide variety of shopping opportunities. From a coffee finca to a leather shop, there is something for everyone.
If you are looking for a traditional and unique piece of clothing, try one of the many Tz’utujil women’s textile cooperatives here. They use natural dyes to color their cotton and make items such as shirts, blouses, skirts, and more.
Another must-stop is the art gallery and murals in town. Painting is a major part of the artistic culture here and you will find it in stores, streets, and walls around town.
In addition to these things to see and do, you can also hike up to Cerro Kiaq’Aiswaan (Mirador de Cruz) for a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains as well as San Pedro Volcano and Indian’s Nose. You will need to hire a local guide for this one, but it is definitely worth it!