#1 Lake Atitlan Tour: San Marcos, San Juan & Santiago
Our best-selling Lake Atitlan tour, this private boat trip allows you to explore the Mayan v...
If you're craving an escape from everyday life, seek refuge in the solitude of Guatemala's tranquil lakes and black sand beaches. In this insider guide, we direct you to blissful destinations and retreats for the ultimate relaxing Guatemalan getaway.
Guatemala is known to many as the land of adventure, and it's true that this vibrant country offers plentiful opportunities to explore, hike, and immerse in culture. But, Guatemala's natural beauty is second to none, and the country is undoubtedly a top destination for relaxation in Central America.
With its laid-back surfer towns and world-famous lakes, Guatemala’s serene hideaways offer the slow-paced escape you’ve been yearning for. In this guide, you’ll learn about the peaceful enclaves of Lake Atitlan retreats to Antigua’s quiet gardens and beyond. We'll introduce you to the perfect spots to relax, unwind, and immerse yourself in Guatemala’s charm without the distraction of the outside world.
Guatemala is special for a myriad of reasons, offering a unique blend of cultural richness and breathtaking natural beauty. The country boasts picture-perfect landscapes and world-renowned attractions. Here are some highlights for those seeking relaxation and escape:
Lake Atitlán: Nestled between volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is a picturesque destination surrounded by indigenous villages. It provides a serene setting for relaxation and activities like yoga, meditation, and boat rides.
Colonial Antigua: The colonial city of Antigua, with its well-preserved architecture, cobblestone streets, and vibrant markets, offers a charming and atmospheric escape.
Monterrico Beach: Located on the Pacific coast, Monterrico offers pristine beaches and a laid-back atmosphere, making it an ideal spot to unwind by the ocean.
Quetzaltenango (Xela): Surrounded by stunning landscapes, visitors can enjoy the city's relaxed atmosphere, explore local markets, and use it as a base for excursions to nearby hot springs or the Western Highlands' natural wonders.
Peten Region: Home to the renowned Tikal National Park, where ancient Mayan ruins emerge from lush jungles, and the Ni'tun Eco Lodge for a sustainable and peaceful retreat.
The natural beauty of Lake Atitlan is nothing short of awe-inspiring. With its turquoise-blue waters framed by lush mountains covered in avocado and coffee trees, it’s no wonder that Lake Atitlan was recognized by National Geographic as the most beautiful lake in the world. The diverse flora and fauna around Lake Atitlan further contribute to its enchanting allure. Punctuated by charming towns and villages, Lake Atitlan is a place where time seems to slow down, letting you soak in the calmness and beauty of nature.
A diverse array of experiences await you at the retreats around Lake Atitlan, ranging from yoga practices and meditation sessions to unique activities steeped in ancient energies. Clear and sunny days year-round contribute to the rejuvenating experience in this ecological sanctuary.
A traditional Mayan fire ceremony in Lake Atitlan is an unconventional way to relax. It can be a meditation based on your own practice and life experience, or you can open your mind to the Mayan culture and let a local shaman take you on a journey into this ancient spirituality. It is a one-of-a-kind experience you will not forget.
Lake Atitlan is made up of quaint Mayan villages, but the three most renowned for relaxation are Santa Cruz la Laguna, San Marcos la Laguna, and San Juan la Laguna.
Santa Cruz La Laguna is a hidden gem on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. What makes this quaint village truly special is its authentic and laid-back vibe, offering visitors a genuine glimpse into the traditional Mayan way of life. Unlike some of the more touristy towns around the lake, Santa Cruz maintains a tranquil atmosphere, making it an ideal spot for relaxation, reflection and simply enjoying the beauty of nature.
There's no better way to experience Lake Atitlan than staying at a lakeside resort. Wake up to picturesque vistas and enjoy a peaceful morning coffee whilst you watch kayaks gliding through the glimmering water. You'll truly soak in the tranquil atmosphere and escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
With a private beachfront, shaded cabanas, and hammocks to put your feet up and relax, Los Elementos Resort offers one of the most magical views around the lake. Located in the lake's most stunning village, Santa Cruz la Laguna, there are spectacular views in all directions at Los Elementos. The property can only be reached by boat, so serenity, nature, and privacy are unparalleled.
Peaceful activities in Lake Atitlan:
Indulge in an excellent massage in a serene lakeside setting at Los Elementos Day Spa.
Take a Mayan Kitchen Cooking Class at the culinary school.
Nestled in the mountainside of Santa Cruz La Laguna, Cafe Sabor Cruceño has one of the most magnificent views around the lake. As well as the delicious coffee blend, there is an incredible menu on offer.
The most mesmerizing activity on Lake Atitlan is undoubtedly gliding through the calm waters on a kayak or paddleboard. Rent a kayak at only $10 per hour or choose from a range of Lake Atitlan kayak tours.
Venture a little further around Lake Atitlan, and you’ll discover San Marcos La Laguna, a town with a mystical character that is perfect for relaxation and spiritual exploration. Known as the hippie town of Lake Atitlan, San Marcos is a place where you can connect with your inner self and enjoy a slower pace of life. Retreats in San Marcos offer unique experiences for ultimate relaxation and spiritual growth, allowing you to connect with nature and yourself on a deeper level.
Spiritual retreat centers in San Marcos:
Eagle's Nest with its stunning open-air platform made from wood. They also offer all-inclusive yoga packages so you can fully immerse in spirituality and enjoy three delicious vegan meals a day, with cozy accommodation, 2 yoga activities each day, and sauna access.
Practice your downward dog at Yoga Forest Conscious Living Retreat Community and Transformational Learning Center.
San Juan La Laguna is a charming village on the shores of Lake Atitlan, known for its weaving collective and vibrant architecture. The weaving collective, located in the center of the tranquil local town, is renowned for its intricate textiles and traditional craftsmanship, making it a must-see destination while visiting Lake Atitlan. The village’s architecture, adorned with vibrant street art, murals, and graphics, beautifully showcases the rich cultural identity and creativity of the local community.
From Indian Nose, a uniquely profiled mountain, to the many art galleries that showcase local artists’ work, the village boasts a wide range of incredible attractions. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a nature lover, or a culinary adventurer, San Juan La Laguna provides a diverse array of cultural, artistic, and natural experiences to enjoy. For a deeper look into this fascinating village, book a tour with a local guide who can introduce you to locals and take you off the beaten trail.
If you don't have enough time in your itinerary to stay the night at Santa Cruz, you can still absorb its beauty by getting a day pass to one of the lakeside lodges. Los Elementos lakeside resort offers rest and relaxation passes including roundtrip transportation from Antigua, so you can soak in the tranquil atmosphere of Lake Atitlan in one day.
Moving away from the tranquil shores of Lake Atitlan, our journey takes us to Antigua, a city that offers serene spots for relaxation, including historical sites, gardens, and wellness centers. Serene historical sites such as the ruins of the Catedral de Santiago and Antigua Guatemala Cathedral, which create a peaceful atmosphere for visitors, are found within the city.
Chill-out highlights in Antigua:
The gardens in Antigua offer beautiful ancient ruins, soothing fountains, vibrant flowers, and breathtaking views of natural landscapes including volcanic peaks. The gardens of Antigua Boreal and Jardines de Provenza are known for their serene environment with a diverse array of orchids, epiphytes, and flowering plants.
Antigua is rich in history, and a visit to its historical sites and gardens offers a peaceful day out. Historical sites include:
The Palace of the Captain General
The Casa de la Moneda
The Universidad de San Carlos
Once you’ve spent the day exploring the historical sites and gardens, treat yourself to Guatemalan treatments like therapeutic and hot stone massages, lymphatic drainage, reflexology, and reiki at the Prana Holistic Center.
Moving from the tranquil highlands to the shores, we arrive at Monterrico, a beach paradise with unspoiled beaches, diverse wildlife, and a warm community. The beach town offers opportunities for wildlife watching and beachside accommodations, allowing you to immerse in the serene beauty of the Pacific Coast.
A variety of delightful wildlife species from the Roseate Spoonbill to the Black Skimmers inhabit Monterrico. The town also offers amazing beachside accommodations, like Hotel El Delfin and Johnny’s Place Hotel, providing you with the ideal setting to relax and enjoy the beach bliss.
Wildlife enthusiasts will find Monterrico a fantastic spot. The best time for bird watching in Monterrico is during the nesting season, from February to April, especially in April when many bird species can be commonly seen. In addition to bird watching, the town is also known for its turtle conservation efforts.
Committed to wildlife protection, Monterrico dedicates conservation projects to endangered species. You can actively engage in these efforts by visiting the Tortugario Monterrico, a turtle hatchery that raises endangered sea turtles, providing a truly unique experience. As a visitor, you play a crucial role in ensuring their protection by following specific guidelines for wildlife watching.
After a day of wildlife watching, unwind in Monterrico’s beachfront hotels and resorts. Our favorites are Hotel El Delfin to Dos Mundos Pacific Resort, each offering a wide range of activities for guests, including:
Tours to the mangroves
And if you prefer a more laid-back experience, you can simply relax on the beach. Monterrico’s beachside accommodations ensure a truly relaxing beach escape.
Leaving the beach behind, we head back to the highlands, this time to Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela. The city offers a unique blend of hot springs, scenic nature trails, and rich cultural experiences, making it an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.
Getting to Quetzaltenango is part of the adventure. You can take a scenic bus ride from Guatemala City or a shuttle service from Antigua Guatemala, enjoying the beautiful views along the way. Once in Quetzaltenango, you can indulge in the hot springs, explore the scenic trails, or immerse in the local culture.
Quetzaltenango is home to the Fuentes Georginas hot springs, a true gem in the highlands. The hot springs offer a rejuvenating experience, with the warm water believed to:
Improve blood circulation
Help with skin ailments
In addition to the hot springs, Quetzaltenango also offers breathtaking nature trails. From the trails surrounding Santa Maria Volcano to Cerro El Baúl, each trail offers scenic views and an opportunity to connect with nature.
An array of cultural experiences are on offer in Quetzaltenango. The city is brimming with Mayan and K’iche’ influences, with a spirited music scene, particularly infatuated with jazz and blues. The city also hosts vibrant early-year festivities, adding to the rich cultural tapestry of the region.
The city’s culinary scene is also worth exploring, with local delights like Garnachas and Churrasco. For those interested in traditional Guatemalan crafts, TRAMA, a co-op where local women demonstrate the making of traditional crafts, is a must-visit.
Our journey through Guatemala’s tranquil escapes wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Petén region. Known for its lush jungles, the region offers unique eco-lodges, nature reserves, and the famous Tikal National Park. From exploring ancient Mayan ruins to kayaking around Lake Petén Itzá, the region offers a multitude of relaxation and learning opportunities.
Tikal National Park is home to amazing archaeological monuments, the fascinating Tikal Museum, and the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The ruins are unique for their well-preserved decorated surfaces, showcasing stunning stone carvings, mural paintings, and hieroglyphic inscriptions that tell the fascinating dynastic history of the city.
The best time to visit Tikal National Park is during the dry season, from November to April. During this time, you can expect to observe an incredible array of wildlife species, including:
Various species of parrots, hummingbirds, toucans, woodpeckers, owls, and oropendula birds.
Rounding off your visit to the Petén region, consider staying in one of the eco-lodges or nature reserves. Places like Ni’tun Eco Lodge offer a serene and peaceful experience, located on the shore of Lake Petén Itzá with most of the land as a private reserve.
Not only do these eco-lodges and nature reserves offer a tranquil retreat, but they also present an opportunity for you to support local communities and contribute to preserving the area’s rich biodiversity. So, as you relax and rejuvenate, you’re also making a positive impact on the environment and the local community.
Safety is also an important consideration. Remember to be aware of your surroundings, especially after dark, and avoid night travel in Guatemala City and Antigua. Respect the local customs during your visit, as Guatemalans place importance on dress and appearance.
A very frugal backpacker could squeak by on $50 a day with a $15 budget for a shared dorm room, $20 for meals, and $15 for transfers between locations whilst on the go, and use the same $15 for admission fees or entertainment. However, increasing the daily budget to $75 or more would provide more creature comforts and a private room.
The ideal duration for your stay in Guatemala depends on your interests and the places you plan to visit. For a well-rounded experience, many travelers find that spending about 10 to 14 days allows them to explore the country's diverse attractions. This timeframe allows for visits to key destinations such as Antigua and Lake Atitlan.
Guatemala has great weather year-round, being known as the Land of Eternal Spring. Travelers from colder climates will enjoy the mild winter weather, and those from warmer climates will love the cooler summer temperatures. The most popular time to visit falls during the dry season, from November to April.
When visiting Guatemala, it's advisable to wear comfortable and lightweight clothing, considering the country's diverse climate. Opt for breathable fabrics like cotton to stay cool and remember that layering is key when temperatures drop in the evening. Comfortable walking shoes are helpful if you plan to explore the country's vast hiking trails. It's a good idea to dress modestly, especially when visiting cultural or religious sites, to respect local customs and traditions.
When we established in Lake Atitlán in 2007, kayaking was our first love. Fast forward 16 years, and today we offer a range of adventure tours and cultural experiences in Lake Atitlan and beyond. Check out our full range of tours here.