A Guide to Yoga at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The drive itself to Lake Atitlan reveals the majesty of one of the most mystical lakes in the world in perfect measure. From Antigua, it’s two full on hours of winding roads at break neck speeds that can make even the steeliest traveller queazy. Approaching Solola, you get squeezed through road blocks of Mayan men in traditional clothing and cowboy hats on narrow streets, winding up and down volcanic mountains. And then the foliage breaks and you get a clear view of the lake below and it’s serene vista is breathtaking at it’s worst.
The first stop is Panajachel. It’s the main town on the lake, the shortest drive from Antigua and the largest in size. 16,000 people call “Pana” home, and only a fraction are expats.
Most foreign travellers look at Pana as town worth passing through and nothing more. The main drag, Santander, is filled with endless stalls selling all the Guatemalan souvenirs people come for: leather and woven bags, traditional Mayan style shirts, wool pullovers imported from Mexico, hammocks, key chains, purses etc. Most people just walk through on their way to the boat dock to catch a ferry over to the other side where the tourists live.
The most legit space for yoga in this town is actually inside Casa Del Arte which is a sort of alternative community centre. They host classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at 6PM – its’ 45Q a class ($8 CAD approx) which are either hatha or vinyasa for all levels.
There are two boats that take you from Pana across the lake to San Pedro. The fast one and the slow one. The slow one hugs the shore and stops at a ton of sleepy towns in between as well as private docks for hotels and retreat centres.
Santa Cruz is the first town en route to San P and it has a lot of retreat centres, namely Villa Sumaya and Isla Verde, but that’s it. Santa Cruz is a nothing place with a handful of very laid back spaces like La Iguana Perdida, which is hands-down THE place to stay – a hidden gem on the lake for those trying to get away from it all completely. If you don’t have something booked in advance, don’t bother getting off the boat.
Tzununa is just before San Marcos (the absolute bastion of a neo-hippie enclave). The basic story here is that the yogin’s of San Marcos have been pushed to the outskirts by rising rents and festival goers sticking around for the hedonism that comes along with festival hippies. It’s a 15-20 minute walk from San Marcos and is fast becoming the IT spot for those in the know.
There are a handful of places to take yoga and do retreats, but the Mahadevei Ashram is the biggest and best. They used to be the Kaivalya Yoga School in San Marcos, best known for hosting kirtan (Indian devotional signing to god in a group) and a hatha-based 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT). They moved the school into the ashram a few years later and now host everything from dark retreats to YTT’s and function as a volunteer space and ashram. They have daily morning chanting and meditation class at 7AM that is open to the public and a weekly kirtan on Fridays at 12 that is well attended by donation.
As a side note, they’ve just launched four new YTT’s that are incredible, each is a hatha based 200 hour but with a twist, either an added dark retreat, or a tantra module, a bhakti focus, or permaculture. They run from June of this year into January 2018 and you can find out more about all of them by clicking here.
San Marcos is next on the list and it’s filled to the brim with yoga studios and schools. A lot of hostels offer free yoga, you can meditate in a pyramid and even live among the trees just outside of town for a YTT or even just a weekend stay. Here’s my top three picks in town.
It’s a school and a centre and a really far-out there space in San Marcos. Chatty, the owner, opened the centre 30 years ago when there was nothing at the lake. Now, it’s a well known meditation school and space for mini-courses. They have a fantastic month long course called, “The Moon Course” which is a great intro to meditation, yoga, astral travel, and tree of life. They offer daily meditation at 5PM (50Q) and Yoga in the morning at 7-8:15AM (50Q), and you can attend their metaphysic’s classes 10:30AM-12PM (100Q) – they all take place is a large pyramid and are each 100% worth every penny.
More on the Moon Course here:
I stayed here once and loved it. It’s just a ten minute walk out of town along a trail that is safe and easy to navigate. You come to the doors of The Yoga Forest and you feel you have already arrived at a magical yoga nymph space. Then you have to walk up three thousand stairs to get to the kitchen/chill/space/yoga shala/meeting spot that is the heart of the place. Price for staying overnight includes veggy meals made onsite and yoga. You can rent a casita, stay in shared cabins or pitch your tent. They offer a YTT ever second month and they also have a daily schedule that anyone can partake in. Drop in classes are 50Q and they have several to choose from here.
Okay, so Del Lago is the big hostel in San Marcos – it’s the party hostel cause they have live music and a weekly karaoke party, but it’s really tame compared to basically any other hostel bearing the “party” nickname. They also offer daily yoga classes for 40Q a pop and I have to say, I love yoga at Del Lago. It’s yoga for everyone – their classes range from Hatha to Vinyasa Flow, Kundalini, Acro, you name it; and they have 3-4 classes a day on an ever changing schedule they post onsite. Las Piramides is amazing, but might be a bit much for a newbie. The Yoga Forest is amazing as well, but still, preaching to the choir. Del Lago is the yoga studio for the people. The view from their shala overlooking the lake is awesome and it’s totally accessible for your average shoeless backpacker.
From San Marcos, you can take a boat to San Pedro, the main tourist town on the lake. San Pedro is known as the party town since people who are decidedly anti-yoga have settled there. It’s more drunks and late night trance heads than any other distinguishing vibe. But they are still the biggest of the smalls at 8,000 people. The “reliable” (this is a loose term anywhere on the lake save for Pana) bank machines are there and they have a bustling food market and the BEST health food store in all of Central America. San P is still worth a look under the hood, even for the yogin traveler.
This is a daily 9:30AM class offered at different locations around the lake. They are on hiatus unit; August 2017 for rainy season. For now, you can book a private class with them; they offer everything from Vinyasa Flow to Restorative and it’s only 50Q per person for 3 or more people for a private class. Much like Pana, San Pedro does not have a dedicated yoga centre, but rather some hostels that offer yoga or classes in complimentary spaces like this one.
The last place you absolutely cannot count out on the lake is the Mystical Yoga Farm. They also host permaculture and shamanic style YTT’s and it’s a little out of the way, but man is it tricked out.
You need to go to the “other dock” in San Pedro to catch a boat to Santiago which is a mostly locals town on the very tip of the lake. From there you can walk or arrange with the operators at the farm to send a boat to pick you up.
They have lots of retreats and you can also just book overnight. They are known for ceremony so get ready for temazcal, cacao ceremony, fire and tea and my absolute fav – their OM Dome. I could sit in there Om-ing all day long. It’s very secluded and on the water and a fantastic way to spend a long weekend.
Hope this was helpful. If there are any places you want to add to the list or want featured at a later date, please leave them in the comments below.