Guatemala via Homestay: How We Experienced Lake Atitlan
View from the surrounding mountains of Lake Atitlan near San Juan La Laguna
When visiting to Guatemala, one can't help but to get glimpses of the current and former Mayan culture. It's pretty much in your face, from the colorful cemeteries on the hillsides to the world-renowned ruins located within the country's jungles. These are all typically experienced on the surface, but small towns throughout Guatemala give travelers the opportunity to immerse themselves into local culture via homestay programs.
One village in particular that draws our interest is San Juan La Laguna for its location on the shores of Lake Atitlan. More specifically, it sits in the foothills of Rostro Maya, a sacred mountain summit that is reminiscent of a Mayan face looking up at the sky. If you arrive by boat at the pier, you will walk up a steep hill filled with small art galleries and tourist shops. Keep going up to the top, and you will find the authentic town of San Juan. If you arrive by car, you will most likely be dropped off in the actual town.
Pier of the fishing village of San Juan La Laguna
One of the reasons we liked San Juan so much was for its isolation and proximity to the outdoors. It is here that you can really get a feel for what its like to live in Guatemala as a descendant of the Mayans. The homestay programs set you up to live with a local family and partake in the typical day-to-day duties and rituals.
For example, visiting women can spend a day with local women, following along with what a local woman would do during a normal day, including cooking, making tortillas, gardening, and weaving. Men can do the same and spend the day fishing, for example. Additionally, San Juan offers a wide variety of eco-tours and outdoor opportunities, including hiking, boating, bird watching, and coffee, corn, and archaeological tours.
The homestay opportunities in San Juan go hand in hand with another specialty of the country, Spanish immersion programs, which we will take a look at tomorrow.
Rostro Maya as seen from San Juan La Laguna. Can you see the Mayan face laying down?
[Photos: Flickr; Flickr; eloyhanoi]