Lake Atitlan has been lauded as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world for centuries, by everyone from German naturalists like Alexander von Humboldt to English intellectualists like Aldous Huxley . It’s also been revered as a major spiritual vortex, and center for healing. In the 21st century, it is easily one of Guatemala’s most visited tourist attractions.
Most visitors to Lake Atitlan are familiar with Panajachel (the most well-connected transport point on the lake), San Pedro (a backpacker’s paradise), and San Marcos (a sort of hippie new-age mecca). But until recently, almost no one had heard of – let alone visited – Tzununa.
Even some of the boat operators are confused about Tzununa’s exact location. On my first visit, my ferry operator stopped and asked at two other towns’ docks before finally dropping me off, with uncertainty.
Tzununa’s dock, the gateway to the village
While Tzununa is definitely lesser known than its more popular neighbors, that’s a benefit. It’s rare to run into any tourists, even in the main square (as compared to Pana or San Marcos or San Pedro, which are practically crawling with backpackers and expats alike). There aren’t any aggressive vendors hawking trinkets, and the village very much retains a small-town feel.
just your standard pigs grazing near the main square
That being said, it likely won’t stay small and unknown for long. Several major projects are in development, including the completion of the construction of a new guest house, and the rumored arrival of a popular probiotics drink maker. Even now, a yoga ashram, a hostel/restaurant (which I can highly recommend), several organic farms, and a few small locally-owned restaurants cater to visitors.
So why visit Tzununa?
Tzununa from above
If you want to experience the beauty of Lake Atitlan without the hustle and bustle of Panajachel, or the constant stream of backpackers in San Pedro, or the overwhelming patchouli smelling and crystal selling of San Marcos – Tzununa is an awesome choice. It’s a short boat ride from stores in Pana or San Pedro for stocking up on necessities, but far enough away to escape the tourist hordes.
How did I find my way to Tzununa? I spent a month there for a yoga teacher training course – for which it is an an economical and interesting alternative to more well-known trainings in Costa Rica. The Mahadevi Ashram I studied at offers regular new age style activities for visitors and community members around the lake, including kirtan with sacred cacao ceremonies, yoga classes (and trainings like the one I participated in), and silent meditation retreats.
If you’re more likely to describe kirtan, yoga, and meditation as “hippie dippy” rather than enlightening, don’t write Tzununa off yet. There are still activities for you.
on the way to a great hike
The small village is an absolutely prime destination for hiking. Heading away from the docks, you can simply follow almost any path on its way up the “mountain”, and discover a beautiful waterfall, stunning viewpoints, and some of the freshest air you might ever breathe. Because there are so few tourists, you’re likely to have the trails all to yourself. For safety’s sake, always inform someone before starting on a trail, and women aren’t advised to go on their own.
Tzununa is also an amazing place to just spend time in solitude, appreciating the beauty of the lake. If you’re looking to disconnect while reconnecting with yourself, look no further. Whether due to its fairly isolated location, lack of tourist popularity, or whatever else, the internet connection is pretty poor and the electricity sometimes goes out for a day or more at a time – forcing you to go screen free whether you like it or not.
standard Tzununa view
But have no fear, a small internet cafe slash pharmacy (yes, seriously) sits on a side of the center square… if you can tear yourself away from the ridiculously stunning views long enough to answer a tedious email.