I found San Juan by accident on a morning walk that my travel book told me not to take because “it’s not safe to walk between towns in Atitlan.” San Juan is only 10 minutes from San Pedro la Laguna, which I went to after enrolling in Spanish school. Don’t get me wrong, San Pedro is great and I loved my Spanish school (Orbita) and my teacher (Anita), but the rest of the “scene” there would have been fine 20 years ago but not now.
So when I stumbled across tidy, savvy San Juan I wish it were in my Moon guide on Guatemala. Or on the ‘Net, or on Trip Advisor in any real capacity. But it’s not, and I do not know why. This tiny town on Atitlan has educated itself on catering to the type of tourists it wants: those interested in artisans and projectos, those who wish to see micro-business in action, those wanting to support hands-up and not hands-out community enterprises that are literally changing the landscape for Mayans on Atitlan.
San Juan has 13 Mayan murals peppered throughout the efficient town centre. It has one charming Spanish school on the lake (all of the lakeside properties have small agricultural strips between themselves and the reed-thatched lake),
many art galleries with local artists painting gorgeous Mayan canvases right on-site, and many women’s collectives undertaking weaving, fabric, textiles and other projects where you can receive tours in easy-to-understand Spanish and sometimes English.
Do venture off from the main street directly up from the boat dock: there are many micro-projects dotted throughout San Juan that may not get the direct tourist access from the boats but who deserve a visit.
This is a town doing everything right. It deserves recognition and tourist attention. Don’t miss this – it’s a real hidden gem on Atitlan and it will do your tourist-heart good.
(And if you are looking for a place to stay please consider the stunning Hotel Chi-Ya, where I stayed for two weeks and wrote a glowing review of: http://www.hotelchi-ya.com/index.html)