Lake views, Spanish schools, and “Gringolandia” in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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Trip to San Marcos pueblo with new friends: Amy and Allie!

Enroll in Spanish school…check. Find apartment…check. Make friends…check! All within 24 hours of arriving. We are really getting the hang of this world travel business! San Pedro La Laguna, a small-ish town on Lake Atitlan in the country of Guatemala is known for a few things: excellent Spanish schools, delicious and cheap cuisine from around the world, beautiful lake views, and backpackers or “gringos”. I know this can sometimes be an offensive term but here it seems to be used with affection. Locals and travelers fondly call the downtown area by the lake “Gringolandia”. So far we concur with all of these characteristics. Let’s break each one down a bit:

  • Excellent Spanish schools– The Spanish school we enrolled in is called Cooperativa. We’re taking 4 hours a day of one-on-one classes Monday through Friday. The setting is unreal- outdoor private patio settings amidst a beautiful garden overlooking the sparkly lake and mountains. The registration fee of $25 goes directly towards families in need of basics and education. Carolyn’s teacher is Nicotu and they are focusing right now on expressions using “haber” (Hay mucho sol! Para aprender espanol hay que practicar mucho!) Jon’s teacher is Lourdes. They focus on conversational Spanish and the “preterite” (past tense).
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Jon’s one on one class with Lourdes

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A few of the many pods or outdoor rooms at Cooperativa

  • Delicious and cheap cuisine from around the world– So yummy! Our theory is that travelers come here for a week and end up buying up restaurants and serving their home country’s cuisine for years to come. You can find sushi, pasta, pizza, steak, vietntamese pho, curry, falafel, and fish tacos that would give Southbeach Bar and Grill in San Diego a run for it’s money. Average cost per meal – $7.
  • Beautiful lake views- breathtaking! Whether we are taking Spanish classes, enjoying a nice meal, or sipping some coffee and tea in our apartment, the lake and surrounding mountains greet us with a warm “hola, como estas!” Check out the view from our apartment!

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  • And the last characteristic- “Gringolandia”. We experienced a bit of culture shock when we first stepped out of our van and onto the bustling downtown streets of San Pedro. Beautiful blond hair, mid-drifts, dread locks, backpacks, tattoos, golden skin, and words spoken in English swirled all around us. Are we really in Guatemala? we wondered. You almost didn’t notice the petite, beautifully dressed, dark haired and dark skinned Guatemalans weaving through the crowd or perched on the curb selling bananas. At first we were overwhelmed at the scene, especially at our hostel which we later learned was one of the bigger party hostels in town (I swear Tripadvisor reviews said it was “tranquil”!). But now we have a lovely apartment in the quieter, more local part of town that is just a 5 minute walk to our Spanish school, to the delicious “gringo” food and to our favorite lakeside spots. We can definitely see why it is such a backpacker’s paradise here!

And so the culture shock in this new land is starting to fade. We love taking in the beauty of San Pedro and the surrounding villages. Our plan is to live here for about 1 month and focus on improving our Spanish. “Vamos a ver” (We will see).

PS- Another super cute town on Lake Atitlan is San Marcos. We visited it last weekend and it was just lovely. Fellow backpackers, Simon and Erin, lived there for a few months and wrote about it (and the many other places they have visited) on their blog Never Ending Voyage.

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