Daytripper San Pedro: Exploring San Marcos La Laguna
by Tucker Pawlick
More so even than other tourist destinations in Guatemala, San Marcos la Laguna exists as two separate realities imposed on top of each other. Virtually all tourists pass their time in the many restaurants and hotels near the water, while most residents live higher up in the valley. No guide will mention it, but by hiking up through the residential section of town, which is beautiful in its own right, you will come to a series of trials that climb for miles up the surrounding mountainside and end in a series of shallow caves.
To reach these trails, head straight up the main road that leads into town from the left side of the docks. After 5 minutes you will come to the town square. You can walk up through the square, or turn left and take your next right, where the road becomes thoroughly steep. Walking up this road, you will pass the houses of Cakchiquel residents, cooking on open fires, weaving on hand looms, and appearing pleasantly surprised that a gringo has made it up this high, or maybe gotten lost.
This road turns directly into a footpath that starts the journey into the forest. Continue hiking and you will come across hillsides of coffee plants, avocado trees, orange trees, and a host of other fruits and vegetables which I could not begin to name. The hike is particularly rewarding for birders; in my brief adventure I encountered about a dozen different species. About twenty minutes up the trail, you will come to a huge rock outcrop on your left hand side, facing cliffs upwards of 150 feet high. These cliffs slant inwards at the bottom, forming a series of shallow caves. Some of the Cakchiquel from San Marcos come here to perform religious and healing rites. Needless to say, such ceremonies should not be interrupted, and the trail is far enough away from the caves that this should not be a problem.
I made a three hour trip out of this hike, and did not come close to the end of the trails. To get back down, you can simply turn around, follow the crystal clear river that leads to the center of town, or improvise. You’re sure to come across something interesting.