The Lower Mayan Trail, otherwise known as the Mayan Ridge Hike, is one of the best Lake Atitlan hikes in Guatemala. The trail stretches from San Marcos La Laguna to Santa Cruz La Laguna, covering breathtaking scenery along the north shore of the majestic lake. When it comes to hikes around Lake Atitlan, it doesn’t get much better than the Lower Mayan Trail. The best part is, this hike is hardly explored by tourists, so you’ll be walking these ancient Mayan paths without the crowds.
In this guide, we’re going to explain how you can heighten your hiking experience of the spectacular Lower Mayan Trail. This involves hiking the trail with a Mayan guide, who will help you appreciate the old paths you’re exploring. We’ll also include detailed hiking specs, show off some glorious lakeside photos, chat about the best Lake Atitlan hotel options and discuss some options for Mayan tours in Lake Atitlan.
Table of Contents
Lower Mayan Trail: Hiking Tours vs. Hiking Independently
For maximal enjoyment and appreciation of the Lower Mayan Trail, we highly recommend hiking with a Mayan guide. They will provide historical and cultural context to this beautiful nature trail.
Of course, hiking the Lower Mayan Trail independently is a realistic option. The trail itself is straightforward to navigate. Plus, it’s easy to reach the start of the hike in San Marcos. Simply, jump on a boat (lancha) and head to San Marcos. From San Pedro, they run direct boats to San Marcos regularly (every 20–30 minutes). The journey takes approx. 20 minutes and the price is 10Q/person.
Once you complete the hike in Santa Cruz, you can jump straight onto another boat and head back to your base in Lake Atitlan. From San Marcos, the boat to San Pedro was 25Q/person and took around 45 minutes.
Unfortunately, similar to Volcan San Pedro, robberies have been reported along the trail from San Marcos to Santa Cruz. According to tourists and locals, robberies tend to happen more often on the weekends, during dusk and dawn, and to those hiking solo or in a small group.
So, if you choose to hike the Lower Mayan Trail independently, it’s best to do it during the day, during the week and with a group of people. But, if you want even more security and peace of mind, it’s best to hike the Lower Mayan Trail with a guide.
SAFETY UPDATE: one of our readers reported a robbery when doing this walk independently. For safety, we highly recommend doing this walk with a guide.
Lower Mayan Trail Hiking Guide
To improve your chances of safety, and to maximise your hiking experience, it’s a no-brainer to hike with a guide, specifically, a Mayan guide! There are many Lake Atitlan hiking tours available, particularly in San Pedro. But, we highly recommend Lui from LuiTuy Tours as the perfect Mayan guide to take you on the Lower Mayan Trail.
Lui is a friendly, knowledgeable and experienced local guide who offers fantastic Lake Atitlan hiking tours. Lake Atitlan is sacred to the Mayan people, and this was well expressed in Lui’s passion and enthusiasm when discussing the lake and the area.
Beck and I loved hiking the Lower Mayan Trail with Lui. The tour lasts anywhere between 3–5 hours depending on your group and the price is 220Q/person. For more information about LuiTuy Tours, feel free to contact Lui directly on Whatsapp (+502 5888 1258), Facebook, Instagram or visit his website.
- Type: One-way
- Distance: 9km
- Time: 2.75 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 454m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: San Marcos La Laguna
- Map: Wikiloc
Lower Mayan Trail Hike
For this scenic Lake Atitlan hike, you’ll meet Lui at 10am in San Marcos. If you’re staying in San Pedro, we recommend catching a boat around 9:15–9:30am. That means you’ll arrive in San Marcos around 9:35–9:50am, and then it’s just a 5 minute walk to meet Luis in town, next to a basketball court called ‘Cancha Polideportiva San Marcos Pak ‘I’b‘. FYI – Lui will send you all this information before the hike anyway.
The hike immediately leads away from San Marcos, following a wide dusty road that eventually steers you towards the lake. But, you won’t have views of the lake during the first 1.5–2km. You’ll need to gain some elevation before you can enjoy superb lake views. During this time, Lui, who speaks some English, shared his knowledge of the Lower Mayan Trail and taught us some Spanish and Mayan words.
At around the 2km mark, you’ll start to catch glimpses of the impressive lake, dwarfed by the surrounding mountain ranges. The trail then descends onto the outskirts of the town of Tzununa. This is where the hike really comes to life!
Tzununa to Jaibalito
From Tzununa, the trail soon leads through a tropical paradise. There are luscious plants on either side of the track that winds and undulates. You’ll soon meet a switchback section that reveals increasingly breathtaking views of Lake Atitlan.
Better yet, with more elevation gained, the single track follows a ridge high above the lake. This reveals sweeping views of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes. Volcan San Pedro looks particularly menacing as it dominates the skyline.
Soon, you’ll follow a forested and shaded section that descends to the village of Jaibalito. You’ll see farmers working the land, tending their maize and coffee fields. There is no road access to the village, and so it can only be reached by boat, or in your case, by foot! It’s a fascinating village to explore and wander, as the locals go about their daily life.
Lui is very easygoing and will let you explore as much or as little as you please. We guarantee you won’t feel restricted or pressured to go at any speed other than the one you’re comfortable with.
Jaibalito to Santa Cruz
After you’ve had a chance to wander the streets of Jaibalito, it’s time to continue the hike. Personally, the next section was our favourite. The remote section initially exiting Jaibalito and heading in the direction of Santa Cruz is the most serene section of the Lower Mayan Trail.
There are so many epic photo opportunities of the gorgeous Lake Atitlan! A camera is definitely required, and you can feel safe to carry one if you’re with a guide. The track itself is fun and exhilarating. A narrow dusty trail darts in and around corners on the ledge of the ridge, perched high above the lake. This section of the hike offers a continuous impressive vantage point.
Other than the odd shaded sections leading in and out of villages, the Lower Mayan Trail is quite dry and exposed. You’ll be ready for a quick break in the shade, before descending to Santa Cruz – your final destination. In Santa Cruz, you’ll pass by some lovely piers and nice hotels on the lake edge. Make sure to have a go on the ‘Sacred Tree Atitlan‘ swing to help take in the views! Or, if that’s a bit basic, you can crack on, to the finish line.
At the Santa Cruz dock, your Lower Mayan Trail hike has finished! You can simply jump on a boat and head back to your Lake Atitlan hotel to finish your adventure.
Lower Mayan Trail Recap
The Lower Mayan Trail is a Lake Atitlan hike that deserves far more praise and attention. Other than hiking Rostro Maya (Indian Nose) for sunrise, the hike from San Marcos to Santa Cruz should definitely be high on your radar when visiting Lake Atitlan. We guarantee an even better experience doing the Lower Mayan Trail with a Mayan guide, who will bring culture, life and appreciation to this marvellous hike.
Lake Atitlan Hotel Options
There are no less than 11 beautiful Lake Atitlan towns and choosing where to stay can be a bit overwhelming. To keep it simple, the most common places to stay in Lake Atitlan are San Pedro La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna and Panajachel. These towns around Lake Atitlan are fairly easy to get to, plus they’re the most convenient to stay at, considering most tours and activities start from these places.
For each town around Lake Atitlan, we’ll cover the best hotel options; plus, some budget and hostel options.
Lake Atitlan Best Hotels: San Pedro
San Pedro is one of the most popular towns in Lake Atitlan to bunk up for a few nights. It has the reputation as the town backpackers will visit, party and hang out at. There are countless tour companies here, so you’ll definitely never get bored. Best of all, being the backpacker hub, you’ll have the most diverse hotel options in Lake Atitlan.
Personally, Beck and I really enjoyed staying here. We didn’t party but found it a great base to rest after the Xela to Lake Atitlan 3 Day hike. It was also very easy to travel from San Pedro to San Marcos by boat to do the Lower Mayan Trail.
Best Hotel Option: Sabba Resort
Sabba Resort is the well-known go-to hotel option for travellers looking for the best accommodation in San Pedro. With an on-site restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, bar, garden, epic swings and an even better view over Lake Atitlan, look no further than Sabba Resort for an extremely nice stay.
Best Budget Option: Hotel Peneleu
We think Hotel Peneleu in San Pedro would be one of the best budget hotels in Lake Atitlan, as it ticks a lot of boxes. You have stunning views of Lake Atitlan spread across four levels and better yet, the price for a private room with your own bathroom is very reasonable!
Best Hostel Option: AmiGos
AmiGos is an awesome place to stay to meet other travellers. You can chill out on the balcony and chat with your new backpacking mates with wondrous views of Lake Atitlan. The hostel has a garden, terrace, 24-hour tour desk service and decent WiFi.
Lake Atitlan Best Hotels: San Marcos
These days, San Marcos is the town around Lake Atitlan with the hippie vibes. Think yoga, meditation, handcraft stores, dreadlocks, fruit juices, turmeric lattes, vegan restaurants and eccentric colours. San Marcos is a great place to stay and chill out if you’re looking for a more laid back and easy-going vibe.
Personally, Beck and I preferred staying in San Pedro as it was a bit more our style, convenient to reach, there were more services available and it was easier to depart from San Pedro to get to Antigua. In saying that though, San Marcos is obviously the perfect place to stay to do the Lower Mayan Trail. So, that’s a huge plus for staying here.
Best Hotel Option: Anzan Atitlan
For a luxurious and lavish place to stay in San Marcos, you’ll need to book Anzan Atitlan. Each unit has its own private seating area to relax and soak in the glorious lake. This lovely bed and breakfast also has a sun terrace and private beach area, where you can even grab a drink from the snack bar. Talk about dreamy!
Best Hostel Option: Eagle’s Nest
Eagle’s Nest is a friendly and welcoming hostel popular with backpackers staying in San Marcos. With exquisite mountain views and a garden on-site, there is plenty of nature and greenspace to fulfil your nature fix. The accommodation also has a sauna, which is a great perk for choosing to stay at this Lake Atitlan hostel.
Lake Atitlan Best Hotels: Panajachel
Panajachel is by far the most convenient town around Lake Atitlan to reach from other cities in Guatemala. It’s a busy little town with plenty of services and activities for an enjoyable stay. Panajachel is definitely less touristy than many other towns in Lake Atitlan.
But, honestly, given its easy accessibility, it lacks something special that other towns around Lake Atitlan, such as San Pedro and San Marcos can offer. That’s why Beck and I recommend staying at San Pedro or San Marcos instead – whichever is more your vibe.
But, for a quick fly in and fly out sort of stay, Panajachel isn’t a bad shout. Also, being another town on the north shore of Lake Atitlan, it’s not badly located for the Lower Mayan Trail. A boat to San Marcos and from Santa Cruz isn’t far away at all.
Best Hotel Option: Porta Hotel del Lago
Porta Hotel del Lago is an impressively lavish place to stay in Panajachel that’s great value for money. From your stylish terrace, you’ll have unbeatable views of Lake Atitlan and the surrounding volcanoes and mountains. Forming part of the hotel, Cakchiquel and Tocoyal restaurants offer fantastic Guatemalan grub, whilst Xocomil Bar serves drinks and snacks whenever it’s required!
Best Hostel Option: Selina Atitlan
As far as dorm rooms go, Selina Atitlan is a real beaut. Fitted out like a stylish hotel, Selina Atitlan offers a restaurant, bar, garden, and good WiFi. There are also private room options available, which look even better!
Five Hiking Essentials For the Lower Mayan Trail
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
Make sure to also pack 2L of water, sunscreen and a hat for this Lake Atitlan hiking tour.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Mayan Tours Guatemala
The Mayans, specifically the Kachekel Maya, have used the ancient paths stretching from San Marcos to Santa Cruz for centuries. But, don’t expect a Mayan temple or Mayan ruins during the Lower Mayan Trail. Although you learn about the Mayan culture from having a Mayan guide during this hike, this experience is more of an adventure one, than a cultural one.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mayan culture, there are Mayan tours and Mayan trips you can take during your time in Lake Atitlan. Other than just Lake Atitlan hiking tours, LuiTuy Tours offer the cultural ‘Atitlan Pueblitos Tour‘, which runs for 6–7 hours. The price is 2,000Q/group, with a maximum of 10 people. So, for example, it’ll be 200Q/person if there are 10 people. The more travellers you get to join – the better!
The tour visits Santa Catalina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo, Santiago Atitlan and San Juan La Laguna, where the Tz’utujiles and Kaqchikeles Mayans live. During the tour, you’ll visit a ceramic factory, the cultural house, El Maximon, Mural Arts, Cacao, Mundo Maya de las Abejas, Natural Inks, Mayan Textiles and the facades of the Catholic Churches and Mirador de San Juan La Laguna.
Personally, Beck and I didn’t get time to do this tour, but we wish we had done it as it looks amazing. It’d be the perfect way to experience Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan!
- Support the locals by doing Lake Atitlan hiking tours: hiking the Lower Mayan Trail independently is certainly doable. But, your experience will be improved by doing it with a local guide. Be generous and hike this tour with a guide to help and support the local communities.
- Best time of year to hike the Lower Mayan Trail: like most hikes in Guatemala and Central America, you should do them during the dry season (November to April).
- Don’t pack too many snacks: you’ll walk by shops in the small villages from San Marcos to Santa Cruz. Plus, you can even have lunch in Santa Cruz after your hike.
Check out our 17 Best Hikes in Guatemala guide.