I only stayed one night in Santa Cruz La Laguna in Guatemala but this village ended up being my absolute favourite village on Lake Atitlan and I almost immediately fell in love with this authentic, charming and secluded Mayan village.
Santa Cruz is a very traditional Mayan village built on a steep and lush jungle-covered mountainside. The surrounding setting is incredibly beautiful and dramatic as the village is surrounded by tall and jagged mountain peaks. Due to its secluded location and lack of road access to the outside world (it is only accessible by boat from the other villages around the lake), Santa Cruz retains a very charming, tranquil and authentic feel and it’s one of the most isolated villages on the lake with few tourist visitors compared to the other villages. It is also the most beautiful place on Lake Atitlan, in my opinion and has stunning views of the lake and volcanoes.
Aside from the handful of local accommodations built at the bottom of the steep hill by the waterfront, this town remains largely untouched by tourism and the local people living there were definitely the friendliest and most welcoming people that I encountered around the lake. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful.
The main area of the village where the locals live is located a steep uphill climb up a winding road from the dock with lots of switchbacks, as the town sits high above the lakeshore. After arriving at the small dock, you can take a three-wheeled tuk tuk up to the village which takes about ten minutes. There are lots of tuk tuks lined up along the road just in front of the dock, so you will have no trouble finding one. If you’re feeling like you want or need a good work-out, I recommend hiking up to the village. It was a challenging (but totally manageable) trek but I took my time and made frequent stops to admire the gorgeous scenery and landscapes around me. It was definitely worth the walk and I did it multiple times (you will get some seriously strong leg muscles as well).
If you are looking to experience tranquility, an authentic and traditional local village with spectacular natural scenery and amazing views of the lake and volcanoes while having the opportunity to interact with the local Mayan people, truly relax and unwind, then I highly recommend spending some time in Santa Cruz! It is an amazing place to do yoga, kayak, read, hike, or simply relax, do nothing and experience the slow and laid-back pace of life in this town.
Visiting this village would be perfect for a day trip from other villages around the lake, but I was so captivated by this village and its natural beauty, local charm and serenity, that I definitely could have stayed longer than just one night.
Things to See and Do
Explore the Local Village
The main village where the locals live in Santa Cruz is located up a very steep hill from the waterfront and perched on the stunningly gorgeous jungle-covered mountainside. There is a narrow road that winds its way up to the village where three-wheeled motorized vehicles known as tuk tuks zoom past you and ask if you want a ride. I recommend hiking though, as you will be able to better appreciate the absolutely beautiful scenery. The views of the jungle-covered mountains and tall jagged peaks, the village way up high on the mountainside and the lake and volcanoes are simply spectacular. The views honestly cannot get any better than this, in my opinion. I was constantly in awe of the beauty around me (fantastic photo opportunities!) as I made the strenuous hike up the winding road with steep switchbacks to the top of the hill where the village was located. I felt very accomplished and proud of myself for making it to the top of the village without caving in and just getting a ride from a tuk tuk!
The village itself is very small and consists of a concrete main square bordered by a small white church, which is apparently one of the oldest in Guatemala; a library and school; a local medical clinic and the local government building. It was peaceful and quiet. There were also some colourful street art murals along some of the town’s buildings.
Santa Cruz felt very authentic as there were lots of local Maya people living there and the village remained largely untouched by tourism. I walked along some of the steep and narrow streets further into the residential areas of the village and was greeted warmly and with a friendly smile by every single local that I passed by. The local children were fascinated by me and I got the feeling that they don’t see too many tourists venture into the residential area of town. I got lots of stares from the children but they were so friendly and they gathered and all yelled “hola” with smiles as I walked by and greeted them back. Exploring this isolated village was such a unique and authentic experience and I loved the friendliness and the tranquility and local charm.
Go Scuba Diving
La Iguana Perdida hostel in Santa Cruz is home to Lake Atitlan’s only dive shop, called ATI Divers. Apparently, you are able to explore buildings underwater which have been flooded by the lake’s continuously rising waters, which sounds super interesting. I am not a diver and would probably feel much too claustrophobic to try it out, but the dive shop appeared to be popular with those staying at La Iguana Perdida.
Go For a Hike
There are a variety of beautiful hikes that begin from the Santa Cruz area. You can hike along the shoreline to the next village of Jaibalito or continue further all the way to San Marcos. You can also hike in the opposite direction along the lake.
Make sure to check with the locals or your hostel/hotel staff about the safety of hiking between the villages, especially if you plan to go alone, as there continue to be incidences of armed robberies along some of these routes.
I went for a short walk on my own from the dock in Santa Cruz along the lake about halfway to the Isla Verde Hotel before turning around and heading back before it got dark for the night. The walk was very pleasant and peaceful and the scenery was gorgeous as the narrow trail provided stunning views of the lake on one side of me and dense jungle was on the other side.
I also walked along the shoreline trail in the opposite direction of Isla Verde for a little ways and was in awe at the gorgeous jungle scenery and beautiful lake views.
Because Santa Cruz is such a peaceful and tranquil village where there are no cars and the area is surrounded by such awe-inspiring natural beauty, it is the perfect place to head for some relaxation. If you are looking to get away from the busyness of life and fast-paced culture, then Santa Cruz is where you want to be on the lake. It would be difficult not to be naturally relaxed and calm in such a place. It is truly “muy tranquilo!”
You can spend time lazing around in a comfortable hammock at La Iguana Perdida while looking out to the beautiful lake and volcanoes, sitting on the dock on the lake while enjoying the serene atmosphere, reading a good book in the cozy lounge at La Iguana Perdida, enjoying a delicious traditional meal at Cafe Sabor Cruceno while being treated to the best views of Lake Atitlan, or going for a beautiful hike along the lakefront.
Admire the Incredible Views
The views of the lake and volcanoes from Santa Cruz are spectacular and they are the best that I found while traveling around to various villages on the lake. Here are some photos from the amazing views as seen from the dock, La Iguana Perdida Hostel and El Sabor Cruceno Restaurant.
Watch the Sunrises and Sunsets
Of all the villages that I visited around the lake, Santa Cruz had the best views of the lake and volcanoes and therefore, it makes the perfect place to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets. I loved taking them in from the dock right in front of my hostel.
Where to Stay
I stayed at a well-known hostel (the only one in this small village) called La Iguana Perdida and loved everything about it. I would highly recommend staying here! The hostel is located right on the waterfront overlooking the lake and it is the first building that you see (on the right hand side) when you arrive to the dock. I only spent one night at this charming hostel but I completely fell in love with this place almost immediately and wish I had stayed longer.
La Iguana Perdida is a charming and funky hostel with unique decor and beautiful, comfortable places to relax, hang out, eat and meet other travelers. They have a restaurant where they serve delicious and healthy breakfast and lunch dishes until 3 PM. The views of the lake and volcanoes from the restaurant’s outdoor seating area were incredibly beautiful. In the evenings, they have a three-course family-style dinner at 7 PM for Q60 (make sure to order before 3 PM), and they always have a vegetarian option available. I loved the communal dinners and they were a fantastic way to meet other travelers – perfect for solo travelers like myself. I enjoyed the ambiance and eating by candlelight. This hostel has a really friendly and welcoming social atmosphere and I found it easy to approach people and meet others.
The hostel offers a variety of rooms for every budget and travel style, including dorms and private rooms with or without electricity and luxury suites. I chose to stay in a private room (called Nanook) with electricity, which was located in a separate building behind the main one, surrounded by jungle vegetation. The room was on the second level and there was a small balcony with colourful chairs looking out to the jungle. The room was spacious, clean and comfortable and had a double bed, nice wood flooring, lamps around the room, a jug of purified water and some glasses, and a private bathroom with super hot water showers (these were so amazing) and good water pressure. It was simple yet had a charming and rustic feel that I loved.
The hostel has lots of great common areas to relax and hang out, like the hammock area beside the main building overlooking the lake and a small but cozy library inside the main building with a great selection of used books, musical instruments, a fireplace, couches for lounging and reading and windows providing great views of the lake and jungle. The staff at La Iguana Perdida are super friendly and helpful and they really make this hostel amazing.
One important thing to note about La Iguana Perdida is the fact that they do not have Wi-Fi. They do however have a small computer room open until 7 PM with a few computers with an internet connection where you can pay a small fee to use them. I actually enjoyed having some time to disconnect from my phone though and I feel like everyone was more social because of it. Overall, if you are traveling to Santa Cruz, staying at La Iguana Perdida is a fantastic choice!
Related Post: Hostel Review: La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz La Laguna, Guatemala (click on the link to read my full review of this amazing hostel).
Where to Shop
Santa Cruz is a small village but there are a few places where you can find local handmade products and your purchase helps to support the women in the community.
Tienda Manos Crucenas
Tienda Manos Crucenas is a small store inside the CECAP building in Santa Cruz, run by the nonprofit organization called Amigos de Santa Cruz, where you can find beautiful and high quality local products that are handmade by women in and around Santa Cruz. The goal of the store is to provide these women with the opportunity to earn an income from making and selling these products while they receive fair wages and feel empowered. They sell gorgeous scarves, aprons, bags, purses, jewelry and beaded items. I purchased a couple of beautiful and unique scarves and beaded Christmas ornaments there and absolutely love them. It also felt very satisfying to support the local women in this small and secluded community. I was also pleasantly surprised that the store accepts credit cards as well! This is a wonderful store to do some shopping while you are in Santa Cruz.
Location: On the main level of the tall yellow building that says “Centro de Capacitacion” just south of the main square in Santa Cruz. You can follow their updates on Facebook by clicking here.
No-Name Lakefront Shop
When you arrive at the dock in Santa Cruz, start walking up the main road and just past the entrance to La Iguana Perdida hostel, there will be a small shop on the right hand side. They sell a variety of beautifully colourful textiles, scarves, bags, and clothing. I purchased a gorgeous silk scarf there for Q75 – a fantastic price for the quality – and was very pleased with it.
Location: On the right hand side of the main street, just a few steps up from the main dock in Santa Cruz (just past the entrance to La Iguana Perdida).
Where to Eat
La Iguana Perdida is a hostel on the waterfront but they also operate a small restaurant out of the main building. They serve breakfast and lunch from 8 am until 3 pm and the menu includes a variety of healthy and delicious dishes to choose from including sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, soup, vegetables, pasta, nachos, salad, fries, pancakes, oatmeal, typical Guatemalan breakfasts and more.
Their food was delicious and I breakfast and dinner there during my stay.
Cafe Sabor Cruceno
Cafe Sabor Cruceno is a beautiful local restaurant situated inside the CECAP building in the main part of the village at the top of the hill. The restaurant is run by young graduates from the community who were students of a culinary arts program as part of the nonprofit organization called Amigos de Santa Cruz. They serve breakfast and lunch (they are open until 5 PM) and their menu features a variety of unique local Guatemalan dishes made using regional spices, fruits and vegetables, including the country’s national dish known as pepian. They also have vegetarian and gluten-free options! This is one of the cleanest, newest and most beautiful restaurants that I ate at during my Guatemala travels!
In addition to a section of indoor seating, there are also tables outside on the restaurant’s spacious rooftop balcony where you can find the most stunning and beautiful views overlooking Lake Atitlan, the surrounding volcanoes and the local village perched on the jungle mountainside. The service was prompt, friendly and professional.
I visited this restaurant twice for lunch during my time in Santa Cruz and ordered the vegetarian version of the pepian with tofu (it is a traditional dish in Guatemala), because it was so delicious! The dish was very flavourful and unique and it was presented beautifully as well. I can honestly say that it was one of the best meals that I ate in Guatemala. Their fresh fruit smoothies (or “licuados”) were also very tasty and fresh.
When you eat the amazing food at this restaurant, you are directly supporting the education and vocational programs run by CECAP with the goal of improving the lives of the local people in Santa Cruz and empowering them with skills, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody! Make sure to check out their small store on the main level as well where you will find gorgeous handmade products.
Location: On the second level of the CECAP building on Santa Cruz’s main square (inside the tall yellow building). Check them out on Facebook as well!
Getting There and Around
Santa Cruz is one of the more secluded villages around Lake Atitlan and it can only be reached via public boat. It is about a 10-15 minute boat ride from Panajachel for a cost of Q10 and the boats start running at around 6 am with the last one at around 5:30 pm. They don’t operate on a schedule and leave when they have enough people to justify a trip, which is generally every 15-20 minutes.
Note: If you are traveling to Santa Cruz, be aware that there are no ATMs, banks or grocery stores in this village so make sure to get cash before you get here. There are some small local “tiendas” (convenience stores) near the main square in town but their supplies are limited. La Iguana Perdida accepts both cash and credit cards and CECAP (Cafe Sabor Cruceno and Tienda Manos Crucenas) also accepts credit cards.
The isolated indigenous Mayan village of Santa Cruz La Laguna is one of the most authentic, charming and absolutely beautiful places to stay on Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan.
The local people are friendly and welcoming, the food is incredible, the views are breathtaking, the landscapes and scenery are incredibly gorgeous and awe-inspiring, and the vibe is relaxed and peaceful.
If you are planning your travels to Guatemala, I highly recommend staying at least one night in Santa Cruz. You will not regret it!
Check out more of my stories and posts from my Guatemala travels by clicking here.
Thanks for reading and make sure to email or message me on social media if you have any questions about Guatemala.