Living in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

The view of Lago Atitlan and La Nariz del Indio from the roof of my house.

The view of Lago Atitlan and La Nariz del Indio from the roof of my house.

This is the most settled I’ve been in a while – and it feels pretty good. I rented a place month to month and I’ve been living in San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala for a couple months now. I think it’s hard for people to imagine the life I’m living down here. It’s part paradise, part chaos, endlessly frustrating and at the same time, endlessly inspiring.

I have a little home office set up where I run WorldTravelBuzz.com and record my Radical Travel Podcast. I also work part time at a hostel called Mr. Mullets. I’ve got some other expat / long-term traveler friends who live here, and I’m really enjoying getting to know some of the locals and partying with the other gringo travelers in this awesome little town!

San Pedro is a kind of hippy backpacker town. It’s a small, somewhat isolated village in northwestern Guatemala, perched on the side of a volcano, on the edge of Lago Atitlan. The views from just about anywhere in town are incredible. You’ve got volcanoes and mountains all around, and the lake is pristine – the whole place has the kind of prehistoric beauty that I’ve come to expect from rural Guatemala. The town itself is an interesting mix of backpackers, hippies, and locals. The locals are mostly indigenous Tz’utujil Mayans who speak the Tz’utujil language first, Spanish second. They’ve embraced the spike in tourism over the years, and many of them work as Spanish teachers, taking advantage of the fact that their accent is slow, precise, and easy to understand – great for learning Spanish.

An indigenous woman sells dulces on the side of the road.

An indigenous woman sells dulces on the side of the road.

Other than the Spanish schools, the town is full of bars and restaurants that cater to the common gringo. There are some great places to eat and party here, and everything is relatively cheap. You can get an amazing meal for 25 Quetzales, about $3 USD. If you want even cheaper, you go a couple blocks up the hill to the local part of town, where you can get tamales and tostadas for 2 Quetzales – that’s about 25 cents. The market has fresh vegetables from nearby farms, and the coffee fincas provide fresh, delicious Guatemalan coffee. Indigenous women walk around town in their traditional dress, with giant baskets balanced on their heads, selling freshly made banana bread, cinnamon rolls, chocolate cakes, and bags of popcorn – all for just a couple Quetzals. These ladies are like celebrities, and you can hear them crooning “Quierreee Paaaan?” on just about every street corner. If sales are slow, Rosario will beat you at a game of pool at Buddha Bar. One of the ladies even has her own t-shirt.

There’s a weekly pub quiz at Bario Bar, great food and live music a couple days a week at Buddah Bar, a Sunday Funday pool party at The Deep End, and most weekends you can find a crazy, acid-fueled psytrance party at one of the afterparty spots, blasting late into the night. During the day, you can walk the town, climb the volcano, hike La Nariz del Indio

Kayla, Juanito, and Lucianito, the ninos from upstairs.

Kayla, Juanito, and Lucianito, the ninos from upstairs.

A lot of you have asked about how much it actually costs to live here. Rent is cheap, and so is everything else, if you do it right. My house is just a block up the hill from the lakefront in a very central part of town. For $150 per month, I’ve got the whole bottom floor of a house. I have a garden with 2 hammocks and lots of sunshine, a semi-furnished bedroom, bathroom (with a semi-hot suicide shower), and a kitchen. Electricity and water are included, and for drinking water, I just buy a 5 gallon jug once every 10 days or so (about $2). The place also includes internet, which is slow, and cuts in and out, and drives me fucking crazy, but that’s the pretty much same story all over town. You could rent a place for much cheaper than me, but I wanted a nice place – somewhere I could feel comfortable and get work done. The family who owns the house lives upstairs, and their 3 kids are always running around and wanting to play, so I get to practice my Spanish with them, and help the boys fix their bicycles and eat dinner with the family from time to time – it’s a good life, for sure.

Here’s a general cost of living breakdown for living abroad in San Pedro Lago Atitlan, Guatemala:

Rent:
You can live in a hostel or a hotel long term here, or you can rent a place from a local.  Expect to pay between $100 and $200 monthly.

Food:
Going out for a good meal will cost between $3 and $5.

At the market:
A pound of ground beef: $3
A pound of chicken breast (cut fresh and disturbingly in front of you): $2.50
A pound of potatoes: 20 cents
Avocado, fresh and giant: 25 cents
A dozen eggs: $1.50
Bread: 15 cents per sandwich roll

A woman walks down the Santiago dock.

A woman walks down the Santiago dock.

Drinks:
You can drink on the cheap here, even at the bars. There are always specials for 10 Q Mojitos and Cuba Libres – that’s about $1.30. Beers are about $2 on average, and you can buy a liter of beer for as little as $2.50.

I eat well, and I drink well. I cook at home a lot, but I also go out for dinner and drinks 4 or 5 times a week. I probably spend $80 a month at the market and the store for food and supplies, plus an additional $150 a month on going out to eat and drinking. Plus my $150 in rent. So, I’d estimate that my average living expenses are about $400 a month. Not bad for living in paradise.

A lot of people come here to learn Spanish. For $150 per week, you can get 5 days of one-on-one Spanish lessons (4 hours a day), plus accomodation at a homestay with a local family which includes 3 meals a day. Alternatively, you can get just the homestay and meals for $60 a week, or get 20 hours of classes for $90 a week.

Anyway, that’s a good little intro to my life here in San Pedro – it’s pretty awesome. I’m hoping to re-focus JustinWasHere.com as a place where I share more personal stories about my travels – I’m going to try to update more often with these kinds of posts.

 

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  • Girlabouttheglobe

    A great post! I am heading to Guatemala next month and was looking to rent somewhere. You have just given me all the info that I need to know. Thanks Justin :-)

  • lookingforhome

    Very informative. Just this morning I spoke by Skype with a friend who was there.Encouraged me to come and check it out as a place to live. I have been searching Mexico and Asia and he knows that but recommends this place. Incidentally, he has been all over the world and has a good grasp of things such as this. One question Justin..Once one gets there is it fairly easy to find the kind of digs you describe or should work be done in advance to try andsecure that. Max of $200.00 per month still sounds super reasonabl to me! Thx…….(p.s. I am no spring chicken@ 61 and I’m retired)

  • http://twitter.com/JustinJones Justin Jones

    Thanks Spring Chicken! ;) Yeah, it’s pretty easy to find a place to live for under $200 / month. In fact, if you’re renting long term, and tell them you want to stay for a year, you can get much better prices. It helps if you speak a bit of Spanish, as you’ll be dealing with locals. But no, I wouldn’t try to do any legwork ahead of time. You’ll certainly want to be there to make sure you get what you’re looking for. There are plenty of midrange hotels where you can get a cheap room and spend a week or two asking around and checking out what’s available. I’m sure you’ll find something without much trouble at all. Good luck!

  • http://twitter.com/pennilessnfree Pennilessandfree

    I’m actually headed to San Pedro in a weeks time, so glad I came across your post. Have rented a wee apartment near the town and plan to settle down there for a couple of months. Good to hear San Pedro’s fairly cheap (with mojito specials!) and sounds like it’s a chillaxed kind of place which I’m looking forward to. Cheers for the info!

  • Travel Musts

    It really sounds like a terrific experience! And 400 bucks a month is not much! It would be amazing to head down to Guatemala to learn some more Spanish!

  • travelMom

    I spent a few weeks there with my teenage son. we had a great time! Safe and welcoming. We studied Spanish at La Cooperativa and they became like a family to us. Loved those folks! and btw, we never encountered pot, so don’t feel that it’s a druggie place…unlike Panahachel!
    I can’t wait to return. BTW have some beautiful artwork done for you by Gaspar on the gringo trail. I Have a gorgeous huge painting he did for me for that is amazing!

  • david lee

    Hi Justin,
    I read your I read Living In San Pedro. I spent 5 years in Guatemala. Primarily in Pana but did spend a lot of time in Pedro. Prior to my five years I was in Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Mexico City numerous times but my main stay of fun was in San Pedro. I’ve tried many avenues of attempting to contact someone by the name of Dave Brockie but to no avail I’ve had no response to his where abouts. One person who would have an idea would be Nick at Nick’s restaurant at the base of the hill. Also not living too far from where you are located is a native of San Pedro whose name is Agopito Cortez Chavy–I could be wrong with the spelling of Chavy. If it is at all possible to contact these people and relay on my email it would be greatly appreciated

    Thank you for your time
    David Lee

  • JustinWasHere

    Sorry David, I’m not living in San Pedro anymore. I might be able to put you in touch with someone though. Send me an email via the contact form, and maybe I can help.

  • david lee

    Hi Justin,
    I only have my email but not of anyone in San Pedro. I know a lot of the natives but as you know to get in contact with them by email is probably near impossible.
    email d.f.lee.atitlanpedro@gmail.com

    Talk later
    David

  • Samantha Lethio

    Hey ! Love the information .. I aas in san pedro over the summer , and decided to come back to teach English at one of the public schools – was wondering where your apt was or how to get in contact it sounds perfect ! :) thank you

  • Alice

    Hey Justin, I’m about to move down to San Pedro to take Spanish for 1 – 2 months…any advice on where to look for long-term housing? Just ask around? How did you find your place to stay? Thanks in advance for any advice!