Among the consolidated destinations of Guatemala is Lake Atitlán, where the complex religious and spiritual fabric is present, from the most practicing Catholics and Evangelicals, to the most faithful followers of the New Age.
The Lake, located in the department of Sololá, in the western highlands of Guatemala, presents a unique cultural and natural history. The first aspect, the cultural one, obeys first of all the presence of inhabitants of different ethnic groups, languages and traditions.
With an area of 130 square kilometers, 1,500 meters above sea level; three volcanoes that surround it and with an approximate depth of 350 meters, although this data is variable in different consulted sources. The most widely accepted theory of its origin is that it was part of a larger volcanic crater.
The energetic and spiritual power of Lake Atitlán has been reflected throughout history. San Marcos is known as “spiritual heaven”. This statement is not far from reality when walking through its streets and finding a series of elements, messages and spaces that invite meditation.
It is in this geographic space where so many locals converge; as the “new locals or foreigners”; who have found a way to coexist in the area, tourists who come to spend the day, to take a meditation session; yoga; an appointment with a therapist with a holistic vision; or simply walk through the streets of the most famous New Age destination on the lake and probably in Guatemala.
San Marcos, a town with its own characteristics, with expressions that go from the Protestant traditionalism of the post-civil war to the most avant-garde of the New Age, leaving out a Catholicism greatly diminished by the influence of the car-speakers, which as one person would say in a village cafe: “they have turned the population into a more kinesthetic and less thinking group”.
But, San Marcos lives an apparent pact of tolerance between new agers and locals, or at least that is what is perceived at first glance. At night after nine o’clock silence takes over the environment like monks in a monastery, being able to clearly hear the sound of the wind.
When you walk through the narrow streets of San Marcos, and, especially when you stop for a moment at the main pier of the town and observe, you will notice that every fifteen minutes a permanent flow (sometimes more, sometimes less) of tourists and foreigners, so one would understand that there is an interesting movement of travelers who arrive daily in the town.
Their motivations are varied, although there is always a fundamental reason, the landscape, the spiritual connection in the place through the different holistic offers of the place, some more oriented to sports activities seek to go hiking, although the latter are ultimately the least.
According to what has been discussed with people who have their business and / or holistic center, and who have been in the town for more than a couple of decades, the number of foreigners who seek to settle for at least 6 months in the town is each older time. At the same time, an officially unaccounted number of tourists who stay from two to 5 nights on average enter. Those who stay for long periods seek to integrate into existing initiatives, others, more daring, decide to start their own business.
Although San Marcos has always been under the shadow of San Pedro (another town on the lake) in terms of tourism, the increase in recent years in both tourists and businesses and holistic healing centers has been increasing. Along with this growth, the interviewees point out that there is another type of growth, and it is the number of foreigners who stay to live in the town for periods of time ranging from 3 months to an indefinite number of years.
Personal spiritual experience
There is still a group of people in San Marcos who travel to have a personal spiritual experience that increases their quality of life, in the words of a local, “there are still seekers”, referring to this group of people-travelers who want to re -Find themselves.
The tourist flow is very well defined, at least for those who use the holistic centers of the town. The months of high occupancy are from November to April, including Holy Week and other holidays for Guatemalans. For foreigners coming from the Northern Hemisphere, this designated period of months also has to do with an “escape” from winter in their home countries.
A common feedback found among tourists and travelers is that no matter the length of their stay, the lake offers a unique energy that is complemented by the tranquility that is breathed in San Marcos. This could be verified throughout the stay where the fact of not having ground transportation in the town (only in its peripheral area), in addition to the regulation of not having sound devices with high volumes after 9:00 p.m., makes an atmosphere quite appropriate for the search for peace.
New Age context
San Marcos de la Laguna is an atypical town if compared to the rest of the towns that surround the lake. It seems that the New Age context has generated a population with unique characteristics, and it is the coexistence between two completely opposite worlds.
But, it is not only because one group is indigenous and the other is foreigners, it is that from a spiritual perspective it seems that there is a pact of tolerance that at times seems weak and at times is very strong. Anyone can think that the impact of tourists is completely negative for the community, but then, how is it possible that for more than 30 years there has been coexistence between both groups? The immediate response is adaptation, since it must be borne in mind that San Marcos has always been occupied by migrant populations, which creates an open space for the “new” regardless of their religious and spiritual precepts.
To a greater or lesser degree, there is a spiritual-magnetic force in the place that makes tourists visit San Marcos. Whether or not these practitioners of a religion, there is a physical space where the visitor connects with himself.
The gastronomy and the nature reserve of Tzankujil offer a unique experience to the visitor in San Marcos. The first is part of wanting to achieve a better personal and spiritual development, this has to do with the concordance between doing activities that feed the spirit and actions such as healthy food that feed the body. On the other hand, the reserve is a landscape environment that recreates the senses of the visitor, achieving one more incentive in the search to be a better person, a better traveler.