High on the hog: Guatemala on $9 a day
While $9 may seem like a lot or nothing according to the travel style you have perfected, it is a reasonable sum to spend for night’s lodging and food for one day in San Pedro, Guatemala. Every country has those towns that are amazingly beautiful and dirt cheap and San Pedro is Guatemala’s little slice of paradise. San Pedro is situated on beautiful, unspoiled Lake Atitlan. The area was rediscovered by some hippies a couple decades ago and is now a mix of local Indian and retired Anglos. Plenty of art galleries, markets, water sports and Spanish schools make this an ideal part of Guatemala to get away from it all.
In fact, prices remain so low that you can study Spanish in the town of San Pedro for 4 hours a day for 5 days a week, with food and lodging all for the bargain price of $80- 100US (as of Dec 2008). If Spanish is not your thing, the town has a real bohemian/surfer town feel. Tons of backpackers make their way through San Pedro and as a result many Anglo owned business has sprung up to provide you with free wifi, movies, English based libraries, and of course, muy rica comida (tasty food).
On top of the large, steep hill that separates San Pedro town from the dock is a local indigenous market. A very delicious, healthy meal can be acquired for about $1. I got 2 bananas, chocolate bread, and 4 chicken tamales all for about $1.50 and even over paid a little (i know I shouldn’t have!). Plus the devotion to the big G is inspiring.
Another amazing aspect of the town is it’s deep link to cultures of past through the people. Throughout Lake Atitlan are scattered Indian tribes that rely on the markets and tourist trade to make a living. What makes this place so magical is preserving their ancient dress. You will not see a single women or child in western pants or a t-shirt. If you are lucky, at some of the markets, you will see men in some indigenous clothing: gaucho pants, woven shirt and traditional hat.
Lodging is a traveler’s dream, hotels/guesthouses can be found for $5-15 a night. My lodging was $9(would have been half that if I had had a roommate) and sported immaculate views of the lake from my window plus hammock to relax and catch the lake breezes. Of course, more western equipped rooms(more $$) were available for the squeamish and sanitation conscience.
All in all this little town proved to be more than I bargained for and a place I would return to again and again.