Away from tourists: Tzununa waterfall at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Tzununa is a Mayan village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala that is off the beaten path compared to villages like San Pedro and San Marcos. It offers great views of the lake and an interesting waterfall only short hike behind the village.

Dirt road behind Tzununa
The Tzununa waterfall is up that ridge. The trail is off that dirt road.

It took us about 40 minutes to hike up there from the base of the village. A paved road through the village turns into a dirt road, which then turns into a road covered with large rocks.

The steady incline on the rocky dirt road turns into a trail through the countryside that takes you around an animal farm, a tree planing area, across a small river a few times, up and over some large boulders, and finally, the waterfall.

There were signs at two spots when the trail forked. They may be new because I’ve read in other places where people had a hard time finding the waterfall, or couldn’t find it at all.

Tzununa waterfall trail
Trail to the waterfall. Tedly is below me to the right of the boulder.

Some San Marcos hotels and restaurants will take people to this waterfall on organized tours, but we decided to go with the man who took us to Indian Nose. We paid him about $14 for his time (four hours) plus the tuk tuk cost to get to Tzununa, as well as a special fee for a couple of young boys.

Juan introduced us to the two boys, who really could have used a few queztales. In exchange for showing us the way, Juan gave the kids the equivalent of a couple of dollars. (We reimbursed him Juan later.) Once we arrived at the falls and the kids were paid, they took off running down the trail with huge smiles. Budget traveling doesn’t have to mean stingy – especially when poverty is so prevalent.

Now, the waterfall.

Tzununa waterfall
The Tzununa waterfall.

It is an impressive sight: a huge boulder rests at the opening of a small, narrow canyon, creating a water drop between the boulder and a canyon wall. There is a small cave behind the falling water. If a smaller rock holding the boulder in place came loose, the boulder would come down.

Boulder at Tzununa waterfall
A better look at that hunk of earth.

Juan told us the boulder is dangerous, and to be careful. My husband Tedly joked the boulder has been there a million years, and that day was not gonna be the day it came down. Actually, it’s probably been there for more than 80,000 years – when a gigantic explosion from a volcano covered Central America in earth and ash.

Tedly at Tzununa waterfall
Tedly poses near the boulder at the Tzununa waterfall. The small cave is behind him.

The waterfall is a special place for the Maya. There is a make-shift altar, and when I was there, candles and some women’s costume jewelry were at the altar rocks. Juan poured some of his orange juice over the flat rocks as an offering – good luck against calamity. Perhaps some calamity such as, I don’t know, maybe a boulder drop. He didn’t announce he was going to make an offer – he just did it. It was an authentic thing to witness.

Mayan offerings at Tzununa
Altar rocks at where Maya people make offerings.

We soaked ourselves in the clear, cold water to refresh ourselves after the hot hike up. There is not a place to submerge yourself in the water – but it’s refreshing nonetheless. We stayed for about an hour, played with tadpoles and water spiders in small pools, explored the area, listened to and watched the falling water. I practiced a bit of Spanish with Juan.

We had the place all to ourselves – we didn’t see any other other tourists.

I’d recommend wearing long, lightweight pants and proper shoes for this hike because you do hit some plants on the trail and there are ticks here. (I’ve been known to wear shorts and flip flops on other hikes.) It’s always safer to go with a guide, even if it’s a non-official guide like ours. And women are warned not to hike alone.

Once we hit the outskirts of the village, we took side streets downhill to the Catholic Church. That route also offers stunning views of the lake. We took our time enjoying the lake views and checking out the Mayan village a little bit – which was getting ready for a fair to honor Santa Elena. (Each village has a patron saint and a festival to celebrate once a year.)

Tzununa side street
Tedly and Juan walk down a steep side street in Tzununa.

Then it was a tuk tuk ride back to our bungalow rental, and suddenly more four hours had gone by. Another great trip. I liked Tzununa because there weren’t too many tourists there. I don’t know how long that will be the case – there is some construction in the area, and newer organic farms, hostels and yoga destinations may wake the place up. Not yet, though. My phone geo-tagged these photos as either Santa Cruz or San Marcos, both nearby villages, but off the mark. This waterfall spot belongs to Tzununa.

One more thing about this trip: on the road between San Marcos and Tzununa, there is a viewing point to the lake that is second only to Indian Nose.

Our tuk tuk driver pulled over and guided us up a path known mostly only to locals and people who stay at properties near there. It’s near an an area known as Pasajcap – it’s not a village, but it’s an area where there are a number of more expensive Airbnb rentals.

Tedly Lake Atitlan
Tedly views Lake Atitlan from Pasajacap. Indian Nose is the point in the distance.

If you ask a driver to take you to the vista near Pasajacap, he will likely know what you mean. If there is any doubt or confusion, just show him the picture above with Tedly, or this one:

Lake Atitlan and Volcan San Pedro

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