Last Updated on June 3, 2023 by Ellen
The Tzununa waterfall at Lake Atitlan is near a Mayan village 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 it’s only short hike behind the village.
(Bonus – after the waterfall instructions, we give details on how to get to one of the best spots for Instragram pictures on Lake Atitlan!)
Finding the Tzununa waterfall
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. This was helpful because I’d read where this spot wasn’t easy to find.
People had a hard time finding the Tzununa waterfall at Lake Atitlan, and sometimes, they couldn’t find.
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 Village, 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 later.)
Once we arrived at the waterfall 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 all around us.
Now to the actual 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.
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.
The Tzununa waterfall at Lake Atitlan 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.
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 – with no other tourists.
- Wear long, lightweight pants and proper shoes for this hike because you do hit some plants on the trail and there are ticks here.
- 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. I’m not clear on why – and could never find the official answer.
Once we hit the outskirts of the village on the way back, 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 on Lake Atitlan has a patron saint and a festival to celebrate once a year.
Then it was a tuk tuk ride back to our bungalow rental. 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.
More information about Tzuzuna and nearby attractions can be found on Lonely Planet here. Oddly enough, however, there’s no mention anywhere of this waterfall.
BONUS – A great spot for Instagram shots!
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 area known as Pasajcap – it’s not a village, but it’s an area where there are a number of more expensive Airbnb rentals.
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 show this one below. And have a great time at this spot, and the Tzununa waterfall at Lake Atitlan!
- Challenging hike to see the “Fire Volcano” in Guatemala
- Unusual stay at a floating house on Lan Ha Bay in Vietnam
- Surf lesson for retired budget travelers in Puerto Escondido, Mexico