If you are new to the area or just a tourist with a stove and refrigerator, knowing what’s available and where to buy it is important. This post is primarily for people on the west side of the lake — from Panajachel to San Lucas.
In all the pueblos you will find an assortment of little tiendas — sometimes more than one in a block — with the basics but what is a basic for a Guatemalan is likely different from a Gringo. In cans you will likely find pop, beans and sardines. In some add beer to the list. In packages you find cooking oil, coffee, rice, sugar, salt and sanitary napkins. Bags of chips. Matches, shoe polish, soap, toilet paper and pretty much nothing more other than maybe some bad white bread and rolls.
If you are looking for more than that, the public markets have the best options for fresh fruit and veggies along with chicken, fish and other meat. The market in Panajachel is large and generally has a good selection. In San Lucas, on market days (Sunday being the biggest) you will find a huge selection of almost anything. For public markets, get there in the morning. You will find the best selection starting at about 9AM.
If you aren’t offended by WalMart, there is a Dispensa Familiar in Panajachel. They have some fresh stuff and lots of WalMart-brand stuff from toilet paper to beans. If you happen to be bound to an automobile, they also have a parking lot. (I tend to park there when I have a car, buy some WalMart toilet paper and then do my real shopping at Chalo’s across the street.
There are three local grocery stores in Panajachel: Almendros, Chalo’s and Sandra’s. Sandra’s has the best selection but many times Chalo’s has stuff that Sandra’s does not. For example, Chalo’s almost always has whole wheat flour (but you need to ask for it). They all tend to have a good dairy selection with interesting cheeses, good and bad yogurt and such. (Xelac yogurt tastes like yogurt. LaLa yogurt tastes like sugar.) Generally all of them will have tofu but only Sandra’s will have tempeh. Sandras also has a decent selection of frozen “other stuff” such as tempeh, salmon, beef, …
Sandra’s will also have non-toxic toothpaste (at 10 times the price of Colgate), vitamins, Tiger Balm and lots of other strange stuff. A health food it is not but it is as close as you get without a trip to San Pedro.
Beer, Wine, Booze, …
The typical beers you find here are Gallo, Dorado Ice and Brahva. In my opinion, they suck. Two other beers you can find in some places (including my favorite tienda in San Antonio now) are Cabro and Moza. Cabro is fairly light but with a much more finished flavor than Gallo. Moza is a modestly dark beer that is also decent.
Wine tends to be a problem — both finding it and finding undamaged wine. Many stores will put bottles upright and possibly in the window. The cork dries out and you have a bottle of vinegar. The Clos line of Concha y Toro comes in mylar-lined boxes like you find milk. Not amazing but decent for a low-end (typically around Q40/fifth) wine. My favorite is their merlot and I use their white wine in cooking.
Booze can be found in Sandra’s, Chalo’s, La Dispensa and a few of the tiendas on Calle Santander in Panajachel. You can pretty much find anything in the modest price range plus an amazingly expensive Guatemalan rum.