Courses 2015

Bamboo Building, Tadelakt Plastering, Bajareque, Bamboo Furniture Making and more

Contact us to find out more about our courses (Contact Page).

Also offering courses through: The Appropriate Technology Collaborative, The Yoga Forest,  Atitlan Organics

Past Courses Bamboo Building Course:

This hands-on course will teach you how to design and build your own house from the ground up, using bamboo and natural materials in tropical and temperate climates.

Your main instructor will be Charlie Rendall, founder and director of Return to the Forest, and builder of Lake Atitlan’s most famous bamboo buildings – The Tai Chi Tao Temple, The Yoga Forest, and the Bamboo Palace.

Participants will help to build an open-air market pavilion for the Mayan village of Tzununá, one of the smallest villages on the lake. Designed by upcoming bamboo architect and specialist in tensile structures, Jennifer Giller, the innovative design provides an excellent opportunity for practicing bamboo joinery, and understanding the many distinguishing qualities that make it such a versatile and popular building material.

Topics Covered

* Introduction to building with bamboo:

– Framing and joinery

– Varieties of bamboo and their applications

– Tips and tricks

– The modern revolution in bamboo architecture

* Barefoot Architecture 101 – How to design and plan your own house, including:

– Site selection

– Choosing the right natural building materials

– Foundations

– Framing, including earthquake and disaster resistance

– Wall fill and plastering techniques

– Floors and roofs

* Natural building tour of San Marcos La Laguna

Prices: Return to the Forest aims to provide an in-depth learning experience for beginner and experienced natural builders alike. Besides a healthy workday with plenty of theory and exercise, the 5-day natural building course includes:- 5 days of tuition and practice from 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday.- 6 nights’ accommodation in a naturally built hotel (from Sun pm till Sat am) in San Marcos La Laguna (or Maya Moon Lodge in Tzununá).- Breakfast and lunch for each day of the course. Dinner is independent, there are many good restaurants in town.- Lots of materials and tools to practice bamboo cuts and joinery.Sign Up!To sign up for the course,  you can reserve your spot by making a $50.00 deposit using the paypal button below and emailing nate (at) with information on your proposed course date and any important dietary, medical or other information that may be relevant.

Ready to Pay Now? Please select your accommodation option:

(1) Private Accommodation: $450 or Q3,500

Includes a private room and private bathroom in a naturally built hotel – please let us know your choice of hotel from the list below so we can make your booking.

(2) Shared Accommodation: $350 or Q2,700

Dorm-style accommodation with shared bath in a naturally built hotel – please let us know your choice of hotel from the list below so we can make your booking.

(3) Just the course: $250 or Q1,800

This price covers classes and materials, lunch and transport twice daily between San Marcos La Laguna and the project site in Tzununá, for the full five days of the course (Monday – Friday).

Location and Logistics Page


Where are we?

The workshops takes place in the picturesque Mayan villages of Tzununá and San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. The market pavilion build will take place in Tzununá while accommodations and the natural building tour are in San Marcos La Laguna (population 3,000), which is fast becoming the New Age capital of Central America. Besides natural building, it is a great place to learn meditation, yoga and alternative medicine. It has several well-established hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.

Both Tzununa and San Marcos have a growing population of foreign residents, many of whom learned how to build by building their homes and businesses with the help of local craftsmen. The absence of building codes has led to a huge variety of architectural styles and techniques and it’s a great place to see this diversity, as well as what not to do!

Lake Atitlán is situated right in the heart of Guatemala’s western highlands and thus makes a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of this small but incredibly diverse country.

Where will you stay?

San Marcos has many excellent and interesting hotels and we can help you find what’s best for you. We recommend the following hotels in particular as they are the most imaginatively and artistically built, and mostly from natural materials.

Hotel La Paz. San Marcos’ oldest hotel, the mellow La Paz is set in a haven of beautiful gardens. Rooms are traditional adobe and bahareque bungalows with thatched roofs, and some have loft beds. The organic gardens, vegetarian restaurant, traditional Mayan sauna and the music and book room all contribute to making this a special place right in the heart of San Marcos.Accommodation category is budget for a dorm room or upper mid-range for a private room

Hotel Aaculax A very popular hotel with rooms built against a cliff-face near the lake shore, Aaculax’s construction made extensive use of natural and recycled materials with many detailed ornaments, including colorful glass bottle windows and tilework. Each carefully crafted room is unique, and most have lake views and a private terrace. A rooftop restaurant serves breakfast from 8-10am.Accommodation category is luxury.

Hotel Paco Real – central location, palm thatched cabins, good restaurant and a sauna. Accommodation category: budget and mid-pricedHotel Posada Schumann – rooms and private houses on the lake shore, café/restaurant, sauna. Accommodation category: budget, mid-priced and luxury.Hotel Quetzal – rooms, bar and restaurant. Accommodation category: budgetHotel Unicornio – individual cabins with a self-catering kitchen. Accommodation category: budgetHotel Jinava – further to walk to but its secluded lakeside location, gardens and café/restaurant make it worthwile. Accommodation category: mid-priced and luxuryMaya Moon Lodge – just outside Tzununá. Situated right on the lake shore. Private cabins and dorms with affordable café and restaurant. Accommodation category: budget and mid-priced.

If you are interested in a longer-term stay then we can help arrange rentals in the many houses in and around San Marcos, but book ahead as they fill up fast during the high season (Dec-Apr).

Getting Here

Flights can be found online via sites such as, and – Airlines flying to Guatemala include Aeroméxico, American Airlines, Continental, Copa, Delta, Iberia, Spirit, Taca and United.

Immigration is usually hassle-free and most visitors are issued with a 90-day tourist visa, which you can extend for a further 90 days if needed. We recommend you find a flight that arrives in the morning so you won’t have to spend a night in a hotel near the airport.

Driving to San Marcos La Laguna from Guatemala’s international airport takes about four hours – we recommend a pre-booked minibus service, either private ($110 per trip – up to eight people), or shared ($28 per person). We will be happy to arrange this.


At first sight San Marcos La Laguna is just a sleepy village with a few hotels and restaurants, but it has much to offer hidden between its winding paths, including: massages, alternative therapies, short courses in massage and therapies, a meditation centre, Mayan spiritual centres and ceremonies, traditional Mayan saunas, yoga classes, chocolate ceremonies, a gym, walking tours, Spanish schools, salsa classes, a variety of excellent restaurants and bars, a small beach with a lake-jump off high rocks, kayaking, Internet cafés, shops selling imported food, volunteer projects, and a diverse community of residents and tourists.

We will gladly help you arrange tours to other towns either on the lake or further afield. Popular destinations on the lake include the Panajachel, Santiago and San Pedro, all of which have fun local markets and a wide selection of restaurants. Panajachel and San Pedro also offer a more active nightlife for anyone seeking live music or a dance party. We can also arrange Spanish lessons.

Beyond the lake’s sanctuary there are many more attractions:
– The colorful artisans’ market in Chichicastenango
– The former colonial capital of Antigua, from where you can climb a live volcano and get up close to real lava
– The Mayan ruins of Iximche
– Birdwatching and canopy tours in San Felipe
– Quetzaltenango for trekking, hot springs and city culture.Further afield, you can:- Explore the lost Mayan jungle cities of Tikal, Yax’ha and El Mirador
– Swim in the the paradisaical pools and caves of Semuc Champay and Lanquin
– Trek in the remote Cuchumatan mountains
– Boat down the jungle strewn shores of Rio Dulce from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean coast.
– Laze on the black sand beaches of Monterrico on Guatemala’s Pacific coastIf you would like us to arrange tours or transport before or after the courses, then we are happy to help – just let us know what you’re looking for.


Guatemalan cuisine makes excellent use of the abundant fruit and vegetables grown here. Guatemala’s traditional, thick tortillas are a daily highlight. Made with white or blue corn grown along the lake’s hillsides, women soak and grind the corn and pat them into shape with their fingers to place on the wood-fired hotplate. Something so simple tastes so good with such individual attention.

Lake Atitlán also boasts a surprising variety of international restaurants, from Japanese to Tex-Mex, Indian to Italian. We cater for two meals and a snack per day, giving participants a chance to enjoy the town’s restaurant scene and unique nightlife after the day’s work. No matter your dietary needs, San Marcos has it for you whether vegetarian, vegan or non-vegetarian.