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What to Do & See in Villages of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Villages of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

“The most magnificent spectacle we ever saw” John L Stephens

I would describe Lake Atitlan as a serene volcano retreat. Lake Atitlan is a beautiful lake often compared to Lake Como in Italy. It was formed 84,000 years ago following a massive volcanic eruption. As Lake Atitlan is home to many different Mayan villages, there is something for everyone here.

Interesting Facts

  • Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America and is 5,100 feet above sea level
  • The lake has risen an average of 3 feet (1 m) per year for the past six years

Useful Information

  • Best time to visit:
    • Dry season is from November to March
    • Wet season is from April to October - expect clear mornings with afternoon and evening downpours
  • Weather: The weather hovers around 21-27 C during the day and 10-20 C at night. Mornings and nights are cooler so you’ll need a sweater and long pants
  • Getting around: To get from village to village, you can take a lancha, a small public boat, that runs every 20 minutes until early evening
    • Generally boats run in either direction from town to town from Panajachel-Santa Cruz-Jaibalito-Tzununa-San Marcos-San Juan-San Pedro, plus stops in between at other towns and private docks where people need to be picked up
    • There are different prices for locals and tourists. Here are the tourist prices we noticed during our trip.
  • Cost Of Main Boat Rides:
    • Panajachel to Santa Cruz – 10Q ($1.67)
    • Panajachel to San Marcos – 15Q ($2.50)
    • Panajachel to San Pedro – 25Q ($4)
    • San Pedro to San Marcos – 10Q ($1.67)
    • San Pedro to Santa Cruz – 15Q ($2.50)
  • Other useful tips:
    • Make sure to arrive with money or take money out at Panajchel as it is often harder to find ATMs in the other villages
    • Be respectful. Don’t take pictures of Mayans or children without asking

The Villages

Lake Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains so there is something to do for everyone from hiking to water sports to relaxing in a hammock. Each village offers something unique. See below for an overview of what each village has to offer. (We chose to stay in San Pedro and San Marcos.)

Panajchel aka ‘Pana’

  • Known as: the main town for tourists to stay when visiting as it’s easily accessible by shuttle. We found this town rather ‘touristy’ and opted to stay in one of the other villages
  • What to do:
    • Shop for artisan craft on Santander street: Browse through numerous stalls and bargain for gifts. You can find anything from jewelry to textiles, leather goods and artwork
    • BYOB sunset cruise: On Friday, Saturday & Sundays, you can pay just 10Q for a booze cruise around the lake. The cruise lasts 20 minutes but is one of the most fun ways of watching the sunset over the lake. Boats depart from the western dock across from Hotel Playa Linda
    • Sweat it out in a Temescal: A Temescal is a traditional Mayan Sauna for medicinal and relaxation purposes
    • Kayak: Pana offers one of the best kayaking on the lake with an unobstructed view of the lake’s three volcanoes. Make sure to go early to avoid the high winds.
    • Go paragliding: For the adventurous ones, you can go soar over the lake
  •  What to eat & drink:
    • Crossroads Coffee
    • Circus Bar has great pizza and live music on weekends
    • Street tacos are abundant on Calle Santander
    • For drinks, go to Gringos Locos

San Marcos

  • Known as: the hippie town and land of food, yoga and meditation
  • What to do:
    • Yoga class at Hostal Del Lago - For the best views, this hostel hosts daily yoga sessions on a platform over the lake. Drop in any day at 7:30 am or 9:00 am for 40Q (mats provided).
      • Other drop-in locations include: Hostal La Paz, El Venado Azul (The Blue Deer)
    • Unwind with a massage at The East West Center
    • Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil - a beautiful trail that leads to a platform where you can jump into the lake
    • Kayaking for 20Q per person per hour from the entrance to the nature reserve
    • Yoga & meditation retreat:
      • Do a retreat at Las Piramides (a yoga and meditation retreat center)
      • Get your hippie on - people often come here for yoga retreats, to practice Reiki, crystal healing and meditation
      • You’ll find workshops for e cstatic dance, tantric yoga and lucid dreaming
  • What to eat & drinkL
    • Il Giardino - For an evening of perfect candlelight garden vibes + live music, dine here
    • Restaurant Fe - If you’re feeling something warm, come here for the curries and soup
    • Cafe Shambhala - Order a green juice, kombucha, or coffee and lounge on one of the floor mats in the open garden space they have
    • Love Probiotics Kombucha
    • Shangri-La Roasters for coffee

San Pedro

  • Known as: the backpacker hotspot
  • What to do:
    • Climb San Pedro Volcano or Indian Nose
    • Party at Sublime in the evening or Zoola in the day time (day drinking in the pool)
    • Learn Spanish at one of the dozens of spanish schools
  • What to eat & drink:
    • Idea Connection for Italian pasta
    • Hotel Mikaso for best pizza
    • Zoola is one of the many good Israeli restaurants in town
    • Street tacos

Santa Cruz

  • Known as: a traditional Mayan town and one of the steepest village in Lake Atitlan
  • What to do:
    • Go diving (one dive shop is ATI Divers): With Atitlan’s rising waters, you’ll find lots of buildings that have been swallowed by the lake
    • Hike to Jaibalito: This hike takes you up to the side of a mountain and provides you with an uninhibited view of the lake.
  • Where to stay:
    • La Fortuna: Stay in one of the most unique luxury eco-lodges. We had great experiences dealing with La Fortuna. Laguna Lodge canceled our reservation one hour before we arrive, causing us to change our entire itinerary.
  • What to eat:
    • Cafe Sabor Cruceno is a culinary school creating Guatemalan and fusion dishes (Eat lunch here). The building has the best views of the town

Jaibalito

  • Known as: one of the smallest villages on the lake, making it one of the more serene places to relax
  • What to do:
    • Spend a day at Club Ven Aca - day club with a hot tub and an infinity pool overlooking Lake Atitlan
      • Chill out with music and cocktails - they do amazing pink mojitos
      • 50Q for  use of pool

Other Popular Activities

  • Chichicastenango (or ‘ChiChi’) Market - the largest market in Central America filled vendors selling souvenirs, colourful woven textiles, fresh product and more. Locals and tour groups frequently flock here for the huge Thursday and Sunday market
  • Hiking:
    • Volcano San Pedro - ~3 hr hike to the top
    • Indian Nose - read more on the MyWanderlistBlog

Other Towns

  • Santiago - largest village on the lake with a strong indigenous identity
    • The village is famous for its churches and strong arts and crafts scene
  • San Juan La Laguna - perfect small Atitlan town with colorful buildings, friendly people and hardly any tourists
    • Learn to weave from a group of Mayan women at Lema (weaving costs $35 for 5 hours)
  • Santa Catarina Palopo - pretty town just past Pana and home to hot springs that appear to be built right into the take

LIST BY: CAROLYN CHEN

Carolyn Chen has done two backpacking trips around Europe and spent six months studying abroad in Italy. She loves finding the most beautiful scenery, hidden gems and indulging in great food. 

Follow her adventures on Instagram: @carolynjxchen

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