Lake Atitlan has been described as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It’s surrounded by steep hills and the peaks of three active volcanoes; Volcán San Pedro, Cerro de Oro, and Volcán Tolimán. Each village has its own little community and it’s difficult to choose where you want to spend your time.
There are 13 villages around the shores of the lake and you can either hike or catch a lancha (boat) between them. Prices vary from Q10 to Q30 depending on how far you’re going. No matter where you are you can stand at the end of the pier, waiting for one of the lanchas to pick you up, and you’ll have an incredible view.
Panajachel is a popular resort town with great choices for accommodation, food, and shopping. This is where you’ll arrive when you catch the bus from Antigua. There are a few ATMs, and you’ll need to get cash out here because most other places won’t accept a card. The only other ATM we found was in San Pedro and it’s known for being a little dodgy.
Santa Cruz rises above the water and is the place you should visit if you want to try an altitude dive in a volcanic lake. I dived with Iguana Perdida who also offer accommodation. We chose to do one dive (US$35, $65 for two tank dive) and we explored the sunken Hotel Casa del Mundo. Very cool and very creepy.
San Marcos is the place to get in touch with your inner hippy. There are yoga classes, holistic centres, rebirthing classes and also some great restaurants. We stayed in Hotel Quetzal in a spacious room for a good price, although it was right above the families living room and it was very noisy. Head to Restaurant Fe for a good English fry up!
If you want to get creative then head to San Juan. Visit one of the many cooperatives selling locally made textiles, paintings, and weavings or enrol yourself in a weaving or painting class and learn a new skill to take home with you. It’s also a really cheap place to get some good, traditional food.
If you need something a little more backpacker-friendly then head to San Pedro. The accommodation ranges from cheap and nasty to expensive and fancy. There are great bars and restaurants and a few stalls to pick up your souvenirs. There are also more chilled yoga and language classes if that’s more your thing.
Really it’s just an epic place to spend your time, no matter where you stay. You can keep yourself busy or totally relax doing nothing. There are some great hikes including Indian Nose, and even the walk between San Juan and San Pedro will reward you with amazing views. Spend as much time here as you can!
40km north of Lake Atitlan is the town of Chichicastenango, famous for its twice-weekly markets on Sundays and Thursdays. You can buy anything here, from spices to textiles to fried chicken. It’s very easy to get lost, but the locals will be willing to help point you in the right direction.
To get here from Lake Atitlan, catch a lancha to Panajachel, ignore the expensive tourist minibuses and head to the main street, they’ll charge US$10 one-way and the chicken buses will cost you no more than Q26 ($3.50) for the round trip. Take a bus to Sololá, another to Los Encuentros and a third to Chichi.
Ask the drivers if you’re unsure, they are more than happy to help! You’ll probably end up sharing a seat with 3 other people, so just bring a small bag with you and a limited amount of cash.
Stop by the beautiful Iglesia de Santo Tomás for some great photo opportunities, and then head into the winding rows of colourful stalls. There is a great mix of locals in their traditional Mayan clothing and sunburned tourists buying presents for friends and family back home.
I did this day trip on my own and not once did I feel unsafe. The locals were so helpful when I was unsure about where I had to go, even with my broken Spanish. It’s definitely a place I would recommend to anyone who wants to see a little Guatemalan culture!
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