Ultimate Guide To Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is known to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, surrounded by three volcanoes: Volcan San Pedro, Volcan Toliman, and Volcan Atitlan. Tourist have been flocking the area for the past years. Many people come to the area to visit and some end up staying a lifetime. There are many expats from around the world who have established themselves in the Lake Atitlan area, especially in the towns of Panajachel and San Pedro. You really can't blame them...you'd want to stay too if you could!
If for any reason you thought the Mayan lifestyle was long and gone, you are completely wrong. It is in the region of Lake Atitlan were you predominantly see the Mayan day to day life. You will immediately notice the traditional clothing being worn in all the surrounding towns, especially in Santiago Atitlan. To this day there are 21 Mayan dialects in Guatemala. Aside from enjoying this wonderful culture, below you can find other top things to enjoy in Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos, San Juan and Santiago Atitlan.
“Pana” as it is so often referred by everyone, is one of the most popular towns in the area. It gives you plenty of dining, shopping and transportation options. It’s the perfect place to begin your journey through Lake Atitlan. This is also a great place to shop for souvenirs. The streets are full of artisan shops and stands. Since this is one of the main points of entry into the Lake Atitlan area, you will likely experience busy streets, tourists, and Mayan people in their beautiful traditional clothing wondering the streets of Pana. There is one main road, Calle Santander. Here you can find ATMs, westernized food and grocery stores. Since we stick to the local food joints, we recommend "Popusas Salvadorenas" on Calle Santander. You can get 3 for 20Q ($2.73USD) and they are delicious! If you've never had popusas, they are just like Mexican gorditas. This place only opens in the evenings. If you plan on heading to other towns, you might want to pick up a few things in Pana since it will be hard to find some items in the other small villages. It is also recommended you book all transportation from here since other towns have limited travel agencies. The one thing you can't miss in Pana are the gorgeous sunsets it is known to have!
The locals refer to it as “San Pedro de La Loquera” or "The Crazy San Pedro" because it’s known for its party vibes. Many hostels and bars in town will have special deals for happy hour and you can easily find cheap drinks in town. This is where you will see many backpackers due to the low cost of hostels and Airbnb’s. Don’t miss checking out the Mercado Central to see more of the local daily life. From San Pedro you can also book a hike and catch the sunrise at Indian's Nose or "La Nariz Del Indio". La Nariz Del Indio sits at 9,393 ft and it looks over the towns of San Pedro, Santa Clara and San Marcos. Although we missed doing this hike due to being sore from hiking Volcan Acatengo, our good friend hiked it and the views he captured were stunning! If you are looking for a place to stay, we highly recommned the Airbnb we stayed in, The Baz Guesthouse. The host Daniel is not only a Superhost, but he also created a very relaxed and clean atmosphere at this place. You get so much value for your money. Spacious rooms, hot water, great wifi and the use of a kitchen.
San Marcos really gave me the “rancho” vibes. If you’re from a small town or have ever been to one, you’ll get the same feeling right away. It’s a tight knit small community. A lot of hippies tend to stay in San Marcos for its relaxed vibe. Several meditation and yoga places are available here. It’s also a great place for swimming. Make sure to visit Cerro Tzankujil, a nature reserve in which for a small entrance fee, 15Q ($2.04USD), you can find great views of the lake, see all kinds of flowers and plants and even some Mayan ceremonies! They also have a platform perfect for jumping into the lake. From here, you can also have access to the Mirador de San Marcos which offers stunning views of the lake. With it’s laid back vibes, San Marcos becomes a favorite of many. The day we visited there was a Feria going on, which was super neat to see and join in on the festivities.
I personally really enjoyed San Juan. There are many things for you to do and places for you to visit. From chocolate, natural remedies and weaving demonstrations, you can really learn a lot about the way people live in this town. It’s very small and very local. There are not many grocery stores or choice of restaurants. San Juan is a nice place to visit for a day trip. You can hire a tuk tuk to take you to all the different demonstrations that are offered in town.
SANTIAGO DE ATITLAN
Santiago de Atitlan is the largest of all the towns surrounding the lake. Santiago is where we found the famous Maximon. As soon you set foot in Santiago, you will be asked by the locals if you would like to see Guatemala's folk saint. There are not as many tourists so you really get the opportunity to see more of the local life. The church is also a neat place to visit. There is a lot of history in Santiago and you will be able to see some of it reflected in the church.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN LAKE ATITLAN
The best mode of transportation in the Lake Atitlan area is by boat or "lanchas". The price varies depending on the travel distance. Also, make sure you hop on the public lanchas and not the private ones. Many people will offer you rides stating they are "public lanchas", but you can recognize the public lanchas by the price and the captains wearing the white, orange and blue shirts. The following are the prices we paid per person (one way trip) to move between the villages:
Panajachel - San Pedro: 25Q ($3.40USD)
San Pedro - San Juan: 5Q ($0.68USD)
San Pedro - Santiago Atitlan: 25Q ($3.40USD)
Don't be surprised if you quickly fall in love with Lake Atitlan and its charming towns!
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