Che Guevara, Ingrid Bergman and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of “The Little Prince”) were all captivated by the charms of Lake Atitlan. OWriter-philosopher Aldous Huxley called it the most beautiful lake in the world, and even after almost 90 years since his visit to this gem in the Guatemalan highlands, the stunning surroundings and beautiful high-altitude lake are still as magical as ever.
Surrounded by jungle-clad volcanoes and sleepy indigenous Mayan communities, Atitlan still flies well under the radar of many travelers; All the more reason to come and discover one of the most attractive places in Guatemala. Here is a list of activities and attractions to keep you busy here for weeks.
Spectacular lake views, challenging steep trails, and an assortment of walk-boat combos make Lake Atitlan a fantastic hiking destination. You can climb the big volcanoes, walk from village to village via the local agricultural trails or simply walk along the coast and take in the breathtaking views.
The walk from the village of Tzununa to the nearby hamlet of Jaibalito, accessible only on foot or by boat, is highly recommended. You can walk here, have lunch by the lake, then take a “lancha” (community speedboats that serve as public ferries) back to your starting point.
Lake Atitlan is a great place to learn to stand-up paddle or kayak. There are rentals in San Marcos, San Pedro and more in the sleepy town of Santa Cruz in Los Elementos Adventure Center, where you can learn the basics or rent equipment if you already know how. During the morning the weather tends to be good and the water is calm, while the afternoon often brings waves.
The surroundings are beautiful, as you are surrounded by volcanoes and green highlands, and the water is refreshing when you need a dip. There are even a few outfitters that offer a complete crossing of the lake, for those who already know the tricks of the trade.
The community of San Marcos, on the northwest side of the lake, has become a magnet for yoga and other spiritual wellness activities. Just about every resort and operation here offers a selection of yoga workshops and classes and, needless to say, the surroundings couldn’t be more appealing.
Head to the Eyrie, a resort perched in the hills, where you can do retreats or stay in their chic eco-lodge. If you already know your workout, come to the dock early in the morning where you’ll have the lake and volcanoes almost to yourself.
Guatemalan textiles, the most colorful in the world
Guatemalan textiles are perhaps the most beautiful in the world – and certainly the most colorful. Head to the artisan community of San Juan la Laguna on the west side of the lake and you’ll find weaving cooperatives run by women Maya Tzutujil community. Here they do backstrap and footloom weaving, creating ‘journey‘, as traditional hand-woven garments are called.
Indigenous women in Guatemala wear ‘huipiles’ (blouses) and ‘cortes’ (skirts), fastened at the waist by known embroidered belts like ‘faja’, aAnd each community is distinguished by its particular colors and clothing patterns. When you buy one of these works of art, you support a good cause and a tradition, and you can also buy local weavings more suited to tourist fashion.
During your stay in Atitlan, be sure to go or come in a chicken bus! The term “chicken bus” originated here in Guatemala, from the name of the buses that were once the primary mode of transporting live poultry to market. They are now the main form of public transport throughout Central America. You’ve probably driven one before if you’re of a certain age, because all of these buses were once school buses in the United States – since retired, auctioned off, and brought back to life. They get colorful paint jobs, adorned with bright murals and fairy lights, and are great fun if you don’t travel too far, as they’re accompanied by booming music, abundant residential life, and in many many cases, are actually faster. than cramped and expensive tourist shuttles.
From Panajachel on the lake you can take one to Solola, just 15 minutes away, where there is a large Friday market, as well as a chicken bus connection to Chichicastenango. You can even get to Atitlan from Antigua or Guatemala City using a few of these lively rides.
Be sure to take the time to find a prime spot to watch the sunset, as they are quite phenomenal here. The best picks are anywhere along the northern shores of the lake, as you gaze up at the San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan volcanoes, often shrouded in colorful clouds.
In the villages of San Marcos, Tzununa, Jaibalito and Santa Cruz, you will find many places to relax equipped with chairs and hammocks for happy hour. There are even places with swimming pools or jacuzzis to enjoy the last rays of the day.
Chichicastenango is an upland town about 20 miles from Lake Atitlan. When visiting, you should make a beeline here on its famous market days. Sunday is the most important, but there is also a Thursday. Indigenous communities from across the surrounding region descend on Chichi to buy food and textiles, socialize, and sell their agricultural products and weavings.
Although the market has become a big tourist attraction, it still retains its authentic atmosphere and is extremely colorful. Arrive early; at noon, people have gone to eat and things end. You can easily arrange a visit here to one of Lake Atitlan’s villages, or you can catch a few public buses from Panajachel, the lake’s main town.
Treat yourself to local specialties or take a cooking class
Guatemala is not renowned for its cuisine, and in most places rice and beans are the staple food. But around Lake Atitlan, you can sample local and ancient Mayan dishes, like “kaq’ik,” which is a red, mildly spiced turkey soup (the dish has even been listed as a cultural icon by the Ministry of Health). Culture of Guatemala. and Sports), or ‘pepian’ acchicken stew which is the national dish and fuses the Mayan and Spanish cultures.
Mayan cuisine in San Pedro offers cooking classes to learn how to prepare all these specialties, and there are many local restaurants that serve traditional cuisine to rejuvenate you after hiking, volcano climbing or kayaking on the lake.
Be sure to visit a place the indigenous community calls “Nariz del Rostro Maya” (Nose of the Mayan Lookout). You can easily arrange a tour here (for an exceptional local guide, use the services of Luis at Tours in Luituy), which leaves at 4am and climbs to a high point. From there, it will take you 45 minutes on foot to reach the observation deck of this small, prominent peak.
The view from here is stunning, as not only do you see the entire lake and its volcanoes, but you can even see the active Fuego volcano and its neighbor, Acatenango, silhouetted against the rising sun in the distance. It is one of the most memorable experiences you can have here.
Even if you are not inclined to exercise, you can still experience the magic lake and relax while doing it. Gather your group, hire a private boat for the day, and set off wherever you like. Sail to San Juan to view the Nariz del Rostro Maya in the morning and head to San Pedro for breakfast. Enjoy non-touristy towns like Santiago Atitlan or San Lucas Toliman across the lake during the day, and end in Panajachel or one of the walk/boat villages like Santa Cruz or Jaibalito for a drink or siesta l afternoon in a hammock!
Public boats run from around 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., but you can hire private lanchas anytime. You just need to arrange things with a boat driver at any dock.
Yes, it’s true. A good number of foreigners came here and fell in love with this beautiful place, and started businesses, built holiday homes or even immigrated for good. There is a big permaculture and alternative movement here for those who want to do organic farming. And nearly every home built along the lake ditches curtains in exchange for lots of glass and natural light, to ensure those lake views can last time and time again.