Lake Atitlan or Lago de Atitlan is a spectacular, volcano rimmed lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. Tourists come to visit the various Mayan villages which are located on the lake's shore. Two Mayan peoples, the Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil live around the lake and their colourful traditional costumes, which are worn all the time, are one of the aspects that gives Lake Atitlan a special feel.
We travelled from Antigua to Panajachel, the lake's main tourist town and transport hub, by tourist shuttle, which took around 2.5 hours.
Some tourist guide books are a little unflattering about Pana, but we found it pleasant, unhurried and with fabulous views of the lake and volcanoes. Yes, there are a lot of shops and stalls selling the local weaving and other tourist oriented stuff, but there's no real hard sell. And at the same time there are plenty of hostels and guesthouses, restaurants, and tourist agencies for organisng trips locally and onward travel. We liked Pana.
There is a pedestrian promenade along the lake front which has great views. You'll get the clearest shots of the volcanoes on the other side of the lake in the morning and some terrific sunsets in the evening if it's clear.
Even though we visited during the wet season the weather was clear each morning until at least mid-afternoon and then, after a storm lasting an hour or two, clear skies returned.
There are lots of options for activities in the region. Apart from lake trips and visiting the villages people come to climb the volcanoes, hike, cycle, visit the local weaving coops, kayak, horse ride, drink the coffee, or just chill.
We were keen to do a lake trip and visit a couple of villages. This can be easily and cheaply done by catching local public boats. However, the problem is that they only leave when full so you can spend a lot of time waiting in a bobbing boat. We joined up with Chris and Zillah from the UK who we'd met on our shuttle from El Salvador to Antigua and hired our own boat. We paid 500 quezals, which is around $US65/ $AUS90 between the four of us. We met the boat at 9.00am and returned around 2.00pm – 5 hours. We arranged this the day before at a little agency at the dock, rather than in town, where prices are much higher.
We visited two villages: San Juan and San Pedro
San Juan is much smaller than Pana.
We wandered around the town for around an hour and a half, visiting a woman's weaving coop and the local catholic church.
We called in to a medical plants/remedies shop (where we picked up some organic mozzie ointment – the mozzies love Cal, so it'll be interesting to see how well it works).
We also stopped for some very nice local coffee and the produce market to pick up some fresh fruit and veggies.
Generally we were just taking in the feel of the town.
Much bigger than San Juan, San Pedro has a reputation for being a bit of a gringo party town. There are lots of restaurants and places to stay.
Up the hill from the dock and the gringo bars and restaurants in the main part of the town it feels more like a local Guatemalan town.
We called into the market and bought some locally made cheese (something between a fetta and a ricotta) and checked out the produce.
The church and main square were also worth a visit.
Chris couldn't resist the weaving any longer and bought himself a Mayan jacket. Very flash.
After a cleansing ale down at the dock it was back to Pana to finish what had been a good day out.
So, while we barely scratched the surface of Lake Atitlan's many options we enjoyed our short stay and would recommend it to anyone thinking of visiting Guatemala.