Lago Atitlán, or Lake Atitlán, is a picturesque lake situated in the western highlands of Guatemala. For many, it serves as a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of Guatemala City – a place perfect for relaxing, where the air is fresher and the pace much slower. If you are planning to travel to Lake Atitlán you’re in luck. The tourism industry here is steadily developing, which means plenty of choices for travelers. There are many hotels in the area, as well as delicious local restaurants, handicraft shops, and tour companies.
There are several pueblos situated around the lakeshore, with Panajachel being the largest of them all. Most visitors arrive in Panajachel, but many opt to stay in other, more secluded villages. With the help of INGUAT, I had the opportunity to visit Guatemala and experience the unique beauty of the lake. Lake Atitlán is a place to unwind, relax, and enjoy time with loved ones and enjoy the natural beauty of this volcanic lake.
Here are a few suggestions about what to do and see while in Lake Atitlán. You may be surprised to know that Lake Atitlán is not so much suitable for swimming as it is for other activities.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Water sports are an obvious recreational outlet on Lake Atitlán, with kayaking being the most popular. If your hotel doesn’t have kayaks for rent, head to the Panajachel public beach. There you can rent a two-person kayak for about 200Q a day.
Get to know the area’s flora and fauna at the Atitlan Nature Reserve. Here you’ll get a chance to spot monkeys, coati, and visit the resident insects in the butterfly preserve. The reserve also has zip lining, nature trails, and hanging bridges.
For braver souls, paragliding over Lake Atitlán is another popular activity. Real World Paragliding has been giving visitors the thrill of their lives since 2006. You’ll soar above the local towns all while taking in spectacular views of the lake and volcanoes. Your pilot will point out all the landmarks and make sure you’re safe and satisfied!
Lastly, there’s an activity reserved for the physically fit…hiking the dormant San Pedro Volcano. Head to the town of San Pedro La Laguna to begin the climb. We recommend hiring a guide (about 100Q) to escort you, plus he’ll come in handy when it comes time to chop away some of the overgrown vines along the way. The hike will take you approximately five hours depending on your fitness level. Bring a jacket, as there may be chilly winds at the top.
No trip to Lake Atitlán is complete without touring the local Mayan pueblos by boat. The villages around the lake offer visitors the unique opportunity to get to encounter ethnic Mayan groups whose traditions have remarkably endured through Spanish colonization and modern globalization. The indigenous Maya of the area are always more than happy to show you their customs and handicrafts. Sololá and San Juan La Laguna both have a good selection of quality handmade crafts and textiles, which you’ll find to be cheaper than in Guatemala City.
Contract a “lancha” (boat) from Panajachel public beach or book through a local tour company. Tours typically last for four hours and will stop at four to five villages. Private “lanchas” normally cost 15-30Q one way. My personal favourite town to visit on the lake is Santiago Atitlán. Santiago is home to a remarkable number of churches – 35 in total! Many of these are beautiful and worth passing through on an afternoon stroll.
Visit one of the many local weaving cooperatives in San Juan La Laguna while on a cultural tour or check out the vibrant and authentic Sololá street market. If traditional medicine is one of your interests, be sure to visit the Maya Traditions Herbal Medicine Garden. Located just a 10-minute walk from the centre of Panajachel, it is a centre operated by Maya Traditions Foundations, a non-profit fair trade organization that works with the local indigenous Maya people. Here visitors can see how traditional herbs are grown and used in a variety of homeopathic remedies. Your one-hour guided visit also includes a tea tasting and spectacular views of Lake Atitlán.
David Hoffmann is the founder of Davidsbeenhere Blog, a travel website dedicated to helping others travel independently. David has traveled to 56 countries and has published more than 50 guidebooks on Amazon.com Kindle Store. If you are interested in learning more about travel to Guatemala, check out his 2013-2014 Guatemala Travel Guide.
Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored!